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How Bad will Google Quarterly Report Be?

     
7:02 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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"Google's Quarterly Numbers Shock. Technology Stock Sell Off"
From what I am seeing in my AdSense and AdWords account, that's one of a possible headlines come January when Google announces quarterly earnings ... er, lack thereof.

For AdSense, all my site earnings are down ... especially those tied into the service industry. Even though my search rankings have remained consistent and I have done work to increase CTR, traffic is down on my sites and the number of clicks right along with it. Earnings per click is also down.

For AdWords, with many search terms, I can now buy placement on the first page of search results for .02 per click, whereas a month ago the same placement would have cost .20 to .30 The cost for all my campaigns has decreased by nearly 90% ... a stunning number.

I've seen fluctuations in AdSense and AdWords ... but nothing like this. Hang on to your wigs folks!

Brad
Austin, Texas

[edited by: martinibuster at 3:42 am (utc) on Dec. 13, 2008]
[edit reason] Removed political comment. [/edit]

7:10 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Earnings per click is also down.

My average EPC is up 40 percent over this time last year, which suggests that advertiser demand isn't universally weak. (CTR is down, but that isn't surprising for my "discretionary expenditure" topic in the current economy.)

In any case, I'd be leery of writing tabloid-style headlines in December about future events, especially in the absence of reliable data.

7:14 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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signor_john:

My average EPC is up 40 percent over this time last year

I guess I need to start posting a lot of pro-Google posts here, then my EPC would also be way up. ;-)

7:32 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I guess I need to start posting a lot of pro-Google posts here, then my EPC would also be way up. ;-)

Cute, but unless you think Brett is selling his membership list to Google, a better strategy might be to build content and readership that are in demand by advertisers.

7:40 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Cute, but unless you think Brett is selling his membership list to Google

For the record: I trust Brett 150%, and I believe my data to be fairly safe. Otherwise I would stop posting here (and I would not have started to participate in his fantastic board in the first place).

Nah, I believe we all are equal here. Then again, maybe some publishers are more equal than others? ;-)

8:12 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Doesn't some town over in Europe need a town idiot?

Only if you'll accept Blair, Brown and Darling in exchange!

I'm with signor_john at the moment, my EPC is well up however the CTR is substantially down.

8:54 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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EPC slightly up, CTR way down across many websites covering thousands of topics. I have pretty clear data given my sample size of 2 million uniques over the last few weeks that people are just not clicking compared to the last 5 years of adsense.

So at least in our case we are seeing better epc, better ad copy than ever from some industry giants down to mom n pop but our users have really stopped clicking.

9:01 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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my EPC is well up however the CTR is substantially down.

Same here, though I did have good CTR in late November and the first few days of December. All in all, I'm down about 1/3 from what I consider normal. I'm not going to complain though, if I was still doing my real job from 10 years ago, I'd have lost 100% of my pay within the last couple months.

9:05 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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My average EPC is up 40 percent over this time last year, which suggests that advertiser demand isn't universally weak. (CTR is down, but that isn't surprising for my "discretionary expenditure" topic in the current economy.)

EPC isn't so much the issue. It's absolutely positively going to be CTR that will impact on Google's revenue from content network (we have no idea if it will affect search network revenue).

The EPC prices you are experiencing are almost certainly a RESULT of lower CTR's as advertisers are increasing their bids in order to get clicks, at least up to the point where they lose ROI.

Anyway, to answer the initial question, how bad? Really bad.

Not as bad as the Jan. 2009 - March, 2009 quarter will be which is going to be an absolute unholy mess.

I've never been a doomsayer about google, but we seem to have a perfect storm scenario, where we have a wretched economic situation, PLUS the mistakes google has made since the start (and which made the network successfuly up to now) finally kicking in.

I'm also afraid that when the economy recovers, adsense (and google) may not ever reach the peaks of the initial years, and adsense may never yield the money we've seen before.

I see the CTR issue as THE major problem that google somehow has to address (adblindness, garbage ads, low quality, etc). PLUS, it has to address it LOUDLY and publicly so regular folk will start "seeing" the ads again.

I hope I'm wrong.

9:30 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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AdSense already isn't yielding the money some have seen before.

Time to go find other money pots.

But hey, at least my domain parking income is up!

10:29 pm on Dec 12, 2008 (gmt 0)

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...the Jan. 2009 - March, 2009 quarter will be which is going to be an absolute unholy mess.

Nobody really knows how this will play out but from what I am hearing a total worldwide collapse of currencies and banking is possible. There is a huge fear that all these trillion dollar bailouts will cause confidence in the dollar to fail. Obama's appointment of Paul Volker to his panel is supposed to be a signal that inflation will not be tolerated, but will even Volker have the guts to rein in the money supply as employment nose dives? We're talkin' Andrew Mellon and Herbert Hoover here. It's not like they did nothing, it's just that what they did made things worse.

[edited by: OnlyToday at 10:33 pm (utc) on Dec. 12, 2008]

12:07 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Nobody really knows how this will play out but from what I am hearing a total worldwide collapse of currencies and banking is possible.

My concern is not so much what the world economy does (since I can't do much about a catastrophic collapse), but how google will be positioned regardless of economic condition.

I'm convinced adsense income is and would collapse regardless of the current economic woes. I have been for a year, and so far, I've been pretty accurate, but we'll see officially when the quarterlies come out.

I think adsense has only done well in the recent past because of non-sustainable and relatively temporary positive forces. Now that those forces are or have expired, it must have good fundamentals (ie. trust from surfers, publishers, advertisers, ease of use, etc).

It doesn't. Now the flaws in the program will be magnified by the economy, rather than the program benefiting from temporary conditions.

Again, I hope we're wrong. But we're now down to our goal of reducing google page impressions by 50%. We'll continue to cut, cherry picking somewhat, but there's still lots of room for us to reduce without significant income loss, because of the low ctr's.

1:25 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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...I can't do much about a catastrophic collapse...

Actually there is. Major dislocations are not likely to last more than 30 days, so just lay in 30 day stocks of things you need on a daily basis. I've bought a lot of junk silver so if there is a banking crisis I can buy things with old dimes and quarters. The worst that can happen is that I'll have to sell it again once it becomes clear there will be no crisis after all. It can't be any worse than being in the stock market. :)

...how google will be positioned regardless of economic condition.

Better than most, which is still very bad. As advertising goes it is still a good deal, all my complaining notwithstanding. They are eroding their credibility but still render a better ROI than print or broadcast. I yell at Google and about Google because I think there is still hope for them, most internet companies don't deserve my attention.

[edited by: OnlyToday at 1:27 am (utc) on Dec. 13, 2008]

2:48 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I see the CTR issue as THE major problem that google somehow has to address (adblindness, garbage ads, low quality, etc).

In November of last year, Google made one change that obviously lowered at least some publishers' clickthrough rates: shrinking the area within an ad that would trigger a valid click. Since that time, my own site's average EPC has climbed by about 40 per cent, which leads me to believe that Google's decision to take the long view (by ensuring better-converting clicks) has paid off by making the content network more attractive to advertisers.

This year, most of the complaints about falling clickthrough rates have occurred since the international economic crisis in September (a crisis that also has had a big impact on affiliate sales, at least for my site). This suggests that recent reductions in AdSense CTR have less to do with ad blindness, garbage ads, low quality, etc. than with the reluctance or inability of consumers to spend their money. If Joe User is worried about his job, or if he's just lost his house in a foreclosure, he probably isn't in a mood to buy a new computer, a 50-inch HDTV, or a cruise to Tahiti.

How bad will it be? Probably not as bad as the End Times prognosticators are suggesting, but not great if you're completely depedent on AdSense for revenue. eMarketer's revised November 26th forecast suggests that online advertising expenditures will increase about 8.9 percent in 2009, a drop from the double-digit growth rates of the past few years (and a drop from the 14.5 percent rate thatit was predicting last August) but still a great deal better than, say, what's happening in the newspaper and magazine businesses. Some areas will do better than others (spending by local advertisers is expected to be down, for example), but eMarketing is predicting that search advertising will grow by more than 14 per cent, and "search advertising" is almost synonymous with "Google" and "AdSense" these days.

It's fair to say that some publishers will be hurt more than others will be in the coming year, for a couple of reasons:

- Some sectors or topics will be more affected by the economic downturn than others will be;

- In an environment where every dollar of ROI counts, advertisers may find it worthwhile to fine-tune their campaigns with the tools that Google makes available to them (such as placement-targeted CPC ads and an unlimited domain filter, both of which give advertisers far greater control over their AdSense campaigns than they had a year ago).

The bottom line is that 2009 is likely to be a good year for some AdSense publishers, a terrible year for others, and a so-so but not disastrous year for the rest. In other words, 2009 (and especially the first half of 2009) may not be super, but it may not look horrible if you're in a mid- to upper percentile.

3:05 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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As advertising goes it is still a good deal, all my complaining notwithstanding. They are eroding their credibility but still render a better ROI than print or broadcast. I yell at Google and about Google because I think there is still hope for them, most internet companies don't deserve my attention.

I think you might be missing something here that makes this particular comparison rather irrelevant. Google (and us), on one side, and advertisers on the other side ONLY make money if people click. It doesn't matter how much advertisers want to spend if people have become so adblind that the clicks aren't there.

You HAVE to factor this into the analysis, and not forget that what google sells is clicks, and what we sell as publishers are clicks, and when we cannot generate those effectively, there is, in effect, no revenue.

Exactly how the effects will get played out is unknown. Will advertiser bids increase? Will many advertisers simply get cut out of the system?

..anyhow, I see falling CTR as the problem, or at least problem one, and something google could do something about, I think. And related to how people see their ads.

3:30 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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In November of last year, Google made one change that obviously lowered at least some publishers' clickthrough rates: shrinking the area within an ad that would trigger a valid click. Since that time, my own site's average EPC has climbed by about 40 per cent, which leads me to believe that Google's decision to take the long view (by ensuring better-converting clicks) has paid off by making the content network more attractive to advertisers.
That's a possibility, but it's so speculative, no evidence to support a cause effect, and I have seen no indication from advertisers that they were concerned about the clicks issue that google decided to address. It's possible google "fixed" something that did not need fixing.


This year, most of the complaints about falling clickthrough rates have occurred since the international economic crisis in September (a crisis that also has had a big impact on affiliate sales, at least for my site).

I have seen no data that indicates the ctr drops began in September. Or data disconfirming. I suppose we could ask here.

This suggests that recent reductions in AdSense CTR have less to do with ad blindness, garbage ads, low quality, etc. than with the reluctance or inability of consumers to spend their money. If Joe User is worried about his job, or if he's just lost his house in a foreclosure, he probably isn't in a mood to buy a new computer, a 50-inch HDTV, or a cruise to Tahiti.

You may be correct, but I honestly doubt your conclusion. First of all, a good chunk of ads have nothing to do with consumers, per se. Second, one of the peculiarities of a huge percentage of ads is that they don't actually mention price, or even shopping. I think people maintain an interest in things, even when they aren't going to spend their money today, and hence I do NOT believe the low ctr's have to do with the economy.

I could be wrong.


How bad will it be? Probably not as bad as the End Times prognosticators are suggesting, but not great if you're completely depedent on AdSense for revenue.

On this we agree. Clearly there will be varied impacts on publishers depending on sector, how they make money (e.g. many clicks, small epc, less clicks, larger epc, etc).

eMarketer's revised November 26th forecast suggests that online advertising expenditures will increase about 8.9 percent in 2009

I'm simply not sure of the relevance of these figures to adsense publishers. I'm not disagreeing, but I suspect this is a complex issue. As for online doing better than offline, it's irrelevant, unless one owns print publications, which I no longer do.

- In an environment where every dollar of ROI counts, advertisers may find it worthwhile to fine-tune their campaigns with the tools that Google makes available to them (such as placement-targeted CPC ads and an unlimited domain filter, both of which give advertisers far greater control over their AdSense campaigns than they had a year ago).


One would think so. At least that's the theory. I'm sceptical. What you suggest will depend on the rationality, skill, depth of involvement, investment of human resources into adwords campaigns. You'd "think" all advertisers would use the tools, because it's in their interest to do so.

But that would be superficial thinking. A segment of the advertisers will indeed use those tools and become discriminating, while another segment will not, either giving up for a general lack of roi, OR, simply settling for a small ROI since they don't want to manage the complexities.

No way of knowing how many will be in each of those segments, but I wouldn't count on advertiser "smarts".


The bottom line is that 2009 is likely to be a good year for some AdSense publishers, a terrible year for others, and a so-so but not disastrous year for the rest. In other words, 2009 (and especially the first half of 2009) may not be super, but it may not look horrible if you're in a mid- to upper percentile.


Have to disagree. The fundamental structures of adwords/adsense are cracked and non-sustainable. Just as the display/banner fundamentals were flawed. That didn't stop advertisers from paying $18 CPM (which I was getting at one point). Then when the novelty and initial attraction wore off, the flaws become obvious, intelligence activated and the ad market crashed (which it had to). The bubble burst in 2000 didn't affect "some sectors". Nobody escaped unscathed in that marketplace.

I see no difference here. In the 2000 bubble, it was venture capital that pulled out causing exposure of the flaws, and now it's just general economy problems.

The flaws for ads back in 1999-2000 were there all along, as are the flaws in the adwords/adsense system. Been there all along. In both situations the flaws were masked by other transient conditions. When those transient conditions go away, the flaws emerge, and the industry contracts.

Google needed to address the flaws at least 12 months ago. A populist, scalable, automated (yet quite complex system), lowest common denominator network/system isn't sustainable.

Low quality simply doesn't sustain high levels of revenue. Oddly enough, it's possible some systems LIKE adsense that operate with low bids, and low EPC, may not be affected generally.

4:39 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Google needed to address the flaws at least 12 months ago. A populist, scalable, automated (yet quite complex system), lowest common denominator network/system isn't sustainable.

It isn't a "lowest common denominator" network anymore--certainly not in the way that it was initially. Placement targeting (both CPM and CPC), domain filters, smart pricing, etc. have turned it into something much more complex but also more flexible.

Low quality simply doesn't sustain high levels of revenue.

Agreed, but not all publishers in the AdSense network are "low quality," and neither are all ads. What's more, the network is evolving in other ways: e.g., it's on its way to becoming a delivery system for display and video ads as well as existing formats, not just the contextual CPC text-ad network that it was when it started out in 2003.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that AdSense will ever fetch the CPMs of, say, a well-run selective vertical ad network or rep firm. But I think it's a mistake to think that AdSense's destiny is to become a mere dumping ground for "fight belly fat" text ads on junk sites and parked domains.

4:51 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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For AdWords, with many search terms, I can now buy placement on the first page of search results for .02 per click, whereas a month ago the same placement would have cost .20 to .30 The cost for all my campaigns has decreased by nearly 90% ... a stunning number.

I keep waiting for this to happen, but it doesn't. At least not for me.

The conversions are down, but the cost of a click is the same, if not higher than it used to be.

Maybe I'm in niches that always get a lot of competition, but I don't see any decrease in ad spending by my competitors.

7:48 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I have seen no data that indicates the ctr drops began in September. Or data disconfirming. I suppose we could ask here.

On our sites, we experienced a drop in CTR that began in September 2008. While September was almost in line with last year's (weak) September and could be viewed as "at the bottom of the statistical range", October and November very quite bad, compared to 2007, and December is catastrophic. Currently we see that CTR is only half of December 2007 rate.

The traffic is there. The people don't click. And it began in September. For us.

(Small to medium sized high-quality website with single digit million adviews during the period.)

So, how bad will 2009 be?

Very very bad. Believe me.

So far, there were NO quarterly earnings reports that were fully impacted by the crisis (which -except for the financing sector- began in October). None. They have warned, yes, but their numbers were based on Q3/2008 which can still be considered "normal" in most industries.

The crisis began early in Q4/2008, and the effects can be seen already by looking at immediate consumer behaviour, and B2C markets: consumers decide to not buy another new car (easy, the old one does well), they decide to not buy luxury trips (easy, pack up the kids and drive up to grandma), they decide to not buy a new mobile phone (easy, the old one can still used for calls), they decide to not buy branded products (easy, the cheap unbranded product works, too). You get the idea. That's the way real people save real money. And they do it NOW.

Consequently, the financial effects of this behaviour change will emerge in the earnings reports for Q4/2008. Which will be announced during Q1/2009.

It's worth to note that B2B based sectors will react slower, because the effects will hit those dealing with consumers first. Depending on their customers and the industry, they will feel the crisis with a delay. (They do have a good understanding of what's to come by looking at their order books.) I think most B2B businesses will feel the hit in Q1/2009 and say so in their reports due Q2/2009.

Where is Google in this mess?

Google is on one hand depending on end consumers who actually consume. They need clicks. But they are in a B2B service business. They sell the ad real estate and the clicks to businesses.

What would I expect in this scenario? Shrinking CTR (end consumers changing their behaviour immediately) and slowly reacting advertisers who think that increasing PPC may save them, before realization sets in and they see that their ROI has dropped dramatically.

Couple of problems for Google:

1) They depend heavily on end consumers looking to buy things, so they feel the behaviour change already. CTR has dropped substantially. (We do not have any visibility on Google's figures, but looking at our own sites, and the reports of others make us believe that Google is also affected by the drop in CTR.)

2) Google is in a B2B business. They sell clicks to businesses, but they are not in long-term contracts with advertisers. They have not sold the inventory for the next X months. They are in a spot-market. So in reality many businesses can and do act like consumers and stop to consume (i.e. stop buying online ads). It's really easy to do. Just stop spending the money. Stop your online campaigns, and you will experience a direct measurable impact on your bottom line. Money not spent on advertising is profit. (Yep, money not spent on advertising may have other effects as well, e.g. shrinking revenues. But those who doubt the effectiveness of online campaigns, or those who just can not afford expensive online campaigns, those can save money now. Just stop the campaigns.) And I guess many do. - One of the metrics we are tracking is "individual ads per ad block", indicating how Google makes use of the ad real estate. Since early October, this value has been dropping steadily. To us, this is an indication that Google can not sell the ad inventory as they used to.

Soooo - we believe that Google feels the heat already. That's why they allow ads for alcohol now. That's why they started the Adsense-for-all-parked-domains now. That's why they try to monetize Google Maps. That's why they sent no christmas gifts. That's why they postponed the data center in North Carolina. That's why they killed Lively. - Google is desperate.

I expect the earnings reports to be bad in Q1 (for Q4).
And very bad in Q2 (for Q1).

GOOG will be under $200 in 2009.

8:22 am on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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My Q4 data compared with Q3

impressions: same range
clicks: each month dramatic decrease. for the whole quarter about 20% less
EPC: a little bit increasing, about 4% higher

I think my visitors have less intention to buy actual something, so they just read, but click less on the ads.

2:31 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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zett you are spot on to what we are seeing.
2:51 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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I think the question asked by the original poster is all wrong, at least for this forum. It would be a good question for the GOOG forum, but here, the question ought to be:

"How bad will the Google quarterly report be, and what impact will that have on AdSense publishers?"

One possible result of a drop in Google's AdSense earnings might be a purge of accounts that don't generate enough revenue to justify their overhead. I'm not just talking about very small accounts--I'm also talking about publishers who put heavy demands on the AdSense support team, publishers with poor "smart pricing" scores, publishers of dubious quality whose accounts are flagged for review because of questionable clicks, etc. Google now has such an overwhelming market share in the text-ad category that it may be able to afford to discard a modest percentage of its accounts (say, 10 percent) to improve its AdSense profit margin.

3:29 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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There is only one thing that worries me seriously about Q1 in my sector. I think that many who are buying ads now on credit will go belly-up in January. Even if Google eats the loss completely and pays me for those clicks anyway it means there will be fewer advertisers competing for those ads going forward. There will be more comparison shopping by those clicking so fewer clicks will convert.

If Google says, "we aren't getting paid for those December clicks so we can't pay you" then there is a serious unwinding all down the line. And there will be a lot more marginal AdSense accounts after that happens.

3:33 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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OnlyToday, aren't most AdWords/AdSense advertisers required to pay upfront or with credit cards? That doesn't mean Google couldn't get stiffed in some cases, but I think AdWords/AdSense is less vulnerable to non-payment than traditional display-ad media, media-buying services, and ad agencies are.
4:10 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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AdWords advertisers mostly pay with credit cards; they are charged every time they hit whatever the credit limit is ($500 or whatever) Larger accounts are on invoice terms if they meet the credit criteria, and have a set credit limit per month.
5:07 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Zett:

One of the metrics we are tracking is "individual ads per ad block", indicating how Google makes use of the ad real estate.

How do you account for the ads shown via the arrows in each adblock?

I often see only 1 - 2 ads in a 300x250 block, but when I hit the arrows, it's common to be able to scroll through another 12 - 16 ads, all 4 to a block.

Are you counting those additional page ads?

5:27 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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For us it is purely a ctr drop and it is very clear what is happening. On a side note we are seeing some of the best ad copy and companies buying space on our properties ever with a decent increase in epc.

That ctr is just getting slammed in our case, first gradually over a couple months and now steeply in a very short period of time. We have multiple revenue streams now after becoming proactive to a huge drop in income from Google last year and let me tell you I sleep much better at night now.

5:41 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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Larger accounts are on invoice terms if they meet the credit criteria...

And would of course have the larger balances to default. Sorry, I thought that was obvious or I'd have spelled it out in my original post.

5:50 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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ken_b:

How do you account for the ads shown via the arrows in each adblock?

I often see only 1 - 2 ads in a 300x250 block, but when I hit the arrows, it's common to be able to scroll through another 12 - 16 ads, all 4 to a block.

Well, if Google counts them, I count them.

You see, I am looking at the Quick Reports in the control panel. "This month by day". This allows to "Show data by page, Ad Unit, Individual ad". Three values.

I assume that a click on one of the arrows will:

- not increase the page view counter (the visitor stays on the same page)
- increase the ad block counter (the visitor sees a new ad block)
- increase the individual ad counter (the visitor sees a set of new individual ads)

But whether this is true? I don't know. Ahh, the beauty of a black box.

P.S.: I do not believe that the arrows are often used by visitors.

6:02 pm on Dec 13, 2008 (gmt 0)

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It isn't a "lowest common denominator" network anymore

Perceptions are the issue. What are the "average user's" perceptions of google ads now? How do they behave with respect to them? Has it changed since inception?

Then you have the answers.

This 38 message thread spans 2 pages: 38