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|An Analysis & Diagnosis of Google's AdSense Program|
Silicon Valley Reporter Tom Foremski Sheds Light on AdSense
I thought some of you would like to see how the adsense program along with the adwords program has been performing with Google for the last few years.
My take on this - My opinion is maybe all their penguin and panda updates might NOT be working for them like they thought it would. If website owners can't make money they can spend money on ads.
Reminds me how the U.S. outsourced all their factory jobs. That didnt work for U.S. consumers when they went broke and couldnt afford to buy anything, essentially killing the profits these greedy corporations thought they could make by hiring a cheap labor force.
When will they learn?
I don't know if it is so much Penguin and Panda. I wonder if their zero tolerance policy is to blame when it comes to AdSense policy infractions.
A lot of people start out in the website/SEO field either with a get-rich-quick mindset or don't-have-a-frigging-clue approach (or an unhealthy combination of both). Both of which will give a much higher potential to screw up when it comes to policy.
For example, I know on this board I have seen several people who did not understand the concept of copyright infringement. And then they are shocked when they get banned from Google. And they can never come back. Even if you get your act together. Even if you change how you run a website. Even if you go into a completely new niche. You are done, finished with AdSense (for the most part).
The mindset so far has been that if you don't pay attention to policy, you get what you deserve and Google has no incentive to take you back. Buuuuuut, maybe they should have incentive.
The thing is that these people don't stop making websites. They may grow and change - become better net citizens (mostly). And they find other ways to monetize.
Just an example. One of my friends was banned from AdSense for explicit sexual content. The thing is that he has a music site and that "content" was album covers (where scantily clad women are pretty common). He flat out said that he simply could not go through tens of thousands of files and sort out which images might not make AdSense happy (particularly in the 3 day time frame they gave him). He would have been happy to do so if they had given him some guidance, maybe would have tried had he been given more time. So he walked away. He looked for other ways to monetize the site. He even talked to a AdSense advisor who just kind of threw up their hands and said there was nothing to be done.
It was a lose-lose situation for both him and AdSense. And I wonder how often this happens.
I know I have had a warning once. And the reason they gave did not match the URL they gave. Fortunately it was one page on a personal blog and once I saw the page, I knew what the problem was due to the fact I was talking about drugs (I had written it close to 7 years ago and I was making fun of the drug culture on a college campus - not endorsing, mind you. Make fun of it.) But the reason stated in my email was my ads looked too much like navigation. Trust me, I NEVER make that mistake. I was lucky that I fully knew the policy because had I not, I would have tweaked the ads to look more ad-like and still would have been banned from running ads on that website because that was never the issue. A poorly trained reviewer screwed up. And frankly, had I been banned from posting on that personal blog, I would have just walked away. Not worth my time. Its a small blog and I can throw some other ads on there to monetize it. But as the saying goes, for the want of a nail...
Perhaps it might be in their best interest to have a tiered system for infractions and better communication. Clear warning shots, so to speak. Probation or a better system to alert to exactly what pages are the problem. Definitely a better system to tell you exactly what is wrong. I suspect they are bleeding a great many publishers due to this.
And, for Google, this policy of disregard for collateral damages has worked well across the board. They have applied it to their best interest for search results and AdWords. But maybe it does not work so well for AdSense.
|The thing is that these people don't stop making websites. They may grow and change - become better net citizens (mostly). And they find other ways to monetize. ...this policy of disregard for collateral damages has worked well across the board. They have applied it to their best interest for search results and AdWords. But maybe it does not work so well for AdSense. |
Great insight! I agree, Google's permanent ban strategy as applied to some publishers who had the potential for developing into good partners has been heavy handed. Draconian really.
Here's an idea. The Zeal Directory used to require all contributors to study an online curriculum and then pass an online test before being allowed to join as a contributor to the directory. Perhaps it's time Google AdSense recognized:
1. Many publishers are amateurs who do not understand the basic concepts of sales driven advertising. Google's AdSense is supposed to be a way for regular people to monetize yet Google's policy doesn't treat them as regular people. It treats them like experienced business people who understand what is happening.
2. Google is leaving behind a ton of money by dismissing or discouraging publishers who have talent for creating content but don't understand Internet Marketing.
3. Google is partly at fault for encouraging quality content providers to join the program but failing to understand that these are ordinary people who need extra coddling and cannot be expected to read a user un-friendly terms of service.
[edited by: martinibuster at 2:15 pm (utc) on Jan 30, 2014]
If that much of their revenue is based on adsense, there should be no reason for them not to staff a full customer service support call center.
Its not like they cant afford it.
Here are some details from the article itself:
|Google's earnings: What future for plunging AdSense business? |
Summary: AdSense represents about one-third of total revenues and is important to lots of media companies.
Large media companies such as New York Times are part of the AdSense network... If there are problems in generating AdSense revenues, it will affect many media companies, too.
The reporter, Tom Foremski, [zdnet.com] chides other tech reporters for ignoring the AdSense issues, particularly since it's more profitable (and important) than Google's phone, glasses or self-driving cars:
|Some Silicon Valley reporters would rather follow a car that drives itself than follow the money. |
For further background the article links to this report Foremski filed in October 2013
Analysis: What Future For Google's Troubled $12.7bn AdSense Network? [siliconvalleywatcher.com]
|GOOG's Q3 report showed zero growth for AdSense compared with 22% yearly growth for its AdWords network. |
The report notes that Google's CFO blamed, "advertising policy changes" for the AdSense decline, supposedly meaning that Google's clampdown on policy violaters was to blame for less AdSense earnings. Tom Foremski thoughtfully questions Google's excuse:
|But is AdSense shrinking because of Google's war on spam and pirates? Or, is it reflecting deeper issues with online advertising that could become serious problems with Google's advertising business? |
Interestingly, Foremski notes that Google forced advertisers into bidding on mobile traffic they might not have been able to adequately monetize, possibly forcing out advertisers and reducing competition, at the expense of AdSense publishers. There's lots of good stuff in this article, [siliconvalleywatcher.com] please read it for yourself. Pay close attention to the part where he notes how Mobile is killing media companies. [siliconvalleywatcher.com]
Tom Foremski is right on. He notes how Google's phone business lost nearly $2 billion dollars between 2012-2013. He also notes that the AdSense network is more profitable than the phone business and suggests that Google needs to focus on getting the troubled network back on track. There's a lot more to this article, please do yourself a favor and read it then I'd love to read your comments!
IMHO I don't think it's policy so much that's causing the drop. It contributes, sure, but I think first of all, Google hasn't figured out HOW to advertise to mobile. Offering responsive ads in smartphone sizes is one thing, but it doesn't address *user intent* which is often different when someone is on their phone. They really need to get smarter about this (or else eventually someone else will)
And I think they are struggling to keep up with tamping down the invalid activity and click fraud. It's ramped WAY up in the past year, and I think it's entirely possible that they are over compensating in clawing back the clicks from publishers, lest the advertisers get scared off. I don't just say this lightly; since my traffic to each site is highly localized and since I know how to read a raw logfile, I can see what's there and what isn't.
Obviously this is only my own opinion, and I really don't think Google is deliberately out to screw us over, but I think the level of bot activity (and the sophistication of it) is moving faster than their current ability to detect and stop it. And that's why we see such crazy stats.
It'll be interesting to see where this all goes. As always - diversify, diversify, diversify.
|Many publishers are amateurs who do not understand the basic concepts of sales driven advertising. |
Many publishers are amateurs who do not know how to actually run websites. How often has AdSense presented itself as a set it and forget it revenue source? With the rise of WordPress and, to a smaller extent, Blogger (just because it is owned by Google) and other blogging platforms - all you need to do is fill in a form, click a few buttons, copy and paste a number and voila, you have just added advertising code to your site that you have no fricking clue what the policies were or how to fix it if you find out you are breaking said policies.
|How often has AdSense presented itself as a set it and forget it revenue source? With the rise of WordPress... |
With the rise of WordPress! Google just released a WordPress Plugin that makes it easier for amatures to add AdSense to their sites. The stakes are high for advertisers, for publishers and for Google. It makes sense for Google to help publishers understand the program policies.
Many of these publishers are good people producing good quality content. But they are just regular people. It doesn't make sense for Google to permanently ban them for the error of being regular people.
If I were AdSense I'd put out a notification in the console at least twice a year reminding people to read over the TOS, and point out any recent changes. But that's just me.
|If I were AdSense I'd put out a notification in the console at least twice a year reminding people to read over the TOS, and point out any recent changes. |
I think this is a good idea. I think Martinibuster's idea of a quiz is a good idea too. I think that the idea of working with non-compliant publishers, at least on a short term, would result in longer term relationships.
Actually, now that I think about it...
When I was a college student, I worked for a coffee shop and our pay was tied to acquiring certain skills (recipe for a half caff latte, anyone?). A local hair salon has a similar incentive. Stylists who prove they have learned certain skills get to charge more for their clients.
Why couldn't AdSense do something like this? Sure, any newbie with a computer could start an account, but if you wanted to increase your revenue share, you have to take classes or pass tests. And yes, people could scam it, but then they would have to pay people to scam it and they would have no excuse when they failed to comply.
Maybe Google needs to:
- Do a purge of the AdSense network, to improve advertiser confidence. (Clear out the publishers of automated directories, scraped search results, and other garbage that most advertisers wouldn't want to touch with the proberbial ten-foot or 3.048m pole.)
- Make it easier for advertisers to select specific sites (for a premium, of course).
- Reduce the allowable number of ad units per page, to improve the image of AdSense and discourage the kinds of pages where content exists as a filler to wrap around the ads.
The idea of a publisher ad network still makes sense, but unless standards are raised, AdSense will continue to lose what little luster it may have had.
[edited by: martinibuster at 1:14 pm (utc) on Jan 31, 2014]
[edit reason] Edited for TOS. ;) [/edit]
|to improve advertiser confidence |
Is that the issue though? Are advertisers pulling out wholesale from publishers' websites?
These suggestions would seem to be suggesting that this is the problem. How would your solutions help with getting AdSense publishers?
to be fair, I had rethought what I originally posted and changed it. But EditorialGuy came back beautifully regardless of my original or edited thoughts :)
[edited by: hannamyluv at 10:16 pm (utc) on Jan 30, 2014]
|How would your solutions help with getting AdSense publishers? |
More advertiser confidence = higher advertiser demand = more income for publishers = more participation by higher-quality publishers who, in turn, continue to improve advertiser confidence (thereby perpetuating the cycle I've just described).
Simply recruiting more low-quality publishers to cram junk pages with more ad units doesn't strike me as a sustainable strategy for AdSense.
|Are advertisers pulling out wholesale from publishers' websites? |
I only have one of my AdWords clients in the Display Network right now, either because they're B2B and it never paid off, or they're in niches that are rife with crap sites trying to get high paying clicks. That's just me though.
AdWords needs to really market the value of the Display Network better. They are better than they used to be, but in some cases the default setup for a new advertiser is still geared towards running up a lot of spend in Display without showing them how to organize the account. This doesn't tend to inspire confidence.
[edited by: netmeg at 10:20 pm (utc) on Jan 30, 2014]
|Simply recruiting more low-quality publishers |
What do you, as a advertiser, regard as low quality? Legit question. I think it would be helpful for AdSense people to see it.
It's kind of "I know it when I see it." Advertisers can actually get a dump of all the sites on which their ads appeared, and I tend to actually LOOK at some of them.
Domains with a lot of hyphens in them.
Domains that are typos.
Domains that end in .info or .biz (sorry, but it is what it is)
Sites that have wordy articles that don't actually say anything, that are obviously aiming for high priced clicks, or otherwise obviously MFA - spun articles, publishing other sites' RSS feeds, etc.
Sites with no depth or authority.
Sites with articles that were obviously written or spun by non-native speakers of English (when I'm only targeting US and Canada)
Sites with overly aggressive ad placement.
Sites with an unusually high CTR relative to their likely traffic.
I dunno, after a while, you can spot em pretty easily. And if I accidentally block a good one, there are always plenty more.
The value of adsense isnt just in the clicks, though. It also gives google a presence on loads of websites which it otherwise wouldn't be able to touch. Its a bit like facebook's Like buttons. They can get data about the site's visitors to tailor all their other ads. That is worth something, even without any clicks
I would agree with Netmeg. Cr@p is easy to spot.
And given Ms. Sitts excellent analysis of the potential spread of publishers (http://www.webmasterworld.com/google_adsense/4634437.htm) it should be rather easy to establish a better system of incentivizing AdSense.
This would also allow AdSense a better system to present to advertisers. Rather than relying on wholesale, they could decide who to target. Let's face it, the "One simple stupid secret to..." people would still hit any level.
But if you had levels or tiers for publishers tied to profit share, you would have not only a way for advertisers to better analyze publishers potential for profitability, you would have incentive for publishers to improve.
I'm going to jump in here. I operate websites that use adsense, and manage websites that use adwords. On the adwords side of things we are seeing extremely poor conversions (on an ecommerce site) from adwords due to a large number of clicks. Tracking these clicks shows over a 90% bounce rate. After our adwords budget more than doubled with very little to show in sales, we were forced to cut said budget by 75%. It's not easy to go through and cherry pick websites. It was much easier to cut off all display ads for a given category for instance. our sales dropped by $10,000/mo, but we more than made up for that by cutting our adwords budget. Our adwords budget now sits at 5 grand a month (down from almost 20 grand) and we are thinking about cutting certain poor performing categories again, which would drop it down to 2,000 or so a month. Most of our sales are now coming from organic results, repeat visitors, or social media. Keep in mind this is a multi million dollar site, not a mom and pop shop. Google wanted us to raise the budget to 25 grand a month.
On the adsense side of things, as an (honest) publisher i'm seeing ads that people just don't care about rotating day after day after day. On the rare occasions people end up clicking, it's usually contextual (though my highest single paying click was from a single interest based ad at a little after midnight one night.)
I've been with adsense for a long time, and years ago the same type of site got triple the CTR i now get and more than 5 times the CPC.
Is google right for lashing out at publishers? I don't think so. The bigger issue is the lack of conversion rates for the people that do click. As i mentioned earlier, we were losing thousands a month from click-bombing...thousands a month we did NOT get a refund from. Google should be focusing more on the click-bombing issue itself and less on spammy publishers. They have all the tools (search engine traffic logs, google accounts, adsense logs, analytics logs, etc.) to figure this out. If they could increase the effectiveness of the clicks, we'd be willing to spend way more.
One final note, our ads were prominently displayed on a certain foreign social media startup at one point. We lost $4,000 over the course of 3 months from that site alone. Nobody at my company bothered checking where the clicks were coming from (our fault), but the bigger question is, why were our ads displayed there to begin with? Our demographic is B2B, the products in question were niche products (specialty electrical connectors), why were they showing up on a foreign social media startup?
I'm surprised that nobody has equated the continuing decline of Adsense to Google's transformation into a "Knowledge Engine":
I have lost huge amounts of traffic to my sites where Google now displays a knowledge snippet giving the user direct access to the information they were looking for.
Combine this with the changes to image search where users no longer need to visit the content producer's site to see nice high-res images.
So maybe keeping the users on Google.com increases the bottom line by not having to share the profits with those pesky content producers (Adsense publishers).
|Google's transformation into a "Knowledge Engine": |
Don't forget the carousel that is at the top of more and more search results.
That plus ads that follow visitors around from site to site.
Flower ads on a plumbing site don't work too well. All they do is piss people off because they think Google is spying on them :)
|My opinion is maybe all their penguin and panda updates might NOT be working for them like they thought it would |
What the anti-spam team does isn't revenue generating as it often kills the golden goose.
They have a strange dichotomy in the company that creates this odd balance between making lots of money and even sharing it vs. shooting themselves and their partners in the foot.
However, the goal of the anti-spam team is to keep the search fresh and relevant, not the advertising.
I disagree. The 'anti-spam' team has hurt more legitimate companies then spammers. Spammers typically operate churn and burn operations that they can set up anew overnight. An established business is basically screwed when google penalizes them.
That's the issue with Penguin and Panda. One need only to visit Blackhatworld to see Google not able to combat the problem.
I am currently rebuilding a website for a client that was almost killed by Google's latest updates. Said client had their entire catalog online, had a very nice website up since 2001, and Google out of nowhere decided to de-rank them...of course they weren't specifically targeted, but ranking changes just happened to drop the hammer on them. After investigating i discovered that there wasn't any negative seo, backlinks, etc. All were relevant backlinks made naturally by other companies in the same niche (they were a vendor that sold to people owning a certain type of car).
Said client was always a phone order type of shop. The guy that owns it is old fashioned, but he never had an issue until november of last year. Now they are forced to go eCommerce and pay the Google tax (adwords) to stay in business. Just one swipe from the hand of google knocked off 2/3rds of their revenue. They were an honest operation. It's very sad.
Meanwhile, I know of a couple guys who spam the internet and have entire networks dedicated to ranking their primary websites. They are raking in thousands a day selling scam products.
If Google keeps burning legitimate operations, pretty soon they won't have a business model left. Will Bing overtake them? No. Microsoft is too incompetent to do anything right. They can't even rank my websites correctly, and media.net seems to have odd, weird criteria for approving websites.
I think that buysellads will be the next AdSense, and according to my stats, Duck Duck Go is rapidly up and coming...and above all I believe that yahoo, facebook, and others will continue to manipulate search away from Google. All it takes is one wrong misstep in this song and dance that google is playing with websites to send them spiraling out of relevance.
|The 'anti-spam' team has hurt more legitimate companies then spammers. |
Can't say I agree with this at all. I have seen and heard of things from the other side (spamming and click fraud) that would make your hair curl. There are ginormous operations devoted to nothing else (because there's so much money in it) and they have a ton of money and other behaviors backing them. This ain't Walt and Jesse's RV, this is a whole bunch of Gus Fring's labs.
I agree netmeg. There is a lot of garbage out there, more than quality.
Furthermore, we're at a strange moment in the industry where there's people who came into into it five or six years ago who don't know the history, they just know the boilerplate of what to do, as taught to them by others. There's a disconnect. This extends to AdSense, too. In the middle are publishers who just want to create a business. That's what the Algo Side wants to promote. But the AdSense Side is getting in the way.
A little background
Let's start with PPC arbitrage from a paid click to a click-trap that was a wall of AdSense (or Overture) ads with no way out except through the ads. And arbitrage was just the tip of the iceberg. What was underneath was worse. Those guys were not webmasters. They were more like Botmasters. They were not publishers, they were button pushers.
Some of those people were smart and moved on and are creating valuable businesses, doing really great things. They were smart then and smarter now. They evolved. I enjoy being in their company because they have a lot of wisdom to share. There are also a few that never got it and are still hanging around the margins.
Who's next? I hope that Google thinks this through because their Algo Side wants to promote quality content but their AdSense Side is mismanaging the mom and pops who want to create that content.
I have to imagine that one of the reasons AdSense revenue is down for Google is the fact that organic results more and more and just huge brands and big box retailers. These type of sites almost never have AdSense ads on them. Whereas 2 years ago you could do a search and the organic results would be a mix of huge brands and quality content sites that had AdSense ads. So I'm guessing AdSense impressions of "quality" searches are way down.
Pushing advertisers to take on mobile traffic really was a questionable move. They might have been wiser to "force" advertisers to take search partner traffic. I think Google needs to create a higher quality tier of search partners traffic. Then again, I'm not convinced my site(s) would necessarily meet the requirements.
And I forgot ad targeting and relevance. This morning my page about women's boots has as the top ad on the page an ad for environmentally safe "green" concrete. The next ad was for self storage.
Good job Google!
|I have to imagine that one of the reasons AdSense revenue is down for Google is the fact that organic results more and more and just huge brands and big box retailers. These type of sites almost never have AdSense ads on them. |
Well, Amazon runs AdSense. Walmart runs AdSense. BestBuy runs AdSense. Target runs AdSense. Plenty of others. Personally I think ads on an ecommerce site is never a good idea, but presumably they must be making some little bit from them.
We also haven't mentioned ad blindness. I think users are tired of ads because they're *everywhere*. And the way the retargeting is implemented is out and out stupid; all month I've been followed around by stuff I already bought. No matter who's running those ads, nobody wins there.
netmeg those big brands/big box retailers really only run AdSense way below the fold. Trust me, if their ads were in the optimal placements AdSense would be up 20% year over year versus down. I've tested AdSense way below the fold for a major retailer and the results showed that it was better than having a user leave without any form of monetization.
I agree with the ad blindness; I believe the huge surge in email capture overlay's is also contributing to that.
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