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We've been in Adsense for 13 months, and our total "search" income for that time has yet to reach the average earnings from "ads" for just one day! And our "adlinks" have generated only 25% of the value of search income!
There may be a degree of chicken and egg, here, but search and adlinks are not a central part of our Adsense strategy. We tried giving them prominence in the past, but quickly found the results to be vastly inferior to straight ads.
Google says the reason they will not extend this privilege to small publishers is to keep their brand/logo/box intact. This argument is valid only if applied across the board. I may not be running the New York Times site but I too, want my site to look professional. I still believe the search function is a highly overlooked revenue generator, at least for large sites. We have the search box buried at the bottom of each page since it is so ugly and large and it cannot be incorporated seamlessly along the top row with our navigation. Probably the low returns among the publisher network with much higher revenues generated with AS is the reason why Google doesn't want to bother promoting their search for sites. At least let us change the background color? Pretty Please?
Choice of 3 background colors is appalling.
You can pick your own colors now. It's a recent change. :)
My monthly average search earnings will buy one meal at a not too fancy restaurant. Not great, but it helps.
AdLinks runs about 1/3 of total earnings. I've tried them both horizontally and vertically and don't find much of a difference in performance either way.