Paid Content had an interesting piece last week on a move by PBS to start running AdSense ads on 2% of the the pages on their site. It caused a bit of a stir in some circles about whether it was within their charter to run ads on their site like this (something I don’t know enough about to comment on).
What DID interest me about the announcement was not an analyisis on WHY they’ve done it or whether it’s right or wrong – but rather an analysis of HOW PBS have positioned their ads.
PBS is obviously wanting to make their ads quite distinct from their content by clearly labeling them ‘Sponsored Links’ and by designing them to have a white background and with colors that don’t really match anything else on their page at all. I completely understand why they have done this but it’s worth saying that the results that they will get from these ad’s performance will almost definitely mean a lower earning capacity.
While I doubt they’ll do anything to make the ads a little more subtle the following are a number of suggestions that I’d make to increase performance of these ads:
Blend – I’d blend the ads more for two reasons – firstly they’ll perform better and get a higher CTR but secondly as they currently appear on the site they stand out like a sore thumb and are pretty ugly. To me using that default color scheme cheapens the look and feel of PBS’s page. Blending the ads could be done to a variety of levels ranging from complete blending (ie making the background the same color as the background behind the white and making the links the same color as other links on the page (black)) to more blending that still makes the ads stand out a little with colors that match the color scheme of the site but that are not exactly the same as content.
Position – The good old AdSense heat map (right) shows that while their positioning isn’t the worst that they could have chosen that it also isn’t the best. Their current position is in a yellow area and to increase performance I’d recommend experimenting with some of the orange ones. Even a simple swap to the other side would probably lead to a higher conversion without compromising content on the page too much.
Second Ad Unit - If I were consulting with PBS on this and the main aim was to increase income from the page I’d recommend a second ad unit towards the bottom of the page – under the two sections ‘for Educators’ and ‘for kids’. These two sections almost look like AdSense ads as they are (see below) and to put a blended ad under there would probably perform well. Of course this probably would take the blending thing too far for PBS who are obviously trying to walk a fine line between raising money and retaining their values.
More Pages – Once again I understand why they only have ads on 2% of pages but this is obviously one way that they could earn more from AdSense. As I’ve surfed through their site I see many page that would be ideal for contextual ads as they are content rich and highly focused on topics that I’m sure there would be relevant ads for.
My overall impression of the AdSense ads that I was able to find on the PBS site was that they did look a little haphazardly positioned and designed. I don’t feel that they ‘fit’ aesthetically with the site and doubt that they’ll perform to their potential in terms of income.
It won’t be an easy job to convince their site’s users that the ads belong and so they do have a difficult task of balancing the income earning potential of the ads and staying within their charter but as an AdSense optimizer I think they could make a few changes that would lead to not only a better fundraising capacity but also a more pleasant looking site.
PS: readers will note that the AdSense ads on PBS have a customized look and feel to them (ie in terms of size and font size/style). I’m not completely sure of why this is but suspect they have some sort of relationship with the AdSense team here. I do know that these are features offered to premium publishers and some other advertisers who meet certain criteria and suspect that these are ads developed in conjunction with the AdSense team.