Balancing AdSense with User Experience 7 May, 2007 — 16 comments — Stuart Brown
Happy users + effective monetisation?
I've been spending some time recently optimising the advertising here on Modern Life, and I've been trying a number of approaches to increase earnings while maximising user experience. It's a tricky balancing act, as effective ads are generally more obtrusive ones. Is there an effective way to keep both effective adverts and happy users?
Optimising ad positions
I'm currently experimenting with a couple of bolder and more intelligent techniques, but one of the more drastic changes is the location of the primary AdSense unit - employing a 'Medium Rectangle' unit in the hottest spot (as per the Google AdSense heat map), in a very prominent top-left location. The previous position - a leaderboard type, across the top of the page, was visible but less engaging than the rectangular formats. Video ad support is also lacking in the banner-style formats.
Referral ad switching
Turning off ad display for certain referring URLs can seem counter-intuitive, but can help to preserve CPM and help increase popularity on social media sites. Currently I've disabled ad display for inbound traffic from Digg and Reddit. Doing so helps chances of promotion on such sites (although the change is small), as advertising can be seen as 'spammy' - and the audience on such sites tend to be very non-clicky, so in essence the non-display of ads helps preserve a more consistent CTR.
In order to reward regular readers, and as not to put off new readers, new articles have no AdSense units whatsoever - after a week elapses, the ads automatically appear. While this may seem like a counterintuitive way to reduce ad income on the potentially more popular, newer articles, in reality most ad income is preserved. Organic traffic (from the search engines) tends to perform far better than referral-based or direct traffic, so it's the archives that generate most of the ad income.
Removing ads from the new articles preserve the user experience whilst not making much of a dent in the bottom line. By the time the article is indexed in Google, the ads will start to appear. In essence, the organic traffic to the post archives sustains the site, while the new articles drive readership and encourage users to subscribe.
Full RSS content
One thing that I haven't changed, although I feel is relevant to this post, is the provision of full content via RSS. Some webmasters are wary of offering their full content via RSS in an effort to preserve ad income - don't be. In terms of pushing new content and building readership, the benefits are far-reaching with full feeds, and dwarf any possible detriment.
The best way to build a site's popularity is to treat your readers well - but that doesn't necessarily mean losing out on potential ad income.