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How to Split Test (A/B Test) Your AdSense Ads

A couple of days ago I talked readers through some different approaches to AdSense Ad Design and how it can make a significant impact upon the earnings of your AdSense ads. At the end of the post I mentioned that one great way to work out which ad design is best for your blog is to run a split testing campaign.

Today I want to talk readers through how to do this – it’s not as complicated as you might think!

What is Split Testing?

Also sometimes called A/B testing, split testing means that you run two different versions of an AdSense ad unit on your blog so that you can see which one performs best. You serve one version of the ad to one visitor, and then another version to the next visitor.

If you do this over a large number of visitors you’ll get a bit enough sample to be able to draw some conclusions about which ad design works best in that particular ad position.

How to Run a Split Test on Your AdSense Ads

Split testing sounds complicated but it is relatively simple to set up. In short, all it really involves is setting up a couple of channels within your AdSense account so that you can track the results and then inserting a little extra code around the AdSense code in your blog’s templates. Here’s how:

1. set up two different custom channels in your AdSense account. They might be called something like ‘test A’ and ‘test B’.

2. generate two different ad units in the back end of your AdSense account. Make them identical sized formats but give them two different color palettes. Copy the codes AdSense gives you and put them into a text document – you’ll need them in a minute.

3. take the following code insert the two ad units codes that you just generated into it were it indicates:

<script type=”text/javascript”>
    var random_number = Math.random();
    if (random_number < .5){
        //your first ad unit code goes here
    } else {
        //your second ad unit code goes here
    }
</script>
<script type=”text/javascript”     src=”http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js”></script>

ie – you need to replace the bolded lines with your two different AdSense codes.

4. Insert everything into your blog’s template in the appropriate spot for the ad to make it position where you want it to show.

With the above code you should now see the two different color palettes rotating on your blog. It will show one 50% of the time and the other the other 50% of impressions.

You can then log into your AdSense reports area after the script has been rotating for a while to see which one is performing best. Give it a day or two to run before you make too many changes as it can take a little while to get the ad having shown enough times to draw any solid conclusions.

Variations on the Test

You can do the same split test to work out what Ad Unit Size is converting best. The process is identical but instead of having your two ad units with different colors make the only variation their sizes (ie keep the colors the same).

You could also test any other element that you have control over. For example the different corner options, image ads vs text ads etc.

Lastly – you don’t have to make the split test a 50/50 one. You could specify for one ad unit to show up 95% of the time and the other only 5%. This means only a small number of your readers see the new ad unit (good if you’re testing something bold). To do this simply vary the “.5″ to another number. For example .9 would show one ad 90% of the time.

Final Tips

  • Backup your templates before experimenting. If you mess it up somehow you can then quickly revert to your original setup.
  • Make one of the ads you rotate one that you’ve been testing for a while so as to give a good baseline result to compare to.
  • Don’t experiment with multiple changes at once. For example if you test ad size and colors at once you won’t be able to identify the specific element that cases the changes in ad performance.
  • Once you’ve worked out which of your two ad units performs best keep testing with other options. Take your best performing one and test that against other designs to see if you can find one to better it. Once you do use that one as your baseline!

Chitika Interactive Premium Listing Units

One of my biggest blog money makers is Chitika. I’ve reviewed and written about them many times. They’ve always done very well for me on product related sites – however on sites that don’t have a product focus they have never performed.

I’ve been nagging the Chitika team to get them to produce ads for non product related sites and they’ve been hinting at a new ad unit for a while that will meet this need. In the last week or so they’ve released it – Interactive Premium Listing Units.

They look like this:

Chitika-Premium-Interactive-1

The ads are quite like their other units but they are ads for all kinds of other products. I’ve included a live one lower on this post (although not all of you will be able to see it – read on to find out why).

The ads are getting good reviews from publishers that I’ve been chatting with who have tested them although at this stage they will only be served to US readers (some of them). At this stage the ads target at US readers and even then they are ‘behavioral’ and not all US readers will see them. If Chitika feels it’s more profitable to you they show other ads.

The ads pay on a CPC basis and you can specify different keywords when generating your code for the ad. On the following ad I’ve chosen ‘Search Engine Optimization’ as the keyword.

To test out these new ad units Apply to Join Chitika Today.


How to Respond to Individual Requests for Help From Blog Readers

Today Lisa sent in this question which I thought might make an interesting post topic:

“I would love if you’d do a post on how you handle emails from people who ask for one on one help.

As my site and blog grows, I continue to get more and more emails for one on one assistance. I often feel guilty about saying “no” but I have to setup boundaries in order to remain sane.

Thanks for the question Lisa – it’s a good one and one that many bloggers grapple with as their blogs grow.

It is actually a good sign that people are approaching you for assistance in this way as it shows that people see you as an authority in your niche and someone that they want trust to help them apply the principles that you talk about on your blog. That is worth celebrating!

OK, so it’s a positive sign, but the problem still remains. How do you respond to these types of approaches? As I see it there are a number of responses – all of them are valid (although I’d avoid #2) and some will appeal to different people depending upon the life stage of their blog and time commitments.

Here’s a few options for you:

1. Respond to each request for help

At one end of the spectrum is the option of freely helping each person that asks for help. This one is doable for those with either a small blog with few requests or someone with a lot of time on their hands but isn’t really sustainable once those circumstances change – unless you’re willing to lose that sanity that you talk about in your question.

I should say before I give you any other options that this would be my personal preference in an ideal world – but like you say there’s a need to have boundaries.

2. Ignore all such requests for help

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have a fairly harsh approach – while this might help your workload it’s probably not going to help your reputation that much.

3. Work on Reader Expectations

One technique that has helped me a little is to add information to my contact form to help filter some of the approaches that I get. I include on that form that I read all emails but can’t respond to everyone. I also note on my contact form that I’m not available for consulting and link to my FAQ page.

All of this is to help readers to get their expectations aligned with what I can offer. People are still able to contact me but I don’t promise to respond with help for everyone. In having this information on my contact form I found the emails I get asking for help dropped.

4. Develop a Draft Response

Of course no matter what you say on your contact form I still get a lot of emails asking for help. This is something that I enjoy and while I can’t respond to everyone I’ve developed an email response to those asking for help that is an attempt at helping readers find the information that they need as well as decreasing my own workload.

The email is fairly simple and explains that I am not able to help everyone and that I’m not taking on new consulting work. It then goes on to suggest a number of strategies for readers to help themselves. It points readers to my Blogging for Beginners page, my book and some other key pages on my blog. It also says that while I don’t do consulting at the moment that I would be happy to recommend others that do so on a paid basis.

While I’d prefer to be able to help everyone that asks for assistance it’s just not possible and I find that this draft email response has helped a lot. For many readers I try to personalize it a little more. If they ask a question about something I’ve written about I often add a link to the email or make a very quick suggestions. The draft therefor acts as a head start to a response.

5. Public Answers

Another technique that I use is to reply to those asking the questions asking if they’d mind if I answer the question publicly as a post (either giving them credit for the question or not – some like anonymity). You’d be familiar with this technique Lisa as this is what I’m currently doing.

These types of responses kill a few birds with one stone. Firstly the reader gets an answer, secondly other readers who didn’t verbalize the question but have the need get the answer too and thirdly, you get a new post for your blog!

6. Community Discussion

Another tactic is to take the question asked and pose it to your wider readership for them to answer. ProBlogger readers will be familiar with this technique (I did it a few times over the weekend just gone by). The beauty of this approach is that your reader gets an answer (or many of them) and it generates good discussion for your blog. You do need to choose the right questions for this type of thing though.

7. Convert to Paid Consulting

Lastly, you could also respond to such requests with an email that attempts to convert the questioner into a paying client for some consulting work. This won’t work with every type of question – but if what the person is asking is for you to actually help them do something or work through an issue that you can’t do in a quick response it might be reasonable to offer your services in a paid capacity. This might be something you only do in the minority of circumstances but you’ll find that in some people will have a need that they are willing to pay for an answer in.

I’m interested to hear what techniques others use to help them deal with requests for help from readers – particularly when the requests begin to get more numerous than you can actually handle?

Andy Beal Shares His Blog’s Tipping Point

Andy Beal – author of a great book by the name of Radically Transparent – today shares his blog’s ‘tipping point’.

The biggest tipping point for me was a redesign of MarketingPilgrim.com.

I moved from Blogger to WordPress and also had a custom template built.

Within 30 days of the redesign, I had twice as many RSS subscribers and enough new advertisers to fully cover the cost of redesigning the site.

Win one of 50 ProBlogger Books

Want to win a copy of the ProBlogger book? ScribeFire is giving away 50 copies to people who sign up for their newsletter. More details here.

Also over at ScribeFire’s blog today is my latest guest post – How to Increase Page Views on Your Blog.

Leo Babauta shares his Blog’s Tipping Point

In the Skribit question widget in my sidebar the number 1 requested post is for me to ask ‘a bunch of pro bloggers what their tipping point was?’ I’ve done just that over the last few days and a few answers have trickled in so far. The first is from Leo Babauta from Zen Habits.

The tipping point came when two things converged for me, early on in the life of Zen Habits (first quarter 2007).

The first thing was that I was gaining readers a bit at a time, until I had a small but extremely positive and encouraging group of readers.

The second was when I realized that they were there not only to respond to my posts and be an audience, but to shape my blog and its future.

By listening to my readers, and having a conversation with them, I was able to figure out what they really wanted, what kinds of posts would be most interesting and useful to them, and to give Zen Habits a character that was not just mine but theirs as well.

update – question submitted by Trent.

Ad Design – Tactics to Increase Your AdSense Earnings Overnight

increase-adsense-earnings.jpgOver the last week I’ve been covering a few tactics that can lead to a significant overnight increase in your earnings with AdSense (and other ad networks). So far we’ve looked at AdSense Ad Positioning and the number of AdSense ads on your page.

Today I want to talk about AdSense Ad Design – another key factor in the performance of AdSense ads.

In my previous posts I’ve talked about how changing the positioning and numbers of ads has seen significant changes in my own AdSense earnings at different times – ad design can have a similar impact.

AdSense give quite a bit of control over how text ads can display on your site. You can change the color of a number of elements in ad units by changing the ‘color palettes’ that you choose.

Adsense-Color-Palette

As you can see above in the ‘default’ color palette there is the option to change the color of ad borders, the title, background, text and URL. There are rumors floating around at the moment that we might have more control over the font of ads too in the future (I’ve been seeing a variety of fonts in my own ads lately which is a signal that Google is experimenting).

Unfortunately there’s not a single color palette that works best on every blog. As with everything – testing different color schemes is the only way to work out what works best for you.

There are a number of different AdSense ad design strategies that bloggers have used over the years. Lets look at three of them:

1. Contrasting AdSense Ads

When I first started experimenting with AdSense the trend among publishers was to do everything possible to make the ads be seen. The theory is that if people see the ads they’ll be more likely to click them.

The result was some of the most horrendous color combinations that you’ll ever see put together in an AdSense unit.

Warning – what you see below might induce headaches….

Adsense-Ad-Design-Clash

I’m not sure why anyone would select this kind of combination but it was commonplace a few years ago. I saw a number of publishers back in that day saying that a Red/Yellow combination worked best.

The Pros of this design where that they were eye catching – the Cons were that they didn’t do a lot for creating a great first impression of your site.

2. Blended AdSense Ads

As a result the trend moved from ‘clashing’ ads to what was known as a ‘blended’ approach.

The keys to this approach were to set the background and borders of ad units to match the background of the site that they were going. In doing so you removed any border/boundary between the ad an your content.

The Title was then made to be the same color as links on the site. Text was made to match the color of text on the site and the URL field either was made to match the title OR to be as light a color as possible (a light grey) so as to blend into the background as much as possible.

The attempt was to make the ads blend into the site as much as possible and look like an integrated part into the site. So ads here at ProBlogger with a blended design might look like this:

Adsense-Ad-Design-Blended

The pros of this approach was that ads didn’t clash with the site and as a result didn’t scream ‘CHEAP AND NASTY MONEY GRABBING WEBSITE’. The ads also performed better in most cases than a ‘clashing’ ad. The Cons were that sometimes the ads could blend too much into the site, particularly those sites which had a loyal readership which became blind to the ads.

3. Complementary AdSense Ads

Over the last couple of years another term has crept into AdSense publisher circles to describe ads – ads that ‘complement’ a site.

These ads are similar to blended ads but they don’t completely blend in. They complement the colors of the site but aim to also stand out a little by adding a different background and border color. The color you use might be unique to the ads but still ‘match’ the overall colors on the site.

This type of ad is what Google recommend if you’re putting an ad in your sidebar or some slightly out of the way part of your blog as it draws the eye to it. However if you’re putting an ad in or close to content they suggest a blended ad.

4. Designer AdSense Ads

Most publishers still use a blended or complementary approach (I do) but over the last few years a number of AdSense publishers have played with incorporating different design elements around their ads to integrate them even more fully into the site.

There was a period where publishers got away with aligning images directly beside, above or below ads – AdSense cracked down on this and now don’t allow it at all – however there are ways to incorporate the ads into the design of your site.

I first wrote about this in a post called Designer AdSense Ads where I highlighted these two ads from Karen Cheng’s blog:

Adsense-Ad-Design-Designer-1 Adsense-Ad-Design-Designer-2

You can see the ads themselves are placed inside frames that integrate the ads into the design of the site.

Interestingly Karen no longer uses these ads on her blog. I’ve seen a number of publishers attempt to do this with mixed success. It’s something to experiment with.

So Which AdSense Ad Design is Best?

The choice of which AdSense ad design to choose for your blog is a decision that you need to weigh up on a number of fronts including:

  • Performance – test different designs to see which converts best in terms of click through rate
  • Aesthetics – each of us have a different preference on what does and doesn’t look good and on how willing we are to allow ads that ‘stick out’ a little.
  • Other Competing Design Elements – if your blog’s design is ‘busy’ and has a lot of competing points of visual interest for readers you might need to increase the ‘loudness’ of the ads in order to compete.

When it comes down to purely financial considerations – the fact is that sometimes blending works best and on other occasions it can be better to go with a more contrasting approach.

Check out the official advice from AdSense:

The color strategy you should use on your site varies depending on the ad placement and the color of the background where the ads are placed. Review the table below for a quick reference about which strategies we suggest will work well on your site.”

Adsense-Ad-Design-Choices

You can see the overall design of your site comes into question quite a bit in the eyes of AdSense.

Other Design Choices

There are a few other choices that publishers have when it comes to the way that their ads look.

Curved Corners

One somewhat recent chose that AdSense have given us is the ability to round the corners of our ads. As publishers we now have the ability to have three formats – Square ads, Slightly Rounded ads and Very Rounded ads:

Rounded Corners

Your choice with the corners of your ads only comes into play if you go for a complementary or contrasting approach (ie blended ads effectively don’t have borders that can be seen). The choice will will depend upon the design of your blog. If you have curves on other design elements this will help to integrate the ads better.

Rotate ads

If your blog has a lot of repeat readers who come back day after day you will want to consider changing the design of your ads from time to time so as to overcome ad blindness.

You can manually do this on a regular basis or use the built in mechanism that AdSense offers for you to choose up to 4 different color palettes for your ads to automatically rotate through.

Test Test Test

The key to finding the right AdSense Ad Design for your blog is to test different options and see what works best for you.

One way to do this is to try Split Testing (sometimes called A/B testing). I’ll write up how to do this tomorrow – stay tuned!

Putting More Ads On Your Page: Tactics to Increase Your AdSense Earnings Overnight

increase-adsense-earnings.jpgLast week I began a mini series of posts on tactics to increase your AdSense Earnings Overnight. In the first post I looked at the tactic of optimizing the position of your AdSense ads and shared my own journey of discovery in this area and the realization that I could significantly increase my AdSense ad earnings by moving my ad from one position to another.

Today I want to look at another simple way to increase what AdSense (and other ad networks) can earn you. It’s the most simple and obvious thing to do – but it’s amazing how few bloggers actually do it.

Put more Ads on your Page!

It’s not rocket science – but one of the quickest ways to increase your blog’s earnings is to add more advertising to your blog. Of course it’s not just a matter of slapping as many ads as possible on your blog – but more on that later in this post.

Let me continue the story I started yesterday on my own journey to higher AdSense earnings.

Remember, yesterday I told the story of how I moved my ads from one position to another like this:

Ad-Positioning recap.jpg

That move led to an increase in earnings of around 50%. Not bad for 10 minutes work.

A few days after making this change I had calmed down after the initial rush of excitement and decided to take things to the next level. I decided that if one ad unit on a page could earn as much as it did that more ad unit might increase the overall earnings.

Why I’d not considered it earlier I’m not sure (from memory there was a time where you were quite limited in how many AdSense units you could use per page – these days the limit is 3) – but I decided to see what impact it would have.

I moved from the above layout to this one with two additional ad units:

Ad-Positioning 3.jpg

What I discovered is that on a blog the positions above comments (at the end of an article) and below them are good positions because they are places that readers ‘pause’.

A reader reads your post and then pauses while they decide what to do next. Web users are wired to ‘click’ in pauses so it’s a logical spot to put an advertisement that pays on a per click basis.

Adding two extra ad units didn’t triple my earnings (the ads were further down the page and got less attention than the top one) but they did significantly increase my earnings virtually immediately.

Try Link Units

Another way to add an AdSense unit on a page is to use the ‘link unit’. These ad units come in two varieties (although numerous sizes). You can see the full variety of units here but here’s how they look.

Here’s one in a horizontal configuration:

468x15_4.gif

Here’s one in a vertical configuration:

160x90.gif

Link Units tend to perform best when they are placed in and around navigational areas as they can quite look like ‘menus’. Here’s a couple of logical spots to put them (highlighted in green). You can currently put up to 3 link units on a page.

Ad-Positioning Link units.jpg

Link Units convert well on some blogs but not others. Some publishers swear by them others don’t like them at all – it’s worth testing to see if yours is one that they work on.

Mix and Match Ad Networks

The other way to add more ad units on a page is to look at other ad networks than AdSense. AdSense allows you to place other ad networks ads on the same page as theirs as long as the other ads don’t ‘mimic’ the AdSense units. This means you can’t use YPN on the same page but you can use Chitika (I use them very successfully with AdSense), ShoppingAds, WidgetBucks, Shopzilla and others.

A Word of Warning

Keep in mind that more ads might mean more earnings – BUT there comes a point where more ads makes your site look cheap and nasty and can begin to put off readers. It also can get to a point where the ads get in the way of your content. Some bloggers stuff so many ads on their blogs that the content ends up being below the fold on a page – something that might increase earnings per visitor but that doesn’t really encourage those visitors to keep coming back for more.

Different blogs will have a different threshold for how many ads are too many. It’s something to listen to your readers on and to keep a careful eye on.

The other problem with too many ads on a page is that the more ads you have per page the less likely your readers are of clicking any single one of them. More outbound links means the click through rate on any one of them will be lower. While you might increase the overall number of clicks on ads (which in a CPC program like Adsense can be good) if you also run private ad sales on your blog (ie you sell ads directly to advertisers) you’ll be providing those advertisers with less value.

The same thing goes with affiliate programs. If you’re running them on your blog the more ads you have the less CTR you’ll have on the affiliate links.

So do experiment with more ads on your blog as it will generally increase earnings – but keep in mind that sometimes less is more and it can be worth resisting the temptation to have too many!

Weekend Wrap Up

It was a busy weekend here at ProBlogger full of some great conversation as a result of the ‘weekend of discussion’ series of questions that I posted – so I thought I’d do a quick recap post:

If you’ve not had your say on any of the reader questions/debates for the weekend do have your say. I’m going to attempt to do a bit of a summary of the discussion with a few of my own thoughts on each later in the week.