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'Ugly' design works better for Adsense?
A story of 3 designs on the same site

 5:49 pm on Oct 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

I have a content site, doing well in traffic for around 5 years.

Initially the site was all made in Microsoft Frontpage. My own silly design. Typical early 90s web design stuff. Without knowing much about Adsense placement etc, I experimented and started making good revenue.

Later, the site grew, traffic increased (mostly S traffic), and I kept the placement of the ads the same, but made the design a bit more professional. Cleaner, easier on the eyes.

Last year - end 2008 - I came to dislike that too, and switched over to WordPress with a great-looking design. The ad placement remained the same, didnt want to mess with what was working. But now its more colorful, more professional...

What I can see now when I look at Adsense reports is this:

The pages with the old design, which I left alone (didnt redesign them due to url-change issues) still get a high CTR.

The later design gets say 70 % of what pages with the oldest design makes.

The latest, professional design, at best, makes 40 % of what the original design did.

This has remained consistent across different topics in the site. (So it is not based on some industries paying well etc). In any topic, the bad design gets much more clicks on the ads - and revenues too - than the new designs.

Wondering if I have to go back to the past to regain the clicks I am surely losing out on!



 6:51 pm on Oct 6, 2009 (gmt 0)

This was somehow discussed before with good ideas on the "why".

Navigation is a tricky matter depending on your audience. Some sites of mine perform better with X navigation than the others with a different navigation. This is in terms of navigation only but still related to adsense.

Now, more related is considering the "ugly" term for a website as a site you just find and leave. Its been mentioned as performing better as people might use the ads as a way out of an ugly site.

Being ugly or not, ads are a click out of your website. I would consider somehow pretty navigation and sites as a "stay here" and ugly sites as a "leave please". So you might perform better for a while, while the visitors leave and traffic comes down perhaps.


 12:10 pm on Oct 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

imo what hasn't been considered enough is that only a small percentage of visitors click on ads at all. maybe about 5 percent are heavy clickers and another 15 percent are occasional clickers. all others never or very rarely respond to ads.

now we have to ask if those 20 percent of prospective visitors reflect the other 80 percent in their general browsing behavior, style preferences, needs.

i think it is quite possible that the click-happy audience has very different requirements in terms of website design. namely an ugly design doesn't mind at all or likely even entices them to look what the ads have to offer. this is also my experience as a webmaster. they seem to simply not care, moreover it seems they are rather distracted by good looking design.
on the other hand, people that don't click on ads at all are probably the more web experienced who don't like ads in general and find what they are looking for anyway without the help of contextual advertisements.

with an adsense only business, it would indeed make sense to concentrate with content, design and navigation on the small fraction of ad clickers. now if we would really know their preferences..


 5:44 pm on Oct 7, 2009 (gmt 0)


Pretty much what I am worried about too. If I need to make money, I need to 'please' the clickers and favour their layout. If I need to build loyalty and brand, I lose revenue as the design which appeals to them and engages them do not bring ad clicks from neither them, not the clickers.

It will be ridiculous if I end up with very nice traffic figures and no ad clicks!


 8:37 pm on Oct 7, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ugly or pretty it doesn't matter in most cases and it never did. Your average viewer wants the information they want. Forget the flashy graphics and the bleeding edge designs, your average viewer couldn't care less as long as they get the information they want.

So much crap is discussed about the best web designs nowadays that we may loose sight of the fact that relevant information displayed clearly in easy to understand language is king. Relevant pictures add value as well.

So, optimise your plain, old-fashioned static site for Adsense, in a clear and uncluttered manner and it will always out out-perform the web guru's site. Forget the flash, forget RSS feeds,just give them the widget information they are searching for.

Ugly doesn't work, but plain old-fashioned clear information does.


 6:01 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

This remdinds me on terrible 4 hours discussion at an artist.

He has a site from me since 2004. The site works well, brings him new clients.

But he is an artist, and he wanted, that I make a new site together with a graphican. The graphican had absolut no experience in good web sites. He wanted only a very few pages in flash, had no idea about search engines. So I had to protect my client from this mad ideas.

Best part, I showed him my site, he told me how terrible this site is.

My site brought me since June 2004 nearly 140.000,-EUR. I think when he would design my page, even 140.-EUR in 5 years would be very optimistic.


 6:04 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Wondering if I have to go back to the past to regain the clicks I am surely losing out on!

The designer will sue You for all psychology assistant bills, he has to pay after this shock ;-)


 6:54 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

Maybe poorly designed sites make the AdSense block look like the well designed part and that's why people gravitate there?


 9:10 pm on Oct 10, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just slapped a rectangle adsense block smack under the headline - something I have avoided always. Looks stupid. But it's getting clicks. Let's see in a few days.


 7:51 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

Its not the UGLY design which works better for Adsense, but its MFA sites which work better with Adsense.
Surprisingly, we are not allowed to use a specific type of ad-layout, weras, we have found 100s of other sites using the same :)


 8:43 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just slapped a rectangle adsense block smack under the headline - something I have avoided always. Looks stupid. But it's getting clicks. Let's see in a few days.

You're becoming an Adsense Whore ;)
I've always made sites for the users. Adsense comes second. Short term you may do okay, but it will drop off...


 8:45 pm on Oct 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

but its MFA sites which work better with Adsense.

Till they are caught out [reported] and banned. :)

Surprisingly, we are not allowed to use a specific type of ad-layout

Please explain more.


 7:23 am on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

I know, Lame_Wolf, I know!

It's too early to talk about the results - but interesting to see that a lot of ads that appear in the rectangle box are image ads, not text ads. That is better to look at, as long as the colors or animation are not irritating.

Secondly, the clicks on these ads (which may be mostly images) lead me to think that my visitors are not as fastidious about the in-your-face ads as I am. Now, If I am dealing with people who do not mind it, perhaps I should continue - after all the site is used by them, not me. And so far the ads are bringing in a substantial number of clicks which, if it continues, would be too tempting.


 9:09 am on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just slapped a rectangle adsense block smack under the headline - something I have avoided always. Looks stupid.

I could be wrong but wasn't that outlawed in a recent policy update?
Just a headsup on that one.


 7:48 pm on Oct 12, 2009 (gmt 0)


Google's Adsense help pages still talk about using rectangle ads above the fold, in the beginning etc.

Once I even got a call from Adsense rep asking me to use those ads in that location. I refused then.

Can you show me where they mentioned that?


 1:24 am on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google's Adsense help pages ...above the fold...

It's not the "above the fold"art that is a problem.

It's the "smack under the headline" that could be a problem.

Best to put a paragraph or so of text between the headline and the ads.


 2:16 am on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Maybe the "Ugly" pages get more clicks cause the viewers feel sorry for you and want you to make some money so you can upgrade your website...LOL.


 3:58 am on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)


Yep, not sure about that as it seems to be extremely common to paste the adsense code under the headline. Not that I like it.

Have moved it a paragraph down just to be sure.

Just checked 3 adsense case studies from Google's pages - 3 of the main ones displayed now. Seriously ugleee!


 7:44 am on Oct 13, 2009 (gmt 0)

Ok I can't seem to find where I got that impression from now, (I may be going mad) but I was sure it was from the last big policy update regarding blending.

If you check the Jensense site there are few posts about the policy update, it looks like Google later clarified some of the more vague terms.

I remember thinking that blog style sites could cover their arses with the small post details box under the title.


 2:52 pm on Oct 19, 2009 (gmt 0)

You have to test everything. I say that and I still don't do it enough.

I did have a consultation with someone from Adsense in the USA. I implemented their exact suggestions on a section of my site to try it even though I thought it was a bit too much. Within a couple weeks, I got a notice from a Google person in another country saying I violated terms on one of those pages. I never could get either person to reply to me or know if they could communicate with each other or if different countries have different rules so I went back to earlier stuff. You always have to be careful of what anyone says and make your own judgments.


 2:28 pm on Oct 21, 2009 (gmt 0)

I just slapped a rectangle adsense block smack under the headline - something I have avoided always. Looks stupid. But it's getting clicks.

I had this on one of my older sites for years. In March this year I got an email from Google:

While reviewing your account, we noticed that you are currently displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our policies.....

Publishers may not implement Google ads in a manner that disguises the ads in any way. For instance, publishers may not place ads under misleading headers or titles as this may confuse users into thinking the ads are actually site links related to that header. To avoid this issue, we ask that publishers use only "sponsored links" or "advertisements" to label ads...

Please make any necessary changes to your webpages in the next 72 hours...

If you choose not to make the changes to your account within the next three days, your account will remain active but you will no longer be able to display ads on the site...

I put a short block of text (article summary) between the heading and first ads block. Seems Google are happy with that.

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