If you're running a website and trying to earn money on Google AdSense, or you are already earning a decent amount from AdSense but want to do better, you should consider optimizing your Google ads.
Google already provides some optimization tips on its AdSense pages. The following ideas are an expansion on those tips, based on my experience optimizing AdSense ads for my own website. I started with some of Google's own ideas, validated them with experimentation on my site, and added to them, in order to get clickthrough rates and earnings per thousand impressions that were significantly better than they had been when I started.
Here are some of the things I have learned about maximizing Google AdSense revenue:
Write for traffic: There is no point putting a page up with Google ads, or any other monetization option, if you are doomed to low traffic. This is one of the most common mistakes website writers make: they write pages on keywords that no one is searching for, or that many other sites already cover. You want to find keywords that are relevant to your site concept, that are in demand, and that have low supply.
You can use a keyword brainstorming tool to find hundreds of keyword combinations that are in demand (many people searching) and with low supply (few pages showing up in search results). By finding high-demand, low-supply keywords, you'll climb quickly to the top of the search results for the keyword you're writing on. A couple of days of brainstorming keywords should be enough to keep you busy for months of writing. And you'll be amazed at the results - the pages with the highest ratio of demand to supply are almost always the biggest traffic winners.
Write for 'Buy' mode: The ads need to be on pages that cover topics where people are preparing to buy something. You should try to write pages where people are looking for a product or service. Pages that cover particular types of products tend to generate lots of AdSense clicks. Other pages that cover information-only topics may still get lots of traffic but far fewer clicks, because the people who came to those pages weren't looking to buy anything.
Writing for 'Buy' mode helps in three ways. First off, people in 'Buy' mode (either ready to buy, or researching before a purchase) are more likely to respond to an ad that contains the type of product they are looking for. Second, advertisers are more likely to bid for ads on pages whose content targets their products, so you'll get better targeted ads, and fewer non-paying public service announcements. And third, since advertisers are more likely to bid on these pages, the bids tend to be higher. Informational pages may get very low PPC payouts (typically in the range of 1-10 cents per click) while 'Buy' mode pages can get PPC rates of a dollar or more.
Use the right ad format in the right location: The ads that perform the best, according to the optimization tips Google provides, are the 336x280 text-and-graphics ads where the background matches the site background color. I have experimented with 250x250, 300x250, 338x280, skyscraper, banner, and link ads, and the 336x280 consistently outperform all the others.
Where you place the ads is as important as which format you choose. Google provides a heat map that shows that large, centered ads above the fold perform best, and my experiments confirm this. I have found that ads placed after the first one or two paragraphs of text perform best. If the paragraphs are long (more than 8 lines between the two of them) place the link after the first paragraph. If they are short (e.g. 2 + 2) place them after the second. The ads should be centered as well.
Never break up grammatically related content with an ad. You want to offer your visitor the opportunity to see the ad, as they take a breather in a logical place from the text copy. Putting your ad in the middle of a grammatically connected sequence (for example, between the clause introducing a bulleted list, and the list itself) means the reader jumps straight past the ad to continue the grammatical sequence. No one likes to stop halfway through an idea, or in the middle of an incomplete grammatical structure, to read an ad.
These factors (ad size, background, centering, and vertical placement) have a huge impact on clickthrough rates. In one experiment, I tried 36 different combinations of factors: three horizontal placements (text flowing left around ad, text flowing right, or ad centered with no text around it); three vertical placements (after heading, after first paragraph, after second paragraph); two ad sizes (336x280, 300x250) and two palettes (background matching page background, or background not matching). The best performers by far were the 336x280 ads with blended background, centered below the first or second paragraph. The worst ads were left or right justified (allowing the user to just read around the ad without pausing to see what the ad had to offer); above the first paragraph (before you've caught the reader's attention with your page introduction); and with a non-matching ad background.
Finally, as far as ad placement goes, put another similar formatted ad near the bottom of each page (if the page is more than a screen or two of text) so that anyone who reads down to the end has an opportunity to click on an ad when they get down there. If they reach the bottom and all you offer them is a link to the home page or a site map, that's where they'll click (if they don't leave your site altogether). If there's an ad there, they might just click that!
A side note to all of this: Make sure to apply appropriate custom channels to all of your ads when you create them, and create URL channels for all pages on your site that have AdSense ads. If you want to actually measure performance and adjust your AdSense strategy to focus on high-performing ad formats and pages, make sure to use both URL channels and custom channels in your AdSense setup. URL channels let you track the performance of each page separately, so you can discover which pages are already highly profitable, and which ones are worth optimizing. Custom channels let you set different attributes to ads in different formats or positions; I used custom channels to track ad size, color, horizontal and vertical placement. When you look at detailed AdSense reports you can view the performance (impressions, clicks, CTR, eCPM, earnings) of each channel separately.
Target high bid keywords that relate to your page content. You need to use Google AdWords to figure out what keywords people are bidding highly on. For instance, if you have a page on tradeshow booths, you may find that the maximum current bid for 'tradeshow booth' is $0.05. So you won't make much money on that. But if you find another keyword, say 'tradeshow kiosk', that has a minimum bid of $1.50, then make sure that text occurs in your page (and belongs there - no keyword stuffing allowed!). You'll get more ads targetted for 'tradeshow kiosk' that return $1.50 per click, and fewer ads targeted for 'tradeshow booth' that get you $0.05. (These dollar amounts are fictitious and used only for illustration.) For a single page, you might change your payouts from as little as 2 cents per click to as much as 2 dollars per click just by making sure your page contains enough instances of the high-bid keywords. Targetting your pages to contain the keywords with the highest bids will help maximize income. Of course, don't target keywords that are not relevant to your page. 'Tradeshow kiosk' might be worth $2 per click, but no one reading an article on tropical fishes is going to click on that ad, and you may be in violation of your agreement with Google if you try this (more on that below).
Consider using banner ads, but don't expect to make money on them directly. I suggest using graphic banner ads (for example, from advertisers using LinkShare or ShareASale) as part of your site masthead. You will probably get very few clicks on them, and may not make any money on them, but I have found that they make a big difference to the clickthrough rate of the other ads on the page. I had banner ads for several months, then found they didn't get clicked on, so I removed them and just had an illustration in my site banner. I later noticed that the clickthrough rate on all my other ads went down by about 30%. I put the banner ads back, and lo and behold, people started clicking on the in-body ads again.
Don't overwhelm the user with ads. Stick to at most two Google ad units per page, and don't have any on your home page. You want your home page to lead people to pages on your site where you can earn a high PPC or sell a product. A home page full of ads is a turnoff; most people leave in a hurry without clicking any ads. An ad-free home page that leads you to other helpful pages on particular topics means the visitor is likely to click one of those links, and then may click the AdSense ad on the target page. Ads that are front and center on your home page are also likely to turn off potential link partners or others who might be inclined to send future traffic your way.
Rethink the Most Wanted Response (MWR) for low-paying pages. If you have a high traffic page that results in very low clickthroughs or very low pay per click (PPC), such as the informational pages that don't address visitors in 'Buy' mode, you may be better off to use that page to drive people to a Most Wanted Response that is also a More Likely Response than an ad click. A 0.5% clickthrough rate that pays 8 cents a click isn't worth your while; if that's what you're getting on a particular page, and you haven't been able to improve on it, scrap the ads and use the copy to direct people to other actions that will help you monetize, either immediately or later. For example: lead them to a page where they will learn of the benefits of a product, that may lead them to either buy from your online store or your affiliates, or to click on an AdSense ad. Get them to sign up for your monthly e-zine, so that you can draw them back to your site another time, when they may be in buy mode.
Don't use AdSense on pages with a different MWR. If your pages generate higher revenue in some other way, don't have AdSense on them. If your MWR is that users sign up for a course, or buy a trade show booth, or subscribe to a newsletter, because in the long run a user who does this will earn you $2 or $5 or $20 or $100, then don't have any ads, which might only pay a few cents, because the ads will take them away from your MWR.
Experiment! The above ideas are based on what has worked on my website. They may not be what works on a blog, a community forum, or some other type of website. Try different formats, placements, and so on, and see which works best for you. And remember to gather enough data to validate that you have a correct conclusion. For example, 100 impressions of two different ad formats, with one generating 3 clicks and the other 6, is not statistically significant. On the other hand, 300 impressions, with one generating 3 clicks and the other generating 20, probably is!
Finally, don't violate your agreement with Google. Make sure you never violate the AdSense terms and conditions, for example:
* Never click on your own ads, or ask friends or family to do so, or otherwise artificially inflate your clickthrough rate
* Never include incentives on your pages for visitors to click ads
* Never disclose your clickthrough rate or other AdSense statistics to others (except for your gross payments from AdSense).
* Never place excessive, repetitive, or irrelevant keywords on pages containing AdSense ads
* Never show more AdSense units per page than allowed. The current limit is three ad units and three link units.
Also, set up your AdSense account so that only websites you authorize can host your ads. This can prevent some forms of abuse where a competitor, for example, throws your publisher ID on a page elsewhere, and then clicks on that ad repeatedly, which makes Google consider you to be in violation of your agreement, even if you didn't do it yourself.
If you follow the above guidelines, you should see much better clickthrough rates and higher earnings per click for a little extra work. Just don't lose sight of the importance of providing quality content to your users. If you focus only on ad revenue, your content will suffer, and people will stop coming to your site. There's no point having a high clickthrough rate if your traffic is plunging towards zero!
Robin Green helps people save energy in their own homes, by providing energy efficiency information on his website. For more on how he turned an idea into a website getting 25,000 visitors a month in just nine months, see his review of Site Build It!, the web development product he used. It includes an excellent keyword brainstorming tool among other features.

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