What is AdSense?
AdSense is a program run by Google that places small advertisements in the form of links on any webpage that isn’t owned by Google. This ad space is then sold to Google customers in the form of AdWords.
The best analogy is that AdSense displays the type of advertisements you see on placemats in some family dining restaurants. The placemats have a bevy of small ads for local businesses that bored diners can look over while they wait for their food. The restaurant receives a fee based on how many are put in front of their patrons. In the same manner, selling space on your website for Google to resell can generate some income.
Note that there are two sides to this equation, with Google in the middle. On the one side, Google is selling advertising space. On the other side, Google is looking for websites who want to host the ad and then giving them a small fee for doing so. Both the advertiser and the host website are part of the AdSense program, and both are needed to make it work.
As in most things Internet, the value is measured in eyeballs and clicks, so neither fee is ever a fixed amount. Revenue depends on how many site visitors are exposed to the ads and how many click on them. These numbers also determine the price Google charges at the other end. When Google’s customers purchase ad space, they bid for that space based on certain keywords and their ads are placed accordingly.
How does Google do this? They evaluate a site and determine which keywords are most appropriate. Advertisers are then matched up with those sites, and links are generated by Google “on the fly.” Ads can be text-only, an image with a link, or even a moving animation.
Benefits and Problems
The major benefit from the website owner’s point of view is the ability to generate income. There are even sites that have the primary purpose of attracting visitors just to display AdSense material. A secondary benefit is that Google will index a new site faster if it is enrolled in their program.
- The website owner has only a limited ability to control what is displayed on their site. To prevent a competitor’s ad from appearing on your site, you can restrict certain keywords. However, because the selection of ads is based on the content you display on your site, you may end up trying to restrict exactly those ads that viewers would be most likely to click. That means there’s a conflict between what you want to sell and what Google wants to sell on your site.
- Territory is limited. By selling valuable space on your site, you restrict the amount of content you would otherwise put there. Here’s an extreme example, where I’ve outlined the ad space that Google “owns” in red below. There isn’t much room left for content.
- Ads can be more attractive than your own content. Because flash animation is so visually gripping, visitors may have their attention pulled primarily to the ads you display instead of your own material.
- There is always the possibility of malicious content in the ads. Although Google polices their advertisers, some bad apples still sneak through and either inject malware through the ad link or have the ad connect to a compromised site. When this happens, customers will blame you – after all, the last site they were at was yours.
- It can make your site look trashy, exploitative, or not worth exploring. We are all familiar with the look of an ad-packed newsletter or, in my first example, the placemat in a restaurant. Upper-scale restaurants don’t use such things because, frankly, they reek of “cheap.” Customers feel offended when you take advantage of them in this way.
What about the other side?
AdWords is the other side of the Google AdSense equation. It offers opportunities to buy ads on other sites that link to yours. The “words” part of AdWords refers to keywords you can purchase by bidding on them through Google. You then pay a rate per view or per click based on how valuable that word is to all of the bidders. The value here is set by the auction price.
Depending on how popular a keyword is, prices can vary from a few cents per thousand views up to $50 dollars per click for the word “insurance.”
The primary negative aspect here is cost. Pay per view is cheaper than pay per click, but either of these can balloon out of control when your ad hits the ‘Net. Google will allow you to limit things at some point, but you are not assured of a direct connection between getting ad views or clicks and making sales. There are, unfortunately, some people who will manipulate the system by putting up sites with bogus content just to display ads and make a few bucks. You don’t want those bucks to come out of your budget.
On the positive side, you can increase your site ranking and traffic with a well-crafted ad. As always, it’s a balance between dollars spent and value received. Ads can help drive traffic to your site, there’s no doubt about that. The question is whether you are getting traffic you want. Unlike a link with a high ranking in a search engine, an online ad that appears on someone else’s site is an impulse item – they might click it or not, depending on their mood.
Both AdSense and AdWords can be worthwhile, as long as the pitfalls are taken into account. Partnering with Google to generate revenue or generate traffic can be either a nightmare or a useful part of an overall SEO specialist’s sales strategy.