Preface: This thread is an attempt to get a handle on the details and ramifications of recent changes to text ads in Adsense. I'm going to preface this thread with the following fact as of 10/1/2013…THE SITUATION IS FLUID! I'm going to also ask our moderators to help keep this thread on point so it can be used as a repository and/or primer on the subject of Adsense Text Ads in this "brave new world" Google seems to be promoting for publishers and advertisers alike.
A Brief History of Textual Advertising
First, I can't speak to what the first text ads in the Adsense program actually looked like because I didn't get into the program until a couple of years after its inception. Generally though, my experience has been that a text ad, until fairly recently, was just that, predominately "text."
For many years, publishers have basically had the same options for creating these ads and for placing them on their websites. Basic features of these ads included a hyperlinked title, a URL, some descriptive text and a border. Publishers could change the color of these various elements to style the ad in ways designed to either blend in or contrast with their site design. Over the years, Google has also experimented with a variety of "flags" for lack of a better term (usually connected to the border of the ad) to indicate that the content was an ad and to link to information on how a viewer could manage their personal ad settings. Today this manifests itself as a small arrow in a box located at the top-right-hand corner of the ad space.
Anyway, for long-time participants in the Adsense program, this has been the landscape. Over time, people have learned to work with the available options and occasional changes in ad formatting which includes Google's ongoing experiments with multiple ads displayed in a single ad unit and layout changes such as whether ads were centered in a given space or aligned left or stacked, etc.
Then, in 2012, we were introduced to "Nessie." When she first showed up though, we all just called her "the arrow". Like her or not, she was the first truly dramatic change to text ads in a very long while and who could have guessed that she was just the first of many changes that would usher in a new era in the world of Adsense text ads that is still evolving as we speak? She certainly raised a commotion but, before getting into the ramifications of Nessie and later developments, it might be pertinent to quickly discuss a few non-Adsense-specific historical notes about textual advertising on the Internet in general.
As a personal aside, I essentially believe that Google may have single-handedly saved pay-per-click advertising from going the way of the Dodo. At the time when Adsense arrived on the scene, many pay-per-click programs had already failed or were in the process of failing because of fraud and I'm fairly convinced that the war against fraud has brought us the most recent round of changes to text ads in the Adsense program. Regardless of the reasons why, this thread is simply an attempt to sort through these most recent changes and wrestle with the effects they will have on this industry going forward.
Just to round things out, I'm going to add one last semi-historical observation before moving on to the heart of the matter. For those who have recently ventured out from the Adsense world and taken a look at replacing Adsense or supplementing it with Media.Net ads, you may be noticing some similarities in display formatting between the two. Call me paranoid but it looks to me like some of Google's new text ad features are directly addressing this slippage (and/or are an attempt to blur the differences between the two) by mimicking some of Media.net's approaches. One example is the removal of underlining in the ad title and making it larger. This was something I actually complained to Media.net about when testing their ads so it's actually surprising to see Google doing it now. The point here is that competition; perhaps as much as fraud control is a driving factor in the changes in the online advertising industry so perhaps, over time, this competition will benefit the publisher community in ways we can't even yet imagine. We'll see. Right now, what I'm seeing is a plethora of mixed reviews.
…and one last caveat before moving on the the heart of the matter…
I concede that the above does not represent a complete history of Internet advertising or Adsense, or even textual advertising as it pertains to Adsense. The above is from my personal experience and focuses on points I feel are relevant to the discussion that follows, namely a discussion about what is happening to Adsense textual advertising. This is not an attempt at a history lesson but rather an attempt to provide some context for the discussion that hopefully ensues.
What this thread is and is not! This thread really has nothing to do with earnings except in the fact that clicks do lead to earnings. CPC is irrelevant to the subject of how well users interact with a given textual ad unit format. Having said that, CTR IS a relevant subject as it is an indicator of viewer interaction. How much money you make on those interactions is dependent on factors outside the scope of this discussion generally e.g. you can't control the amount of advertiser dollars in the auction at any given time, etc.
This thread IS about the looks, behavior and features of these text ads and the sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant ramifications these changes are introducing for publishers. I've seen plenty of posts that offer obversations like the following (here and on other boards)…
"I hate these new ads…"
"I love these new ads…"
"Revenue is down X% since these ads started showing…"
These kind of statements offer no insight to the actual ramifications of Google's latest experiments and this thread is about making observations that can help others sort this somewhat messy situation out and possibly identify strategies for working with these new units. The above statements leave too many variables unaccounted for to possibly be of any value beyond that of an opinion pole.
Anyway, if anyone cares to have a substantive discussion on the ramifications of large, unlinked titles, ads displaying in panels, too much un-clickable space, wasted space, the effectiveness of the new nessie button or the fact that you're pretty much stuck with borders around your ads now, this is a good place to do it. This is an invitation to share your insights into arguably the most sweeping change to Adsense any of us have ever see. Hopefully a bit of collective wisdom will rise to the surface as a result.
And one last caveat: There are major differences in how these new units look and act depending on your Adsense settings related to performance enhancing features for text ads so it's important to specify whether you have enhanced features turned on or off when commenting.
So, thanks for participating if you're so inclined. Hope you find something of use her if you're just interested in browsing.
Got to get some actual work done now but I'll be back with some of my own observations in due course.