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Goin' Mobile
In Which I Experiment With AdSense for Mobile

 2:36 pm on Jun 16, 2010 (gmt 0)

Queue song by The Who

One of my larger trafficked sites is a seasonal event site. (If you look me up it's not hard to find) For the past few years I've noticed an increasing number of phone browser user agents, and often toyed with the idea of creating a mobile version of the site. "Too hard, too much work" I whined to myself, and kept putting it off.

This year the growing mobile traffic was impossible to miss. These are people who most likely are *not* seeing AdSense on my site, because their browsers prevent it. Plus, my site, while pretty simplistic in design, isn't exactly formatted for the small screens.

So on Monday I decided I would whip up a quick and dirty mobile version of the site, and redirect mobile users to it. As I proceed with this experiment, I'll pass along my experiences.

Once I made up my mind that I didn't need to convert the entire site all at once, this became a lot more manageable. The core value of my site is that I have a comprehensive list of events, searchable by either date or location. I decided to put up a page with just the two types of search box. That meant I only had to deal with the search page and the results page.

My site is not on any packaged platform, just something I whipped together years ago in PHP and MySQL so I didn't have to deal with stripping down anyone else's code, or converting WP or some other CMS. All my main elements are PHP includes anyway, so really all I had to do is copy them and strip out a lot of the formatting. Why the heck didn't I do this before? Took about an hour to get it working and looking right.

I set the pages to NOINDEX because I don't need duplicate content issues, and there's no reason for the mobile pages to go into Google.

Someone clued me in to a nifty site out there that gives you redirect code for mobile browsers that you can add to your existing site. [moderator note: see detectmobilebrowser.com [detectmobilebrowser.com]

You can download code for Apache (.htaccess), ASP, ASP.net, ColdFusion, C#, JSP, JavaScript, PHP, Python or Rails. All you have to do is change the line at the bottom of the code to tell it where you want to redirect to. I chose the PHP script.

Creating an m.example.com subdomain was easy enough. That was going to be my mobile site.

So once I was satisfied it was working okay, I tottled over to AdSense to see about the ads. The first thing you choose is whether or not you want to show ads for high end phones only (iPhones and Android and the like) or all phones. Since my understanding is that AdSense automatically detects a high end phone and serves an appropriately formatted ad for it, I'm not sure why the high end only option is default, but I picked all phones for now. If you select "high end phones", you do get some choices as to the size of the ad, where you don't when it's set to "all phones". You then choose if you want text and images, text only or image only.

There are two ad formats - single and double. You are only allowed ONE ad unit per page; the single shows one ad and the double shows two. If you opt for the double, you MUST add the code to the bottom of the page (even though it may not always display at the bottom) I chose the single to start.

Next you choose the markup for the ads. Your mobile pages have to be wml, xhtml or chtml. I never heard of the first or third, and I had to go back to make some modifications for xhtml. (It's not perfect, nor does it validate, but I'll fix that later, pageoneresults) Then I formatted the ad colors, assigned it a channel for tracking, and got the code.

There are more code options with mobile ads.

* PHP v4.3.0 or greater
* CGI/Perl v5.8 or greater
* JSP v1.2 or greater
* ASP v3.0 or greater

I chose PHP. Added the code where I want the ad to appear.

Now I'm waiting. After you add the code, they say it takes up to 48 hours for the ads to appear. Not sure why; maybe they come and manually look at the page? I'm sure once I can actually *see* it in my BlackBerry, I'll be making tweaks. I might also test the high end phone code too to see what different formats bring.

The one thing that blew me away is how much mobile traffic I'm actually getting. I racked up a thousand pageviews in a couple hours after I put the redirect in. Had no *idea* it was that much. Now it's running a steady TEN PERCENT of my overall pageviews. This time of year, that's quite a bit. So even if I don't get the AdSense working, that traffic probably wasn't seeing the ads anyway, and they probably have a better user experience on a page that actually fits their phone (and loads faster)

Still have some issues I'll have to think out. Getting more of my pages into mobile format - right now I'm just directing *all* mobile traffic to the site to the search page. Not sure what effect the redirect code will have on my analytics. And of course, since the AdSense hasn't kicked in yet, I have no idea what the ads will be like, or if it will earn any money.

But none of this cost me anything except maybe three hours of time. And the feedback from the users has been positive. And judging from the number of people I saw on Twitter yesterday complaining about not being able to complete their orders for the new iPhone, this is definitely worth a test.

Obviously, this isn't for every site. But it might be worth testing on a page or two, if you notice your mobile traffic steadily inching up.

Will keep you posted. Also suggestions/tips from anyone who's already gone down this road would be cheerfully and enthusiastically welcomed.

Adapt or die.

[edited by: tedster at 2:37 am (utc) on Jun 17, 2010]
[edit reason] I added a link to the website [/edit]



 3:04 pm on Jun 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

I like subdomains myself. But pageoneresults and I were speculating whether you could do it via stylesheet for mobile - and not have to make an entire new site. That's something to play with when I have time.

I never did get the "all ads" type ad to show. But this morning I replaced it with the code for the high end phone ads, and impressions starting racking up immediately. Can't see 'em myself, but will try the FF plugin.


 1:19 pm on Jun 19, 2010 (gmt 0)

Well after the first full day of ads actually showing,I can definitely say I'm liking AdSense for Mobile Content just now. It was a slow start, lots of impressions and no clicks, but eventually they started rolling in. I happened to catch the report while it was just showing the first click, and it was for $1.51, so they aren't just filler ads or cheap inventory. They don't have quite the CTR of the regular ads on the regular ad pages, but my overall CTR was a little low yesterday, so it's probably too soon to tell. eCPM was pretty close to what I get normally.

Still need more than 24 hours, obviously, but at the moment I'm pretty happy with how this experiment is going. And kicking myself I didn't try it before.


 2:35 pm on Jun 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

Yesterday was filled with drama. But I learned some things, so I guess it was worth it.

Turns out, between the browser redirect and trying to NOINDEX my mobile page, I inadvertently NOINDEXed the home page of my site. D'oh! And it must have prevented the AdSense bot from seeing it, because I had nothing but blank spaces in my site for a few hours. Double D'oh!

I first noticed it because my live analytics (I use Woopra) reported the wrong page title for people coming in on /. That seemed pretty odd (and I don't have an explanation for it) Digging into the SERPs, I saw that my home page no longer came up for any searches, and in fact on the site: command, it was way way way down the list and the snippet showed my old DMOZ description from years ago. Since I use the NOODP tag, that was pretty weird by itself. And all my lovely sitelinks were gone too!

Just about that time I noticed the big white holes where there are normally ads on my site, and started to panic. Didn't take me long to figure out what happened. My partner put a permanent redirect in for the subdomain without telling me he'd actually done it, so I hadn't taken out the robots.txt and no index tag for that directory. At least, that's what I think happened. So here I am, the day before the second biggest day of my year (Detroit events tonight) and my home page is out of Google entirely.

It wasn't all horrible. I still had lots of traffic, and some of my other pages had floated closer to the top. But about a quarter of my traffic didn't see ads yesterday.

So, in order to fix it, I first removed the NOINDEX tag and I made sure that the robots.txt allowed the Google Mediabot. I couldn't immediately think of a good way to keep that page out of the index while still using the browser redirect, so I used the rel=canonical tag pointing back to the home page. I'm still not sure if that's a proper use for it; I will have to research that. I was more concerned with how long it was going to take me to get the home page and the ads back.

The good news was that after I did all that, it only took Google about four hours to get all the ads back, and about six hours to get the home page back in. By this morning I had my normal SERPs (plus sitelinks) So as far as I can tell, the entire drama took about 20 hours. I was fearing far far worse.

So I sacrificed a few hours of advertising. And I learned some things. And I felt pretty stupid most of yesterday.

It's all good.


 3:38 pm on Jun 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

And I felt pretty stupid most of yesterday

Yeah well, welcome to my world...


 3:56 pm on Jun 21, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm over it today. Or at least I was till they told me it was going to cost $500 to fix my car (my other weekend drama)

It's always something.


 12:08 am on Jun 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

Webmaster Central has some tips for developing mobile sites.

Duplicate content:
Google no longer recommends blocking crawler access to duplicate content on your website, whether with a robots.txt file or other methods. If search engines can't crawl pages with duplicate content, they can't automatically detect that these URLs point to the same content and will therefore effectively have to treat them as separate, unique pages. A better solution is to allow search engines to crawl these URLs, but mark them as duplicates by using the rel="canonical" link element, the URL parameter handling tool, or 301 redirects.


Developing mobile sites

Mobile Sitemaps


 11:00 am on Jun 22, 2010 (gmt 0)

And I learned some things. And I felt pretty stupid most of yesterday

Been there and done exactly the same thing years ago, but for quite different reasons.


 2:39 am on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Ok, so now it's July 5th, and the bulk of my traffic has died down, so I thought I'd share some numbers on how my mobile experiment did.

I started actually running mobile ads on June 18th (I never did get the plain ads for all phones running - only started seeing stats when I switched it to ads for iPhones and other smart phones)

These stats are for the time period between June 18th and July 5th (which isn't over yet, but close enough for these purposes) I'm only going to give out percentages, but lest you think my sample was too small, I will tell you that there were well over a million pageviews in that time period overall, so my mobile traffic pageviews were well into six figures.

It looks pretty consistent, actually. Mobile traffic accounted for 13% of my visits and 13% of my pageviews. Mobile traffic accounted for 14% of my Google traffic (far and away my largest referrer) and an astounding 37% of my Direct traffic. I have to think about that one for a while. All of these numbers come out of Analytics; I haven't checked my own logs yet.

The pages per visit and time on site were almost identical, within a tenth of a percent and within one second of each other.

As far as AdSense, mobile accounted for 12%. This turned out to be pretty good, since my overall AdSense for this 17 day period was 150% of what this particular site earned for all twelve months of 2009.

The bounce rate overall was 40% but 22% on mobile - I think that's because of the way my pages are constructed. But that's another one I have to think about.

I had one person who said he had trouble with the site, and three people who sent in unsolicited emails saying the mobile version was great. But didn't hear from most people one way or the other.

iPhone and Android accounted for a third each of the total mobile traffic, with BlackBerry running about a sixth, and then a bunch of other stuff making up the balance.

I'm feeling pretty good about it. Already thinking about refinements, and how I might do the same for some of my other sites, and even some client sites.

I consider it a success.


 6:03 am on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Interesting experiment and results!

I'd guess that 10% mobile traffic is 'typical' for a large number of sites these days, though many of the devices are at home or work and going through wi-fi rather than out and about and truly mobile.

Rather than trying to work out whether the User Agent reflects a 'mobile' device or not, some people are basing that decision at least partly on the reported viewport dimensions. Any thoughts on that?


 10:49 am on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

I hadn't thought much about people using a mobile device through wifi - in other words, in the comfort of their own home, sat on the sofa - a situation where they might be much more interested in clicking on ads than they would be if they were truly mobile.


 12:21 pm on Jul 6, 2010 (gmt 0)

Rather than trying to work out whether the User Agent reflects a 'mobile' device or not, some people are basing that decision at least partly on the reported viewport dimensions. Any thoughts on that?

It would be interesting to compare that to the browser detect stats, but I wouldn't know how to do it off hand.

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