Adsense Update: Fred, $500, and Is Google Trying Harder?

Fred Wilson seems to be tempting fate by posting on his Google Adsense numbers, but I for one am pleased he's doing it, as it might spur some innovation in the space. Fred's pretty pleased with his $500 a year from AdSense, but I think that's not close to…

AdsenseFred Wilson seems to be tempting fate by posting on his Google Adsense numbers, but I for one am pleased he’s doing it, as it might spur some innovation in the space. Fred’s pretty pleased with his $500 a year from AdSense, but I think that’s not close to what Fred could or should be pulling in. Thomas Hawk has some comments on the post.

Given experiences like Fred’s and my own (which are similar in scope), I would be upbraiding Google on Adsense as it relates to blogs and smaller sites in particular, but this week when I got a call from a nice fellow in their New York advertising office. He was calling to inquire about Boing Boing and Adsense – basically, it was a cold call – Google was doing marketing outreach. While sites like Fred’s and Searchblog are not getting these calls, the Google rep told me his job was to call “mid size” sites like Boing Boing (I’m the “band manager” there) and convert them into Adsense customers. (He did not realize that I write Searchblog, and was not treating me with any kind of special preference, as far as I could tell. I did inform him during our conversation.)

I explained to the rep why Boing Boing is not using Adsense – the list is rather long. First, the ads are not very relevant – Boing Boing is pretty eclectic and updates quickly, and the content confuses the Adsense algorithms, forcing them to default to lowest common denominator type ads – like mortgage offers and affiliate sites. The Google rep countered that for sites the size of Boing Boing, Adsense can crawl more quickly, increasing the chance that more contextual ads will appear. He also reminded me that Adsense has updated tools which allow publishers to specify keywords for ads they might wish to attract, as well as ads they might want to avoid. So Boing Boing might use keywords like “music,” “gaming,” or “technology” to attract advertisements in those categories. And we can create negative keywords like “mortgage” to get rid of those offers. I knew Google had these tools, but this fellow told me Google has given the keywords more weight lately. This isn’t exactly the verticalization of Adsense I had been hoping for (I’d love it if Google let advertisers “tag” themselves so publishers can connect to those tags), but it’s a start.

The trickier part of Boing Boing’s resistance to Adsense has to do with its Terms of Service (TOS) for both advertisers and publishers. Adsense has an anti-“anti” TOS – it does not allow negative ads. This meant that ads promoting, say, anti-Bush t-shirts, were not allowed. To its credit, Google has updated this portion of their TOS (political speech is now OK), but the “anti” terminology is still in the TOS, and the definition is so vague as to be difficult to comprehend.

Which leads to the big issue with Adsense: transparency. Many have written about this (including Thomas above), but the basic reality is this: No one knows how Google makes its decisions regarding Adsense. This means we don’t know what the split is with publishers, what constitutes a violation of the TOS, or what the average price per click is. Not to mention that the TOS prohibits partners from discussing their earnings (which is why I think Fred might be in hot water….). In short, working with Adsense is a “trust us” proposition, one that Boing Boing is not willing to make. (Though I do make it, here on Searchblog, at least for now. For more on my own experience, read this.)

Lastly, Adsense has a “no competition” clause, meaning we can’t run any other text ad network. In my gut, I just don’t like that approach.

Anyway, the Google rep was quite open and listened, responded, and – most surprising of all – said that if we did try Adsense, he’d be our account executive – we could call him at any time with questions. Now that is new – Google has been really beaten up by nearly everyone I spoke to for lack of response (my post here reflects that). You can’t really blame them – with hundreds of thousands of advertisers, it’s hard to scale up. But clearly, Google is now trying harder. Credit where credit’s due….

14 thoughts on “Adsense Update: Fred, $500, and Is Google Trying Harder?”

  1. John, I’m glad to see someone of your stature take up Fred Wilson’s post and talk about Google’s Adsense. And thanks for linking to my comments on the subject at Thomas Hawk.

    You indeed clarify much of what is wrong, in my opinion, with Google’s Adsense program. Conceptually I think it’s a great idea, but a lot of the parts of the program just don’t sit right with me — the secrecy around the program, the fact that bloggers can’t talk about it, the TOS, the no competition clause, etc.

    Sergey, transparency is not evil. I’d encourage you to rethink your Adsense program and the requirements that you put on bloggers who use it.

    Anytime someone tells me that I can’t talk about something that’s out in the public like Adsense it just smells bad to me. I can understand if a company has a product in beta and very shortly it’s going to launch and can be discussed, or if someone gives you information off the record or on background due to retaliation that they might face for giving you information for further research as has been part of the journalism trade for decades — but to take a huge major public program and demand sercrecy about how it works just doesn’t seem right.

    Nice work John.

  2. He also reminded me that Adsense has updated tools which allow publishers to specify keywords for ads they might wish to attract, as well as ads they might want to avoid.

    Do they? I don’t find this option in my Adsense account. Do you have to be a major publisher to get these?

  3. Google’s “no compete” terms bug me, too. It really doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s MY site. I can display the content I want. It’s not like those other ads would be stealing from Google in any way. I don’t actually want to display any other ads on my site, as I think the Google ads already take up too much real estate, but the terms still bug me.

  4. Russell Beattie had some informative posts about his AdSense revenues back in early Feb 2005.

    Here’s the first one.

    And the follow-up.

    I’m starting to see ads appearing in the RSS feeds I subscribe to, but I don’t think they are served by Google. As far as news-oriented blogs go, I personally don’t visit sites once I’m subscribed, so I don’t ever see the Google ads. Russell’s posts about his revenues did more to interest me in using AdSense than seeing ads plastered all over the internet.

    It is my opinion that any tendency Google has towards editorializing or filtering both search results and ads in the long term is bad for everyone.

  5. We’ve been using several advertising networks for over a year and Google Ads Sense consistently produces the absolute lowest performance as measured by the Net Revenue per thousand impressions (NRPM) than anyone else. Turns out that if you are large enough, Google will waive the exclusivity clauses, which seems “evil” to me – treat the large publishers differently than the small publishers. It will be interesting to see what happens when publishers realize this and the exclusivity period end on the Google AdSense contracts. It will be also interesting to see whether Google will continue to bully small publishers with onerous terms.

  6. I’ve never seen the option to fine-tune keywords either. The only thing available in my account is the option to exclude up to 200 domains, which I use to block sellers of fake anti-spyware software. Unfortunately, 200 URLs isn’t nearly enough.

  7. >Lastly, Adsense has a “no competition” clause,
    >meaning we can’t run any other text ad network. In
    >my gut, I just don’t like that approach.

    Not quite. You cannot display content-based ads from competitors in the _same page_ that has Google-Ads on it. It is no problem to show Ads from different companies on different pages. Given that most sites run on some server-side software anyhow, I am surprised that most people just throw their ads on every page, and sometimes even always on the same spot. Being more selective on what pages and where to show which ads can have positive effects on users as well as publishers.

  8. I’m sure we’ll see some changes to Google’s TOS for AdSense publishing once Yahoo! release their contextual advertising, which looks like we’ll see it released sooner rather than later.

    If webmasters start moving to displaying Yahoo! text ads in lieu of AdSense – not least in response to some poor webmaster public relations by Google this year (broken search, pushing autolink, etc) – then we may well see Google having to accept multi-source publishing, ie AdSense besides Yahoo!, Kanoodle, etc.

    After all, third-party advertising accounts for 1/3 of Google’s revenues on the last posting, so they will ultimately want to protect that first.

  9. If You have elected to receive content-based Ads, You further agree not to display on any Results Page any non-Google content-targeted advertisement(s).

    They do not allow any content-targeted ads, it looks like you would be okay with static ads where bots do not parse your content before figuring out which ads to serve.

  10. Curious if anyone has comparative experience with competing ad networks in terms of their TOS and transperency. Also, I know Yahoo! is in the process of releasing their contextual advertising, but isn’t Yahoo’s Overture division offering a similar service?

  11. The question is really if this is a Google-specific problem or if it’s structural to big AdSense-like programs. If blogs like Boing Boing confuse their bots – then maybe blog-advertising shouldn’t rely on spiders at all to gather context.

    It wold be interesting to see if sites like Technorati or Bloglines could do better by analysing linkage between blogs. You could even think of a system that is serving ads based on tags …

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