Online Marketing Lesson 42: Introduction to Google AdSense


Google AdSense is one of the most popular and efficient advertising programs online. Most webmasters and bloggers will experiment with it at least once, and some are able to generate thousands of dollars monthly with the platform. In this lesson we will explain how Google AdSense works, what kind of websites benefit the most from it, and what guidelines you need to follow if you want to use it on your websites.

Understanding The Program

Google AdSense is a contextual advertising program, offered by Google to web publishers from around the world. Once the publisher gets accepted into the program (the application is free, and can be done online here), he will be able to create custom ad units and insert those ads on his website by copy and pasting a Javascript code that will be provided by Google.

In order to serve contextual ads, Google uses a proprietary technology to analyze the geographical location of the users and the content of the page where the ad is being served. The results are highly targeted ads that work better both for the advertisers and for the publishers.

The current ad formats supported by Google AdSense are:

  • 728 x 90 (leaderboard)
  • 468 x 60 (banner)
  • 234×60 (half banner)
  • 125×125 (button)
  • 120×600 (skyscraper)
  • 160×600 (wide skyscraper)
  • 180×150 (small rectangle)
  • 120 x 240 (vertical banner)
  • 200 x 200 (small square)
  • 250 x 250 (square)
  • 300 x 250 (medium rectangle)
  • 336 x 280 (large rectangle)

Google AdSense ads usually display text links with a brief description (like in the image below), but they can also display images or videos.

Web publishers get paid on a CPC (cost per click) or CPM (cost per mille, referring to 1,000 impressions) basis. This will depend on the method that the advertisers used to create the ads.

Finally, the ads served by Google AdSense come from Google AdWords, which is the program offered by Google to advertisers who want to display their ads on Google’s search results or Google’s network of partner sites.

Types of AdSense Products

The Google AdSense program started with a single product that enabled web publishers to display ads on their websites. Over the years, however, more products were added to the program to suit different applications and types of websites. Today we have six different products, and they are:

1. AdSense for Content: The traditional product that allows web publishers to display AdSense ads on their websites.

2. AdSense for Search: This AdSense product allows web publishers to add a search box to their websites and to specify what content should be used for the search (e.g., only the site in question, a collection of sites or the whole web). On the results page of every search Google will display some targeted ads, and the owner of the site earns money every time a visitor clicks on one of those ads.

3. AdSense for Feeds: If you have a blog or a website that offers a feed, you can easily integrate AdSense ads there using this product. Once you activate it you will be able to choose the size of the ads, and whether they should be displayed on top or at the bottom of your feed items. You can also choose the frequency at which the ads should appear.

4. AdSense for Video: This product is still in beta, and it is limited to U.S. video publishers with at least 1 million monthly streams. Publishers that get accepted become able to display both in-video overlay ads and text ads on their videos, and they get paid either on a CPC or CPM basis.

5. AdSense for Domains: One of the latest additions to the Google AdSense family, this product allows domain owners to monetize their undeveloped domains with AdSense ads. After adding the domains to your Google account you will just need to update your DNS settings and Google will start displaying the ads. This product was initially available to U.S. publishers only, but Google is expanding it to other countries over time.

6. AdSense for Mobile Content: This product works just like AdSense for Content one, but instead of normal websites it was created for the mobile versions of websites. Google currently limits this product to 27 countries, so you will need to check the availability in your country before applying.

Does Google AdSense Work on Any Website?

There are many success stories around the web of people making tens of thousands of dollars monthly with Google AdSense. New bloggers and online entrepreneurs get excited with those stories and start using the AdSense program with the hope of making some good money. After one month, though, they earn a couple of dollars and realize that AdSense is not the solution for their financial problems.

This happens because Google AdSense is not suitable for every type of website out there. There are three basic conditions that you must meet if you want to earn a lot of money with it:

  1. Your website must have high volume traffic (thousands of daily unique visitors),
  2. A good percentage of your traffic must be organic (i.e. coming from search engines), and
  3. You must be willing to position your ads aggressively.

High volume traffic is necessary because only a small fraction of visitors end up clicking on ads (usually less than 2% of them). You can tweak your website and its design to make more people click, but it will be a small percentage no matter what.

A good percentage of the traffic must also be organic, because those visitors are the ones who click on ads. When people use a search engine, they are looking for something. If they come to your site and see an ad related to what they were looking for, there is a good chance that they will click on it. Visitors from other sources are less likely to click on your ads. Your repeat visitors, for instance, will almost never click on the ads, because they visit your site often and they know where the ads are placed, so they become blind to them. Similarly, social media users almost never click on ads because they are web-savvy and usually they just want to consume your content and move on.

Finally, you must be willing to position your ads aggressively, else your CTR (click-through rate) will be small even with large traffic and with a good percentage of organic traffic. If you have a corporate website or a blog where you don’t want to compromise the user experience, for instance, AdSense would probably not be the right monetization strategy. You would need to position the ads at the bottom of the sidebar or in the footer to avoid disturbing the visitors, and as a result you would end up with a really low CRT.

Google AdSense Program Policies

The ease of implementation and the real time nature of the AdSense program tempts many publishers to cheat. All they need to do is to ask a friend to visit their websites and click on an ad, and suddenly a couple of dollars is added to their AdSense account. Google, however, has a very advanced system to track and detect click fraud (their business model depends on this, after all), and most of the time users who try to cheat the system end up with their accounts banned. It is also important to note that banned users can never participate in the program again, they are banned for life. If you are planning to use Google AdSense, therefore, make sure to play by the rules.

Sometimes users also get banned out of ignorance and not because they were trying to cheat. Google has an extensive list of guidelines that you need to follow, and not all of them are intuitive. You can read all program policies here, but the main points are:

  • You can’t use any methods to artificially inflate the number of clicks or impressions on your website.
  • You can’t use methods to encourage visitors to click on the ads (for example, by saying “Please support this site by clicking here” or by using an arrow that points to the ads).
  • You can’t have content related to pornography, violence, profanity, gambling, hacking, drugs or any illegal activity.
  • You can’t violate copyrights on your website.
  • You can’t generate traffic to your site with paid-to-click programs or with spam.
  • You can’t alter the ad code that Google will provide to you.
  • You can’t display AdSense on pop-ups, emails, software and the like.
  • You may not use other ad networks that display similar ads and that might confuse users.
  • You may display up to three ad units and three link units on each page.
  • You must have a privacy policy informing your users that a third party (Google) may be placing cookies on their browsers.

Alternatives to Google AdSense

Google’s strict guidelines make AdSense unsuitable for some websites. Additionally, if you get banned there is no going back, so many publishers need to find alternatives. Below you will find three networks that work in a similar fashion and that can be used if for some reason you can’t use Google AdSense:

1. AdBrite: This ad network works with a wide range of ad formats, text links being one of them. The look of the ads is very similar to Google AdSense, and you can also reject advertisers or specify a minimum bid price. One advantage of AdBrite is the less strict set of guidelines that publishers need to comply with. The payout rate is usually 75%.

2. BidVertiser: The CPC you will get with BidVertiser is smaller than with Google AdSense. One advantage is the flexibility that you have with ad formats (you can even create some formats). The payments are handled with Paypal, which can be easier for publishers who don’t want to have the trouble of cashing checks.

3. Clicksor: This ad network works with both in-text ads (i.e. words inside your content that become ads) and contextual ads (i.e. similar to Google AdSense). You can specify if you want the ads to behave under a CPC or CPM model, and the payout rate for the publisher is around 60%.

Action Points

  1. Explore the different products in the Google Adsense family, and evaluate whether or not you could use them.
  2. If you are already using or plan to use Google AdSense, make sure to read the program policies carefully.
  3. You may also want to subscribe to the official Google AdSense blog. They frequently publish updates and answer to users’ questions there.

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