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Cashing in on Clicks

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Web Dev

Cashing in on Clicks

September 24th, 2008  · stk

We've been running Google AdSense Adverts (shown only to search engine visitors) for nearly a year and a half. Revenue has increased, over time. We figured we'd take another stab at increasing our stake, so we revamped our adverts, their placement, how they show and focused Google ad bots onto more relevant text. Learn more about our Google AdSense Advertising Empire! (lol)

Randsco Revamps Google Advertising

Back in February, we talked a bit about the history of Randsco and how it's become a calling card for web development work. We also talked about monetizing the blog and on our philosophy about Google Ads. The revenue from these context-related advertisements has been modest, but it has grown, as Randsco readership has increased.

Google Ads were added in June 2007 as "a test". We've been pleased with the results from these - relatively unobtrusive - ads and as a consequence, thought it time to revisit our Google Ad strategy. We're hoping to catch more paid clicks.

New Google Ad Strategy in a Nutshell

We've increased the number of Google Ad blocks to four three & a video Google Adsense Rules google adsense logo LOL ... four turned out to be a violation of the AdSense "Terms of Service" agreement (you can have, at most, 3 ad blocks on a single HTML page). So ... we've replaced the 4th ad block (bottom of the page, 728x90 banner), with a YouTube video block. (Might be entertaining ... or not.) Click the link (or in this box if it comes up over the link) to see the Google AdSense Rules , instead of one ad block. As before, we're only showing them to visitors who land on Randsco from a search engine (Google, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) We don't want to shove advertising at "loyal" readers - anyone landing here by typing "" into a browser address bar, bookmarking us as a "favorite", or linking in from a non-search-engine link. Originally, we only showed Google Ads to search engine visitors on their landing page, but we've now expanded that to every page they click through to see. We've also pointed the Google Ad bot to only look at the body text of each article (and comment text), which - in theory - will yield more relevant ads.

To learn about Ad revenue growth, Google Ad tactics and the specifics of the Randsco Google Ad policy changes ... read on ...

Randsco: World of High Finance

We don't expect to get rich off our website. It's more a hobby that's turning out to pay for itself.

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times (even our five-year-old daughter knows this, as I've said, "eat over your plate" enough times that it's now become a dinner-time mantra): We don't want, nor expect, to get rich off of the Randsco website. It's more a hobby that's turning out to pay for itself.

When it comes to revenue from Google Ads, it's easy to see what I mean. Our monthly average, since we started running Google Ads, is a modest $16.15 per month. This isn't much money, other than a bit of pocket change.

If you read some of the "success stories" on the Google Adsense website, you'll realize that there are some sites that make tens of thousands of dollars every month. Wow! That's a LOT of money, especially because it's based on click-through advertising on the Internet. (e.g., Tim Carter, a licensed master plumber and carpenter, through his website - - is making more than $30,000 a month with Google Adsense).

We have no desire to aim that high. Our current goal is to have the monthly revenue from AdSense to pay for our monthly VSP hosting costs of $50 per month.

Still, our monthly modest average of around $15 is increasing. It's also derived from a single (468x60 pixel-sized) Google AdSense block, with room for 2 text ads and it only shows on the landing page for visitors arriving from a search engine. Surely we can expand the exposure a bit, without detracting from formatting and visitor experience!

That thinking is why we revamped our Google AdSense policy.


Four Steps to Wealth and Fame ... Well, Wealth Maybe ... OKAY, Pocket Change!

There are two important, overriding drivers for us: (1) We only want to show Google Ads to people coming from search engines; (2) We want advertising to be clearly delineated and styled to fit in with content (especially important because Randsco employs a fluid layout).

Step 1: Focusing on Relevant Content

By the nature of how Google AdSense works, it scans all the text on an HTML page, extracts keywords and shoves advertising that provides the "closest match" to those keywords. (This is gross over-simplification, but for the purposes of this discussion, close enough).

The problem comes in when it includes all the code and text contained in the (repeated) header, footer and sidebar of our website. We felt that including such text might skew the relevancy off of what we wanted, which is: the body text of an article.

It turns out that Google has already got a solution for this. It's called "section targeting".

It works quite simply by adding special comment tags, to either emphasize or downplay HTML page content. If you want to emphasize a section, just wrap your relevant text or section with the following tags:

<!-- google_ad_section_start -->
<!-- google_ad_section_end -->

Likewise, if you want to downplay HTML code, such as a sidebar or header, simply wrap those section(s) with a set of similar tags:

<!-- google_ad_section_start(weight=ignore) -->
<!-- google_ad_section_end -->

We've used both on Randsco, to ed-emphasize repeated (non-relevant) text and to emphasize the relevant text (body of the article and comment text). Hopefully, this will yield more relevant advertisements, which will peak the interest of search engine visitors. (The only place this really "fails" is on the home page, which shows 5 article "leads" at one time, which skews the relevancy to one of the 5 articles).


Step 2: Tagging Search Engine Visitors

Originally, we were only showing a single Google Ad on the very first page for visitors arriving from a search engine. For many such visitors, one page is probably all they'll ever see, but we thought, "Wouldn't it be better to continue to show them ads, even if they clicked through to another page on our blog?"

There's a couple of ways to "tag" search engine visitors (i.e., keeping a persistent variable). One is by using cookies and the other by using PHP Sessions. In the end, we harnessed the power of our b2evolution blog, which already has a Sessions PHP class and a number of Session functions. We created a new Session variable called "search", which we populated with the text "yes", for visitors arriving from a search engine. (Likewise, if someone types in a URL into their browser address bar, we repopulate the Session variable with a "null" value).

This keeps Google Ads persistent between pages for anyone arriving from a search engine, and defeats the adverts for anyone arriving another way (even if they originally came via a search engine). Nice ... clean ... and (hopefully) will mean more ads shown to search engine visitors (and keep an ad-free experience for our regulars)! See? We think of you!


Step3: If One is Good, Why Not Four?

We went "lite" on our initial test, showing a single advertisement block, placed at the top of an individual article. We styled it so that it blended in with our page and then sat back to see the results.

We have no idea if adding more ad blocks will help, but we figure it can't hurt. So we left the original block where it was (and styled the way it was) and added three more. One at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar, one banner across the bottom of the page and one square block, right below the comment form input box. This makes a grand total (maximum) of four Google Ad blocks.

Although Google is pretty stingy about the height and width of their ads (there seem to be only half a dozen size options), they do provide an infinite number of styling options (colors, borders, etc.) We've made an effort to style each of the other three ad blocks in a manner that allows them to blend in with the site design, as much as possible.

Google also offers the ability to show images ads, as well as text ads. We tried the option that allows us to show both images and text, but found the images to be garish and unpredictable. We've now toned it back a tad, showing text-only ads in the header and sidebar spaces. (I have no idea if the image ads pay at a higher rate, so we've left the other two blocks as an "either/or" situation and we'll see how the stats play out).

Hopefully, search engine visitors won't be tripping all over adverts and they'll like the way they're blended in with our regular content. (No layout breaks found, so far)!

EDIT (25-Sep-2008) Right after we added the fourth ad block, we noticed that it wasn't showing up. Grrr. It turns out that three ad blocks are the limit and we've replaced the wide, bottom banner (728x90 pixels) with a YouTube video spot. (It's advertised as helping to make your site "sticky", with the added bonus of paid ads). We're not yet convinced, but willing to give it a go.

EDIT (24-Oct-2008): We have realized that the bottom YouTube video spot was (a) visually annoying, (b) not very "sticky" and (c) didn't yield much (any) revenue. We've eliminated it and went back to three regular ad blocks - top (468x60 pixels), sidebar (160x600 pixels) and bottom (728x90 pixels) ... removing the 250x250 block below the comment form. (The bottom 728x90 spot is configured to show a single banner-image advertisement, if there is one, or revert to multiple text adverts, if there isn't a relevant image advert).


Step4: Sit Back & Watch the Ad Money Roll In!

:D :| :( ... not!

The good news is, unlike the unlucky Google Ad cartoon character on the first page, our three days of refocused Google Ads has yielded clicks - 14 so far. The bad news is that these 14 clicks have earned only a tad more than one dollar's worth of revenue.

So much for the plans of mice and men!

Still, it will be interesting to see if - over time - the new AdSense strategy will pay off. If so, great. If not ... well, it's pretty easy to eliminate code!


Summary & Conclusions

While we don't expect to get rich with Google AdSense Ads, it would be nice if we could roughly double our current revenue, which will offset the $50 per month cost of our VPS web hosting service.

To accomplish this, we've added two additional AdSense ad blocks and one YouTube video "unit". The four (total) ad blocks will only be shown to search engine visitors on every page they visit. We've also used special Google comments to focus Google spiders at the text we'd like them to pull keywords from, which we hope will yield more relevant ads.

It's too soon to see if the new strategies are working, but (like the cartoon character on the front page) we've been watching them closely over the past three days ... and finding - much to our dismay - that they haven't translated into any more clicks or more money.

It's odd to note that the individual ads pay such wildly different rates. Seven clicks on Sep 16th netted $5.78 for the day, while nineteen clicks on Sep 13th netted only $1.58. Go figure, eh?

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Updated: 28-Aug-2009
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1.flag Gary Comment
That's a lot of cash that Bob the builder is pulling in, isn't it ?

This time next year, you will be a millionaire my son :)

Keep reaching for the sky, your dreams may come true ;)


2.flag stk Comment
Gary - yeah @ bob the builder, but his site's an advert minefield, for sure.

This time next year I'll be a year older. :|

Having dreams helps the time go by faster though! :D