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AdSense Ad Click Zones – Gmail and Other Large Sites Get a Better Deal

Gmail-AdSenseAre AdSense truly interested in cutting down mistaken clicks on ads? If so – why do some of the biggest sites on the web (including one of their own) still have most of their ad units clickable while the average publisher does not?

I just had an email from WebbyThoughts who alerted me to a an inconsistency with AdSense’s recent policy to make less of their ad units ‘clickable’.

You might remember on 14th of this month when AdSense reconfigured their ads so that only titles and URLs were clickable on their ad units. This was to cut down on mistaken clicks and to improve the performance of ads for advertisers. It led to many AdSense publishers reporting lower CTR.

WebbyThoughts today published that they’d notice the AdSense ads on their Gmail account were still clickable over the full unit (with the exception of small spaces between individual ads). I’ve highlighted the clickable areas on the ads in my Gmail account (left).

AdSense did only introduce these changes into some ad units (smaller ones still have the background as clickable) but this ad unit is actually quite large (the screen shot above is only part of it – the full unit displays 8 ads) and I would have thought that for consistencies’ sake that they’d move to a similar displaying of ads on their own property as they’ve enforced upon other publishers.

But Wait – there’s more…

When I saw the above examples I began to consider different reasons for why Google would allow this on their own ads but not other publishers.

One of the reasons that I considered is that perhaps they consider themselves to be a premium publisher. AdSense has a category of publishers that they label ‘premium’ that get different privileges and features to the rest of us. Perhaps they consider their own division – Gmail – to be ‘premium’?

I tested this by going to a blog that I know has premium publisher status – Engadget.

What did I see there on their Google ad units? Let me show you (clickable zones highlighted):

Engadget-Adsense

Yes – you guessed it – Engadget also have their ads almost completely clickable.

Lets try another one. This time About.com:
About-Adsense

How about the AdSense ads on Myspace?
Myspace-Adsense

And one more for good measure – another known premium publisher for AdSense is CNN. Here’s how their AdSense ads look:

Cnn-Adsense-1

I can’t be certain that it’s just a premium publisher thing – but it does illustrate that Google isn’t completely consistent with the the clickable zones on their ad units. While I can understand the need to provide value to their advertisers and to give extra features to premium publishers it does leave me with two questions:

1. are Google not worried about readers of these sites mistakenly clicking ads?

2. how do the advertisers whose ads appear on these sites feel about the increased chance of a mistaken click?

Surely if Google want to give their advertisers optimal performance and the most bang for their buck they’d make these changes not only on sites with small numbers of impressions but also on the sites that show the most ads (I can only imaging the millions of impressions a site like CNN has)?

How Much Money Do Bloggers Earn Blogging?

Earlier in the month I asked readers to share their blog earnings for the month of October. As usual this poll was a popular one with 3054 responses. I’ve run this survey previously so will compare the results between this and last time I ran it below.

Of this number 857 said that they did not earn any money blogging (28%). This is either because they don’t try to – or they try but fail (next time I’ll ask for clarification around this).

Of those that do earn some money blogging the breakdown of earnings into different earning ranges was as follows:

Blog-Earnings-2

For those of you interested in the percentages – here’s a pie chart.

Blog-Earnings

Keep in mind that these figures are just for those who earn something from blogging (and don’t include the 28% who don’t).

49% earned under $100
23% earned over $1000
16% earned over $2500
9% earned over $15000

Comparison to last time

So how do these recent results compare with previous times that we’ve carried out this same survey of readers?

In mid 2006 I asked exactly the same question with the same earning ranges and I think you’ll see below that the percentages are remarkably similar:

200605291457

One last note. When I’ve asked readers to respond to how much they earn from different ad networks (AdSense and Chitika) the shape of the graphs has always been the same. While the percentages vary slightly the results are always quite similar.

So – what can we conclude?

For me the most striking ‘lesson’ from these surveys is that while there is significant hype around the idea of bloggers making money – that the vast majority earn very little (or nothing). A quarter of those who earn something make less than 0.33 cents per day. If that’s not a reality check then I don’t know what is.

On the flip side – a smaller group of bloggers are making good to great amounts of money. While I’m sure there are some votes that are put in the highest category falsely – I do believe that there are an increasing number of bloggers who making significant part time income through to full time income from their blogs. That top category is significant and seem to be growing.

ProBlogger Community Consulting 2.0

Problogger-ConsultingWould you like your blog to be constructively critiqued by hundreds of ProBloggers (and aspiring ProBloggers)? Read on to find out how you could be the next recipient of a ProBlogger Community Consultation.

Last month I ran a little experiment here on ProBlogger – ProBlogger Community Blog Consulting. The idea was to see what would happen if together we helped a blogger improve their blog. The guinea pig first consultation was with a blog called Sourcebench which was the recipient of the ProBlogger community’s advice (84 reader comments plus my own summary of the comments and personal advice). Whether the advice was taken on board or fully implemented I’m not sure – but there were some immediate and significant benefits for the blog being reviewed.

  • For starters they got some great advice. The PB community is a wise bunch and there was some great advice and tips given.
  • Secondly they actually got a nice boost in traffic. Check out the spike on Alexa for an illustration of this (it’s a pity that they didn’t seem able to capitalize on it as it would have made a good little launching pad).
  • Thirdly I noticed a number of other blogs linking up to it in the days of the review.

The other benefit was for the wider ProBlogger community. I had numerous emails from readers thanking me for it as they learned a lot about how to improve their own blogs by watching the consulting going on.

At the time of this first consultation I said that we might do them more regularly. I had over 100 bloggers email me to ask if they could be the next blog reviewed.

Today I’m pleased to announce that in the month ahead we’re going to give it another go.

There will be 2 changes this time

1. Skellie has agreed to coordinate the project (she’ll select blogs, summarize the feedback and add some of her own thoughts). I’ll participate along with everyone else but Skellie will head it up.

2. There will be a charge for the blog which is the subject of the consultation (we’ll start this at $250 USD – paid up front). The reasons for this are numerous:

  • I want to be able to pay for Skellie’s time and I would like this project to pay for itself
  • it’ll help us to cut down the numbers of applications and help us to identify people who are serious about improving their blogs and who are willing to back it up (I know when I pay for something I tend to value it more).
  • it will enable us to offer the wider ProBlogger community an incentive to participate (there will be a prize for one person who gives advice).
  • it will be an interesting experiment into a new way of making money from blogs (and afterall, that’s what this blog is about).

So next week we’ll kick this off on Monday and announce the blog being consulted with. We’ll allow you all 4-5 days to get your advice and tips in and then late in the week Skellie will post the summary of the advice.

We’re looking for Blogs

Are you interested in being the subject for our next blog consultation? Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • A blogger who is serious about improving their blog
  • A blog with room to improve
  • A blogger who doesn’t mind getting constructive criticism. This will put your blog in the spotlight and you’ll hear both the positives and negatives of what people think about it
  • A blogger willing to hold off on making any changes on their blog for the week of the consultation (you can post, just not make big changes to your blog until the consultation is over)
  • A blogger willing to give us a little latitude while we experiment with this new project
  • A blogger willing to put $250 USD up to pay for the consultation

If you’re interested – please email me (darren AT problogger DOT net) with the subject line ‘CONSULTING’ as soon as possible. Please include the link to your blog.

PS: a little more on the fact that we’re charging for this.

I know that for some $250 will put this type of consulting out of your reach. However considering the large numbers of bloggers wanting to participate, my limited capacity to help everyone and my desire for this project to pay for itself I felt the need to charge. I don’t expect to become rich off this project – but do want it to be self sufficient.

Lastly – the price will probably vary from week to week as we see how things work (or don’t work). Depending upon the demand and how the experiment goes the price might come down – or it could go up. It’s a demand and supply thing and we’ll see where things end up.

update – a quick update. We’ve had 16 applications to participate already (after 7 hours). We’ll keep the application lines open though as we’ll be looking for blogs for future weeks.

More on Amazon ‘Buy Now’ Buttons

Roman from Phone Area emailed me after seeing my recent post on adding Amazon ‘buy now’ buttons to posts with a similar suggestion that extends the principle:

“I’ve used this method for a couple months and took it a step further to get more impressions and revenue:

I don’t link directly to a product page but I link to Amazon search results.

Buy-It

For example, see this post. You can see in the post footer the button (pictured above) and when you click on the button it connects you to an Amazon search page and it shows related products to the post.

So what is the secret? It’s keywords.

I use a keywords plugin which adds keywords to the amazon search link

This is much better because customers get more offers – even ones which they haven’t looked for. I noticed in doing this that even when they don’t buy the device in the post that they buy accessories, cases, etc.

My Amazon Impressions were not increased by 50-100% but 500-1000%.”

I quite like this strategy too because it again gets people in the door at Amazon and looking at a variety of relevant results instead of just the one. I can see why it’d increase the impressions and it’d be worth experimenting with. I guess the key will be to track whether it also leads to increases in actual conversions.

Add a Buy Now Button to Your Affiliate Links and Increase Conversions

Self Made Minds had a short but brilliant post last week that I think is Gold for those using Amazon’s affiliate program to make money from their blog (in fact it can be adapted to any affiliate program).

Al writes that he hacked together a little ‘Buy Now’ in the style of Amazon’s buy buttons (pictured below) and added it to his posts (linking it to Amazon’s pages for the products that he was writing about).

Here’s the button Al used:

Buy-Now-1

Conversions went up by 50-100% on the pages that the button was added to.

I’m not sure if that kind of increase will be seen across the board – but it makes a lot of sense.

Most web users are familiar with Amazon and their buttons and simply adding one to your page is sure to grab their attention but also get people in the door at Amazon (a very powerful thing).

I’ve just added the button to quite a few of my own pages and am interested to see what impact it will have in the next 24 hours to my own Amazon Affiliate commissions.

Two Important Reasons to Subscribe to Your Own RSS Feeds

Subscribe-FeedsDo You Subscribe to Your Own RSS Feeds?

Some might think that subscribing to yourself is nothing more than an exercise in vanity – but I believe it’s good blogging practice and something that can improve your blog.

This morning I was wading through the thousands of unread items in Google Reader and noticed that one blog that I read regularly hadn’t updated in the week that I’d been away.

I thought this was unusual as it was a blog that usually posted at least a couple of times a day so I decided to visit the blog directly. When I arrived I found that the blog had been posting as normal (13 posts in the last week). It seemed that their RSS feed was not reporting new posts for some reason.

I emailed the blogger to let them know that I was having problems reading their feed and they replied with:

“I was wondering why my visitor stats were down by 60% this week!”

The blogger had been oblivious to their feed having problems and just blogged on as normal.

This is a great argument to subscribing to your own RSS feed.

I wrote a few weeks ago about having a Vanity Folder in your RSS feed but another folder that I would recommend all bloggers having is a ‘My Feeds’ folder.

I have a folder in Google Reader called ‘Mine’ (catchy name isn’t it!) which contains subscription to my own blogs feeds. Every day I quickly scan it to make sure that my posts are coming through. This way I’m immediately alerted to problems with my Feed and don’t have to wait for a week or two to notice that there haven’t been any posts coming through recently.

But Wait There’s More!

If the above reason isn’t good enough for you to subscribe to your own feeds – I’ve got another one for you (and no it’s not so that your feed subscriber numbers are boosted – although I’m sure many subscribe for that too).

The ‘Bonus’ reason to subscribe to your own feeds is that you can actually learn a lot about your own posting by scanning your own posts.

I’ve written a series on how to make your RSS feeds POP which talks about some of the techniques that you can use to make your RSS feed stand out from the crowd.

One of the best ways to hone these skills and make sure you are effectively using them is to subscribe to your own blog and see how your blog looks to your subscribers. I’ve learned so much about designing my posts by doing this.

How Does Your Comment Policy Affect Your Readership?

Comment-PolicyThis guest post was submitted by Elise Bauer, Publisher of Simply Recipes and Editor-in-Chief of Learning Movable Type

Read blogs long enough and one thing will begin to stand out is the varying tenor and quality of comments on different blogs. When I first started publishing my own blogs and reading others several years ago I wasn’t too surprised by the extraordinarily rude and baiting remarks that would often appear in comment threads. We’d all seen this with Usenet groups way back when, and flame wars were a constant problem on popular email listservs. Any place where you have anonymity of participation with practically zero social repercussions for misbehaving will lead to rude public behavior. Blogs are no exception. People say things in comments that they would never say to someone face-to-face.

What has been surprising to me is that even with the comment moderation tools available to bloggers, extremely rude and obnoxious comments are tolerated, allowed to post on many blogs. My guess is that many bloggers feel that in a democracy, everyone should have the right to be heard.

I disagree. I believe that our democracy gives you the right to publish your own blog, not to spit all over mine.

Who gets priority – your readers or disruptive commenters?

Providing a quality environment for the readers of our blogs is more important than giving a platform for a few people who don’t know how to play well with others. Let’s look at the numbers. Let’s say that your blog gets 1000 visitors a day according to whatever stat package you use. Let’s assume that a quarter of these visitors actually read your posts and the comments to the posts. That’s about 250 readers a day. Let’s say that your blog gets about 10 comments a day. Let’s say that 8 of the comments are okay, or even useful, but a couple of them are rude. They don’t pass the “would you say this to someone’s face, who you knew and respected?” test. By allowing those comments to post, you are letting a couple social nitwits color the experience of your site to your 250 readers. Why do you think bars have bouncers? It’s for the benefit of the rest of us.

Some might argue that flame wars and rude comments are entertaining. And to some, they may be. You need to know your audience. You may also be the kind of blogger who lives off of stirring up controversy and whose commenters are just reflecting the tone that you yourself set.

Some people have a much higher tolerance for rude behavior than others. They’ll call each other the most horrible names online one day and then the next act as if nothing happened. I assert that most people, myself included, do not want to hang out in environments, either online or in the real world, where people are getting away with being extremely obnoxious. Most of us do not want to chance being ridiculed by others if we make a comment on a site. We will steer to where we feel comfortable and safe participating, and stay away from places where we don’t.

You are in charge, you set the tone

How you choose to moderate the comments on your site will affect who feels comfortable to participate on your site, and who will want to come back again and again.

If you let rude, obnoxious, spiteful comments persist on your blog, you are basically telling all of your commenters that it’s okay with you to behave badly on your site. This covert permission can act like a magnet, drawing in hooligans and bullies, making the reading of and participating in your comment section uncomfortable for many. I learned long ago that people will give you as much crap as you are willing to put up with. If you tolerate abusive commenters, they’ll just keep coming back.

Have you posted a comment policy?

After the first couple of years with my blog, I finally got annoyed with dealing with the constant stream of rudeness, and instead put up this comment policy:

Comments are welcome on most of the recipes and articles. I would ask that if you would like to leave a comment that you think of this website as my family’s home and that you wouldn’t say anything on this site that you wouldn’t, as an invited guest, say in someone’s home. Constructive criticism is welcome, as we all benefit from such advice. Rude, mean, or obnoxious comments are not welcome and will not be approved to post (that’s me, gently escorting the misbehaving guest out of the house). Please restrict your comments to the topic at hand, for the benefit of all who may be reading.

Attempts to make obnoxious comments dropped immediately by 80%.

Michael Ruhlman (author, Next Top Chef judge, and blogger) recently posted this request of his readers, some of whom were spouting off a little too much over the judging of the last Top Chef challenge:

It’s my policy not to delete posts unless they are truly harmful in some way, but I urge commenters to post only words that you would say aloud to whomever it is you are addressing. Just ask yourself if you would before hitting the button.

Many bloggers fear that if they restrict commenters in any way, they’ll lose them and lose readership. Frankly, I would prefer to lose the misbehaving ones; it makes it so much more fun for those of us who are left. Simply Recipes has been steadily growing now for over 4 years. Every day more than 70,000 people visit the site. Each new post gets about 20 to 30 comments on average (some much more), which is a perfectly reasonable, manageable number. The comments are constructive, polite, fun, and thoughtful. We share ideas, stories, recipes. We learn from each other. This is a community that I am happy to be part of and proud to host. So, at least from where I’m sitting, it’s working.

What about you? Do you have a comment policy in place? If so, what is it and what has been your experience with the effect of your comment policy on your community of readers and commenters?

User Generated Content and the Threat to Journalism

A few weeks back I asked readers for their opinion on a topic that I’d been asked to write a short column on for the Australian Marketing Magazine (no online version of the article that I can find).

The question was – ‘Will the growing popularity of digital user-generated content pose a threat to the traditional journalist?

The conversation that the question generated was interesting and I found it helpful when crafting my column (below). The piece was one where I was asked to take the affirmative position while another writer (Phil Mclean – Group Executive Editor at Fairfax) took the opposing view.

200711281247

It was a difficult task in some ways to write this one as it had a tight word limit, I didn’t see what Phil was writing (and didn’t even know who the other person was going to be) but also because I was asked to present the case for something that I didn’t completely agree with. I don’t think what we do as bloggers means the end to journalism – but it does present journalists with challenges. So that’s the line I took. Here’s my piece:

We live in a time of change and there is little doubt in my mind that we are seeing a shift in how people find and consume news and information.

A variety of factors come into play that make new media an attractive option for those looking for news:

Participation – many are no longer satisfied to just consume the thoughts and opinions of professional experts – but want to be involved in the process of discussing and interacting with the news. Beyond this we’re seeing more and more focus upon citizen journalism where millions of people have the means to engage in the reporting of news – simply by getting their mobile phone out.

Relationality – many of the new forms of media that are emerging not only involve readers in the reporting and interpretation of news – but they create spaces where community springs up around the news and information being shared. People are no longer finding meaning in news alone – but together in social networks.

Suspicion of Institution – Government, Church, Big Business and other ‘institutions’ are increasingly being viewed with suspicion. I’m finding in my own daily interactions that more and more people have a growing sense of disillusionment and suspicion of mainstream media outlets and are looking for alternative sources of information.

Customization – we live in an age where we have almost unlimited choice in many areas of our lives. New media allows people to customize the information and news that they want to consume. Using tools like news aggregation they can now choose specific topics that they wish to follow and control when and how they consume it.

Immediacy – no longer satisfied to wait for tomorrows paper or tonight’s news broadcast – people are increasingly following events in real time online. While TV and Radio have live coverage of some big events with broad appeal – New Media is light footed, nimble, highly targeted to special interests and quick. Whether it be watching Apple release it’s new iPod live via a blogger at the press event or getting reports and pictures of a natural disaster from a blogger caught up in the middle of the action – new media is increasingly ahead of the rest in getting information out.

None of the above signals the end of journalism in my mind – there will always be a demand for well researched and well presented information.

However it does present main stream media with numerous challenges – mainly around the way that they deliver news and information, how they draw readers into the process of reporting and interpreting news and how they keep journalistic standards high yet still compete to break stories.

Phil Mclean’s Arguments

I won’t print Phil Mclean’s piece in full – but his main arguments were:

1. that Journalism isn’t threatened because ‘we’ (I’m presuming he’s arguing for Fairfax) have not gone on the defensive about user generated content but because they’ve gone on the offensive and encourage their readers/viewers to engage with it.

“we bring our editorial expertise and judgement to ‘citizen journalism’ – and it works to amplify the scope and appeal of our content. This takes nothing away from what our journalists do; it enriches what we can deliver to our readers and viewers – and at virtually no additional cost.”

2. that in the complex world that we live in people want ‘intelligent people‘ to help them understand the world (to tell them not only what happened but why).

3. that journalists are embracing new technology, getting trained up and using it in their journalism.

My Reflections on Phil’s arguements

I would agree with some, but not all, of Phil’s points. With regards to his first point – I’d agree that some mainstream media publications are now embracing user generated content – however many have been slow off the mark and in the process lost significant ground. I also found it interesting that he points out that user generated content costs them little (if anything) – particularly with there being some talk of bloggers organizing themselves into unions recently to stop them being exploited by blog networks.

His second point is true (people do look to people to help them interpret the news) but I’m not sure that is something that only traditional journalists do. New media is also full of ‘intelligent people’ who can provide this service of helping people understand the world that we live in. Mainstream media doesn’t have a monopoly on that by any means.

Phil’s last point isn’t dissimilar to his first and I’d agree that some journalists are indeed embracing new technologies. However I would also point out that some are not. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been interviewed by mainstream media publications (including those of Fairfax) only to be frustrated by them not linking to the sites that they talk about and seeing comments heavily moderated (when there is the ability to leave them at all).

While some mainstream media outlets and publications are making significant inroads in engaging with their readers through methods of new media – to this outsider the process seems a little slow. Does this mean the death of journalism – not at all – but does the embracing of new technology by journalists and mainstream media mean the end to the new bread of media that is emerging – no way.

PS: just as I hit publish on this post I was reminded of a Tech conference that I attended around 18 months ago. The conference was attended by 50% PR people and 50% journalists (I was the token new media guy). The conversations that I had with journalists over the three days of the conference were illuminating and could largely be divided into four areas:

1. Angry – I hate blogs and all forms of new media. They are low quality and have nothing to add of worth.
2. Worried – I’m worried that my industry is dying, I can’t get freelance work because publications are using free user generated content instead.
3. Intrigued - I’m fascinated by new media and am thinking of jumping ship to do it for myself.
4. Frustrated - The publication that I work for talks a lot about new media, but we’re bogged down by bureaucracy and legals.

While I’m sure the landscape has changed somewhat in the last 18 months – these conversations ring in my ears and make me wonder whether a third column written by a journalist (and not an executive editor) might have enriched the conversation even further.

How to Get Your Domain Indexed by Google After Being Banned

Those looking to buy a new domain for a blog might find a post by Chris Webb titled Banned From Google – How I Finally Got Listed useful.

In it Chris describes his struggle to get listed in Google and the discovery of how his domain was previously used by a Spammer which got the domain blacklisted in the search engine.

Luckily for Chris he realized what the issue was and got the situation rectified and is now indexed again by submitting a request for re-inclusion using Google’s Webmaster Tools.

In other SEO related news – Aaron Wall has put together a useful post – The Blogger’s Guide to SEO.