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Our story: My partner and I have painstakingly built 3 high quality content sites over the past 14 months.
Three months ago, we overhauled the layout to make room for more, and better placed, Adsense units. We used channel analysis to maximize our CTR (and thus CPM) which is now at obscene levels.
We're halfway to the UPS club. The money we bring in allows us to pay writers to create more high quality content, and also invest in link building.
One of the three adsense units looks pretty darn spammy. This ad unit certainly annoys users and make our site less useful to them.
Aside from that, I believe Google may eventually use user behavior analysis (collected from toolbar, etc.) as a way to improve search quality. While the average visitor used to view 2 pages and stay for 2:30, they now view 1.5 pages and stay for 1:45. So I am thinking the bad user experience could hurt our rankings in this way.
Further, our spammy look makes it so that other sites never link to us. Over the past month, we've gotten close to 20K visitors and published about 30 articles, but have not received a single organic (passively obtained) backlink to an internal page! (The main page lacks the spammy looking ads, so it still picks up the occasional passive link).
Thus we are facing a choice: (1) Keep the "spammy-looking" ad unit up, and use that revenue to build links and more content, or (2) take the spammy ad unit down so that the user experience improves and we receive more organic backlinks. Keep in mind the second option means 2K (40%) less in revenue each month.
Help! What should I do?
Myself, I have one add right after my first story and a few affiliate links in the side bar. Actualy, theres only two affiliate links and then a couple of get firefox type or links
Everything blends in nicely and I dont have to indredible of a ctr, but im happy with what I get.
I understand your dilemma and in the end, you have to make it a profitable venture, but if you can do anything to redesign the site to promote advertising but still make it a good user experience, I would try. I, for one, will not create a site that is not intended for user satisfaction above everything else.
If one is really performing and growing well in a quarter then I feel like I have the flexibility to make the user experience on another site better by getting rid of ads... sometimes completely.
My thinking is that I'm not greedy and next quarter I might be able to easily ad spam both sites once the later has grown.
Putting an AdLinks block on the home page has been a big plus, though, and now I'm wondering what else I can do. I need to redesign the site to help people move through it, and I can see I need to think about how to best use AdSense at the same time--I'm not at your level but the latest changes have me in sight of $400/month and suspecting that I can do better still.
But as you note, any change has side-effects. Finding the right balance is tricky.
I wouldn't worry about Google punishing a site for not holding onto its readers. I understand Google to be pushing the top, center placement of big ad blocks, as the best performing for webmasters. (Take a look at their heat map.)
I make some sites for money, and some for fun, and ministry.
The sites for money, make money. They make money at all costs (keeping it white hat, nothing illegal, no spam), but the other sites for fun don't have ads.
That is where I find my balance. From what you have said, your site is about making money. Why would you want to cut that in half?
If you removed all of your ads, do you think visitors would pay to read your material? I doubt they would pay the same as adsense does.
As for declining backlinks, you're probably paying the price of being around for awhile. Those who were likely to link to you without prompting have already done so. Thus the rate of new links will fall, regardless of what you do.
Personally, I ignore backlinks. Que sera sera, or something like that.