Wednesday, 24 January 2007

What Every AdWords Advertiser Should Know About AdSense

Just as every major city, whether it be L.A., New York, London, Paris or Rome, has a seedy side, so too, hidden in the depths of AdWords is a seedy underworld ... an underworld that every AdWords advertiser should know about. That underworld is contained within a program that complements AdWords, and is called, AdSense. Again, like L.A., London, etc., some parts of the AdSense world are upstanding and respectable places but AdSense also contains a world of sleaze and squalor . . .

Introducing the Real AdSense

Before I introduce you to the sleazy side of AdSense, just in case you don't know where and what AdSense even is, let's begin with a quick primer.

AdSense is the name of Google's ad publishing program whereby web site owners can display Google Ads on their web sites. These ads are displayed automatically by Google in response to the site's content. This is known as "contextual advertising." Thus, the publisher (the person on whose site the ads are being shown) has virtually no control over the particular ads being displayed.

The publisher earns money every time a visitor to the web site clicks on one of the ads. Thus, AdSense is a great way for web site owners to "monetize" (i.e. generate income from) their web sites.

The ads that are actually displayed as AdSense ads are those that AdWords advertisers have chosen to run on, what is known in the AdWords world as, "the Content Network."

Thus, advertisements on the AdWords Content Network = AdSense advertisements.

AdSense: A Closer Look

Now, here is where things start to get interesting. On the one hand, you have your AdWords advertisers who are trying to maximize profits by getting the lowest price per click and also the highest rate of conversions. On the other hand, because profligate AdSense publishers earn money every time an ad is clicked on, they don't care about anything except getting clicks - and the higher cost per click the better. What's more, as I've discussed in a previous post entitled "AdSense Publishers, Don't Forget Who Really Pays You", many AdSense publishers seem to have forgotten that it's regular advertisers who are ultimately paying them, not Google Inc.

So, if you're an AdWords advertiser utilizing the Content Network, it's pretty important that you understand what happens to those ads of yours when they appear on John "I'm Desperate for Income" Doe's web site. It's also important to remember that pretty much any site that conforms to a few rules can be accepted into the AdSense network - including free web sites, free blogs (especially Blogger), so on and so forth. Furthermore, those sites could be run from anywhere in the world, in fact, you will find many of them are from "Third World" countries where AdSense offers more hope of a decent income than any local job could ever offer.

Thus, there are a ton of pretty useless sites out there displaying AdSense ads. What's more, to make things even worse, many of those sites have been created for the sole purpose of displaying AdSense ads in order to generate income (and often with no original content except for free articles or, even worse, articles and news copied with blatant disregard for the author's copyright. For an example, see this article by a regular poster to the official AdSense help forum, entitled, "Getting paid for copying content!").

In fact, there are plenty of people out there selling pre-packaged web sites for generating AdSense income (such as the well-known Joel Comm), even though this happens in violation of the AdSense Program Policies.

So, to summarize so far.

  • Pretty much anyone anywhere in the world could, in theory, be displaying your ads on their web site, no matter how good or bad their web site may be.
  • The people displaying those ads are, in many, many cases, desperate for clicks on those ads because it's often their sole source of income.
  • A whole slew of web sites have been created for the sole purpose of getting clicks on your ads!
To make matters worse, many AdSense publishers really don't care if (or don't realize that) they're ripping you off because:
  1. They have been distanced from you, the AdWords advertiser, the one who really pays
  2. They are driven by their desire for cheap and easy passive income from AdSense clicks
How the Content Network/AdSense Really Works

As I've mentioned, lowlife AdSense publishers are driven by the need for clicks. Just like a crack addict will do anything to get that next fix, so the AdSense publisher will do anything to get those next clicks. They do this by employing a practice known only to the AdSense insiders (hence the official Google blog name: "Inside AdSense") -- "optimizing."

This means they will place the ads and use a color scheme for the ads in such a way that the user clicking on the ads is often hardly aware they are ads at all. Thus, in many instances, someone clicking on your ad may not even really be consciously aware it is an advertisement. In my opinion, this means that those clicks are far less likely to lead to a conversion for you, the advertiser.

However, here's where you do get some good news! Thanks to Google's Smart Pricing mechanism, Google will actually give advertisers a discount on Content Network clicks if Google determines those clicks are less likely to result in a conversion than clicks on the same ad on the search network. Thus, it is my opinion that, AdSense publishers may possibly be shooting themselves in the foot when they engage in extreme forms of "AdSense optimization."

More Bad News

Well, you knew it wasn't going to be all good news, didn't you!

This is where things really hit rock bottom. But before I begin, let me just remind you that Google does check for illegitimate and invalid clicks on AdSense ads: such as repeated clicks from the same I.P. address, clicks by AdSense publishers on their own web sites, etc. Google also prohibits AdSense publishers from using artifical means of generating web site traffic and from actively encouraging visitors to click on the ads. However, Google cannot possibly determine in each and every case if a click is really a legitimate click by a potential customer.

So, what if AdSense publishers could offer "mutual clicks" in a way that Google couldn't possibly determine - "you click on my ads and I'll click on yours" - which is exactly what happens.

If you'd like to observe this sordid practice yourself, join Orkut and become a member of a few of the AdSense communities. If you can bring yourself to look, you will see several people offering to click on your site's ads if you click on theirs. It happens all the time, and it's theft. It's theft from you, the advertiser.


Now, even though this post is painting a pretty black picture of the Content Network (aka AdSense), it must be remembered that not every web site that has AdSense on it is doing anything wrong at all, in fact there are plenty of moral and upright AdSense citizens. However, there are also literally hundreds of web sites run by people who truly are desperate for those clicks. So, before you go launching into AdWords Content Network advertising, bear in mind how AdSense often works in the real world . . . the underworld of AdSense.

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Anonymous said...

While I generally agree with what you are saying, I want to point out one important fact - the advertiser is paying for ADVERTISE with all its pros and cons, not for some holly grail method which has no flaws at all. And they must be aware of that fact. I'm sure it's still far more better and effective than spending millions of dollars on tv ads!