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‘Clever’ Adsense Placement

I’m enjoying a thread over at DigitalPoint that is discussing ‘Sites where I didn’t notice the Adsense‘.

Some of the sites people are referring to are very clever indeed – in fact some might even be ‘too clever’ in that they perhaps run the risk of being too invisible and of violating Adsense TOS. Some of the more ‘blended’ examples mentioned include:

Now you’ll want to keep in mind that some of these examples could be walking a very fine line between what is allowable and not allowable in Google’s TOS. I’d be wanting to check with Adsense first – especially around their conditions that talk about drawing attention to your ads in sneaky ways. There is a lot of debate in Adsense forums over the use of images around ads as a technique to draw the eye. My policy is ‘when in doubt ask Adsense’.

I’d be interested to see your examples of clever Adsense placement on blogs or other websites.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. I seriously doubt that disguising ads with as links to real content within a section titled “Our top Articles…” is okay by Google’s standards (this is on the SEO unleashed page).

  2. If you use these techniques, then Google may or may not cancel your account, but your users will realize your site is a con and you’ll depend 100% on SERP referrals and 0% on return visitors.

  3. HostingDiary says:

    I disagree. I think the ads were intended to blend in with page design. None of these examples are saying “click on my ads” so whats the problem?
    Andrew

  4. John says:

    putting a picture next to a Google Ad is against their policy. There needs to be a destinction that the picture is not part of the ad such as a bar or a far enough space.

  5. Read enough threads like the DigitalPoint one, and you’ll soon find many sides to this issue. Some people say that Google will ban any account that is sneaky and some people say Google is ok with “blending”. I find it distressing that webmasters will high five one another when they come up a new and better way of tricking the user (yet still stay within the bounds of the TOS).

  6. Jon says:

    It’s sites like that that make me hate ads on the web. You think you are going to be reading content and the next thing you know you are on some one else’s site looking at something to buy. To me they are only one step better than pop-ups.

  7. Jon says:

    Putting pictures next to ads is not against the AdSense ToC. I wrote to Adsense support asking about this practice and posted the reply on my site: Pictures Next to AdSense They do recommend that you use a border on the pictures, but the said that was only a suggestion.

  8. Darren Rowse says:

    I know of people told by Adsense that images near ads should have a border – They were told it wasn’t a suggestion but a requirement.

  9. Dave says:

    I’m not an Adsense expert but I can’t believe that they would approve of any of those expamples.

    It comes down to intent. In my opinion the intent of these examples is to disguise that fact that it is an ad and get more clicks.

    Blending ads into a site is fine but I believe these cross the line.

  10. HostingDiary says:

    Oh come on! You don’t get tricked into clicking anything. You click because the text ad says something of interest to you. Who cares where or how it is displayed, or where it leads?
    Just my opinion, Andrew

  11. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Andrew.

    The fact of the matter is some people click on ads because they are interested in the ad, and some people click on ads because they’re tricked into it. (And some people click on ads as a donation – which could be a bad thing – but that’s another story)

  12. HostingDiary says:

    “Whatever helps you sleep at night, Andrew.”
    Its not my site we’re talking about here. I just don’t see the problem.
    Andrew

  13. Dee says:

    If it isn’t against Adsense policy, it definitely is unethical. Many of those sites posted here are spam blogs to me. That Celica one was mostly google links. Because I can recognize the ad, I could steer from it, but the average online reader may not catch it. And I wonder how it will affect all blogs in the future.

  14. HART says:

    It would be interesting to know as a follow up, now that these sites are in the limelight, were they shut down? were they warned at all? were they given a hearty approval? I personally don’t think these sites are in the wrong with their type of “blending”… At least there IS content on these sites. How many have you seen with just ads – no content? Mind you .. I might have skimmed the TOS many times, but probably am oblivious to certain statements within it anyway.

  15. #5 is spot on – how sad it is that webmasters gloat about new ways to trick users.

    To me, every one of these sites is questionable in their ethics – even myself being a farily experienced internet user had to look twice to see the tricks.

    To me, mixing up editiorial and advertisements like this tells me that they have no credibitlity whatsoever and are only after the few who mistakingly click on it – wouldn’t want to be one of those advertisers paying for clicks

    Thank god for the forced “ads by google” tag because if it wasn’t for that then the whole thing would fall apart.

  16. Miha says:

    Wow, some sites are really … I have to look twice or more to find ads on pages.

    If we are going to talk a lot about this techniques of blending ads, I’m sure that guys from Google will act and change their TOS.

  17. Dehumanizer says:

    Oddly enough, as I’m now on Linux, and not using the same fonts or sizes as Windows, I still see part of the “Gooooooooogle” text. It’s only hidden on Windows, apparently.

  18. ngan says:

    I think blending ads is ok to a certain extend that one do not causes the user to be tricked into clicking it. I think blending is kind of abstract. what google meant by blending is that perhaps the theme of the ads can be of same colour / looks with your blog / site. A good example of bad blending would be:

    http://www.geocities.com/making_real_money_online

    but then again how much would the person makes if the belnding of ads is poor? after all everyone is into the money. I prefer site that do not have ads, http://www.liewcf.com is full of ads and i hate it.

    this is where the challenge is, to find the right formula. after all it is abstract and there is no right or wrong.

  19. These sites are in serious danger of being kicked out of Adsense.

    Google’s biggest problem with AdSense (aside from click fraud), is that the visitors clicking the ads never intended to visit the advertisers’ websites. Hence, advertisers are paying for clicks that have zero chance of converting.

    That’s why Google doesn’t want publishers to completely fool their visitors into clicking the ads.

  20. Andy Merrett says:

    I take it you’re not an AdWords subscriber then, Andrew? Would you feel happy that your ad was appearing on sites being blended to look like content? You’re paying for those clicks, but people are arriving at your site after having been misled. They might buy something, or they might curse both the originating and the destination site, even though it’s not the advertisers fault.

    What’s an interesting text link when you think it’s another article on a site you thought you trusted, is not necessarily interesting when it’s just a link to an advert.

    Why is this sort of practice any better than splogs putting AdSense ads up?

    I think publishers should spend less time debating how to blend ads and see how close to the line they can get, and concentrate on the content that gets people to their site in the first place.

    The closer you get to the ‘unacceptable’ line in any area of life or practice, the easier it is to fall over it. Why risk your sites reputation for a few ill-gotten clicks?

    Oh, and as for association etc. I sure won’t be paying any attention to ‘Hosting Diary’ now.

  21. I think this blended stuff can create visitors who will dislike a site. I am using a links-bar http://melodiefabriek.nl/category/culture/copyright/ but maybe some visitors will click on it without noticing it is a advertisement-bar.

    There’s a fine balance between blending which is good and blending which is bad.

    But in general I think an advertisement should attract visitors without saying: ‘hey this is an advertisement, are you totally sure about it?’

  22. HostingDiary says:

    Andy I have no association to the sites in question. Oh but I do advertise with Adwords because it delivers highly targeted traffic. I’m always trying to get a higher CTR. Aren’t you?
    Andrew

  23. Andy Merrett says:

    Association to the endorsement of trickery, not the sites, Andrew.

    How many of the clicks that come through to the sites you advertise on AdWords do you think are as a result of this “blendiing” ? You might get a higher CTR on AdSense, but you’ll pay more and get lower results on your own ads.

    Maybe some people don’t mind getting content regardless of how it’s found – I personally don’t like getting ads I wasn’t expecting. I’m happy to click on a relevant ad that I know is an adm though.

    Anyway that’s what I think. I know we won’t agree on this issue. Maybe the CTR’s on my sites will be lower as a result of not “blending” in this way, but I’d rather that than fool my visitors and risk the reputation of all involved.

  24. Cashmore says:

    Eek! That first one (capital tutorials) has a pop-up, too – one that gets around the pop-up blocker and all the other extensions I’m running. Pop-ups and hidden ads? Not good.

  25. I wrote to Google asking for clarification about using images with their ads, because some of my colleagues were getting confused by it.

    They kept on ending up at sites totally unrelated to the pictures that they were clicking on.

    I also wrote an article about Using Images with Google Adsense a couple of weeks ago.

    Strangely enough, I used the Celica site as an example of what no to do.

  26. HostingDiary says:

    I was referring to Adwords CTR.

  27. Mariano says:

    Even though we have to agree to Adsense TOS, I can’t see the point of ethics if you are playing safe inside the Google Terms. For example, I don’t see the difference with paid search. In Yahoo, everytime you do a search you will have 2 o 3 paid results. Are they clearly stated as ads? yes. Do I stop to make sure they are ads? no. I click it if I’m interested. If I loose interest, I hit the back button. We have a fair knowledge to recognize an ad, but, try and have your mother do a search and see what she notices first.
    I see this kind of marketing not only on the web but also on tv and newspapers. I suppose if I feel being tricked I wouldn’t come back to the site.

  28. Andy Merrett says:

    Wow, someone who’s happy to pay more on AdWords regardless of where it comes from. Either you have a hypnotising product (even those who weren’t looking for it will buy it) or you just have lots of money and don’t mind paying for impressions regardless of how they were achieved.

  29. Adam Thody says:

    Ethics aside, I can’t imagine it being that wise from a profit standpoint. Sure you might trick a user into clicking an ad, but do you think they’ll ever return to your site? Not bloody likely.

    The result? A few more clicks, a hell of a lot more time/money on marketing. Not a trade off I’d be willing to make.

  30. Mariano says:

    You are missing my point. I’m not talking as a publisher, I’m talking as a consumer. Of course, as a publisher you will try to get potential customers, but It’s in you how to achieve that. Sorry but I don’t think you get good or bad customers if they are clicking your ad because it says “hey, this is an ad!”. In the end it’s your product and the text you provide to adwords what attracts the attention.

  31. Michael says:

    I find it interesting that we’re all so quick to defend Google. I have not read one comment that even raises an eyebrow at Chitika’s use of images with their ads. In reality, Chitika has identified a long standing truism in advertising, human beings use images as part of our basic thought process, we are visually oriented creatures. Take away the image and you instantaneously reduce the majority of peoples attention span. With a reasonable and judicious addition of images a Web site owner is attempting to slow the “average” readers predisposition to scanning, down.

    Ethics…

    As a point of reference. It is common knowledge that Google allows its employees to participate in the AdSense program. The same employees who have access to your AdSense data and mine. Think about that for just a moment. Do you see an inherent conflict of interest? Wouldn’t you like to have access to everyone’s AdSense data. Just think of the marketing advantage…

    Slight of hand…

    Fooling Web site visitors renders its own consequence in the form of activating a Web site visitors “sales” “I’ve been tricked” radar. Once a Web site shows up on a visitors radar the visitor responds by simply not returning.

    Worst of both worlds…

    Lack of content AND tricking Web site visitors spells an almost certain agonizing death for a site (error 404 – page not found).

    Ultimately, it is not Google that sets the standards and dispenses penalties, it is the Web consumer that holds the power. If our sites show up on a Web consumers “radar” as a bogey (bogey – A cause of annoyance or harassment.), they’ll simply avoid us. End of story.

  32. HostingDiary says:

    Andy if the ad is well written I can assume they are looking for it, and a higher adwords CTR actually saves me money and increases exposure. Read up on it.

  33. Actually, I don’t defend Google at all.

    They are at least partly responsible for it all, because they are far too lax and allow pretty much anybody to participate in their program.

    The huge influx of poor quality sites is a direct result of this and I am particularly fed up of going to web sites and seeing ads plastered everywhere.

    Saying that though, they have their TOS and it must be a nightmare trying to make sure that people comply.

    It really annoys me, when I go to read a forum post or article and there is a huge Google ad at the beginning.

    I would like to see them do that in magazines, because it would really annoy people.

    As for Chitika, don’t the ads display images of the particular products being advertised?

    That isn’t misleading the customer is it?

    Though, I think people are going to believe that iPods are only available in the colour pink.

    It also wouldn’t be very fair if Google employees were not allowed to participate would it?

    Yes, it gives them an advantage, but that’s life.

    I thought the web was supposed to be big enough for everyone?

    I disagree with Michael’s last comment about Google though.

    At the moment, Google is hugely responsible for our sites showing up on a Web consumers “radar”, so they need to find a way to filter out all the rubbish ASAP.

    It is a thankless task, but somebody has got to do it.

    I know it is not the only search engine around, but it is the most well-known.

  34. Patrick says:

    Agree with 5.

  35. I’ve looked at all the sites given as examples and all of them are AdSense T&C compliant.

    All this moralizing is fairly amusing. It is true that sites that have designed their navigation to look like AdSense units (and have mixed AdSense units with their navigation), in general, will send a lower quality visitor to the Advertisers’ sites.

    But Google has a system in place to account for low quality clicks – it is called “Smart Pricing”. When someone clicks an ad unit expecting navigation and gets a new site, then immediately clicks their back button, Google’s system will severely discount that click.

    Optimizing a site to maximize AdSense revenue involves a lot more than improving your CTR – Google’s interested in the visitor’s state of mind. If you can design a site that has visitors in “buy mode” your AdSense earnings will go through the roof.

    As an experiment, I got two sites ranking in the same niche – one site’s template has a 30-40% avg CTR; the other site has a 4-5% CTR. The high CTR site’s average earnings are 8 cents per click, the 4-5% CTR site’s epc is closer to 70 cents per click.

    If your site can create the proper state of mind in your visitors you will be rewarded.

  36. Cary says:

    SEO DotComicide, I don’t believe for a second that Google would consider any of those as compliant…

  37. AnalogPanda says:

    Here is a clever, but tastefully done (IMHO) implimentation of GoogleAds:
    http://www.GetCrafty.com

  38. Danny Foo says:

    Hmm, I think that the ads are too blended with the layout. The example of freecpanels.com is about the content that’s interesting but it’s the topic of the content that we would read mostly before clicking. It’s the catchy and information from the title that interests us and not the body beneath it. The body beneath it to me is just a mere introduction of the article.

    But on the other hand, I’m wondering if there are people who have repeatedly fall for this though they’ve made the mistake once. :|

    Cheers.

  39. Cary #35: “I don’t believe for a second that Google would consider any of those as compliant”

    Maybe you need to re-read the AdSense T&C.

    Using an image next to an AdSense unit is acceptable practice. Ask the AdSense team yourself, or look on any of the major webmaster forums where the technique has been discussed.

    The only site that is really pushing it, IMHO, is the site using the “read moooore” trick – that *might* get a love note from the AdSense team.

    There is no rule against mixing AdSense units in with your content; in fact if you read Google’s own xOfficial http://www.google.com/support/adsense/bin/static.py?page=tips.html Optimization Tips, you will see that G recommends blending ads with your template, and inserting ad blocks into the main content area.

    Whether the “tricky placement” offends the site’s visitors or not, that’s really a personal choice of the site owner.

    Darren’s own Camera Phone Blog uses photos above the AdSense unit, and blending. Are you suggesting that his site is not AdSense compliant?

    Discussions like this make me laugh. Where does the outrage come from? What’s the source of this moral authority anyhow- not even Google agrees with it.

  40. Blues Fan says:

    Those are definitely some interesting ad placements.

    I was always of the impression that disguising ads like that was against Google’s TOS, though.

    Hrm.

  41. Sean Dowers says:

    This is an interesting discussion. I don’t think the idea is to try to trick people to click on the ads. I think that’s a disservice to the folks who visit a site.

    I know that if I were duped I’d be irritated.

    Then again, if they’re having luck with it …

  42. There is in fact a questionable bit of text on the seounleashed site, in my opinion-
    ” We have compiled a select collection of articles which our visitors will find very useful as well as helpful. Please click on the articles to read.”

    That is above their links to articles with the Read mooooore business, and the Google ads are under those.

    It doesn’t matter what we think though, does it? ; )
    Ultimately, it matters what G thinks before sending out those checks.

  43. Ramesh says:

    one thing is for sure. Whether they are violating the TOS or not, these are confusing the visitors.

  44. Jerk says:

    You peopl who are saying “aaww its not fair bla bla bla” you are a freaking wuss like baby.

    People CLICK ON LINKS BECAUSE THEY ARE INTERSETED AND THATS THE BOTTOM LINE, you wussies

  45. Jerk says:

    AND GOOGLE EVEN SAID ITS OK!!! GET OVER IT

  46. Nichi says:

    That’s Great website, i think i can find adsense in that sites.

  47. markowe says:

    The first site you mentioned in your links isn’t showing AdSense, it’s showing Yahoo ads! I don’t know if it was before, but maybe they DID get booted from Adsense…!

    In any case, I am with the camp that says that masking ads to this extent is a cheap trick and is to be avoided. In ANY business, tricking your customers, or at least misleading them in some way is NEVER good practice. Honesty is the best policy if you want a long-term relationship… (you do).

    markowe

  48. Nile says:

    Usefull Ad placement guide, this will help publisher for increase adsense revenew

  49. Jesse says:

    Are you all effin nuts? well some of you. Images are allowed… Google actually doesn’t mind the clicks since they are PROFITING and actually been a huge ongoing debate about “google” click fraud and how it’s not being as strict as it should (even though we all can say it is very strict)… Most of you are paranoid and are thinking “I got adsense” stop thinking that. Just be a marketeer and follow the TOC. People are using the

  50. Notice, as of today 6/4/2009 most of those sites no longer have google ads on their pages.

    I just thought that was interesting.