Is Google AdSense really that bad, or are advertisers failing themselves?

From the Keep It Simple Stupid department….

Google’s contextual advertising doesn’t get a lot of love from anyone; publishers or advertisers. Publishers slam the low revenues and advertisers are disappointed with the high-cost, low-return they seem to get when choosing to advertise on the content network.

Having spent years managing campaigns through Google’s AdWords program (the advertising platform that supplies ads to contextual service, AdSense) I’ve experienced advertiser’s frustration over the content network. Indeed, one of the first things I did when creating or optimising campaigns would be to turn off the content network, ensuring that my client’s ads only ever appeared on Google search results.

This was the thinking;

Chart showing more wastage from the content network than search
Chart showing more wastage from the content network than search

About two years ago I re-visited the content network and figured that actually, it’s not that bad at all. You can target very effectively. I began taking a more traditional approach to online marketing. I researched the target market and found the sites that my target market was frequenting. Then, I pumped those sites into AdWords and it told me if they ran AdSense as well as some similar sites that definitely did. I could then easily create a campaign targeting only those sites that I’d identified. The situation then looked very different;

Chart showing more wastage from search content network
Chart showing more wastage from search than content network

It’s a very crued way of demonstrating the point, I know. What it does make you think about as well is the amount of wastage you get from search. I’ve always had great difficulty dealing with ‘keywords’ because it’s impossible to know what searchers are thinking when they type them in. Let’s take the common example of ‘mp3 players’. Is someone searching for ‘mp3 players';

  1. Looking to buy an MP3 player?
  2. Researching MP3 players with the intention to buy at a later date?
  3. Trying to figure out what an MP3 player is?
  4. Looking for a supplier of MP3 players?
  5. Searching for a local shop selling MP3 players?
  6. Attempting to find software that will play MP3s?
  7. Researching in-car MP3 players?

I could go on… Imagine you are selling portable MP3 players by Sony. You find an MP3 player review site, add that to a Google AdWords campaign and target keywords including Sony. Your ad will only display on Sony MP3 player reviews. The great thing about that is you are catching your target market right at the point where they are trying to make a purchase decision. If they’re happy with the review there’s a good chance they’ll want to buy that MP3 player and conveniently, your (hopefully well-written) ad is sitting right along side.

I liken it to being able to cherry pick people off the street to pull into your high street shop. It really can be that powerful. So is it really the case that Google’s contextual targeting is flawed? Or is it just that advertiser’s aren’t taking full advantage of the system?

Well, it’s a bit of both. Google’s system needs to be smarter – showing ads for hotels in Lichfield isn’t very relevant on a site who’s target market all live in Lichfield. Google is also just doing what it can with the ads it’s been given though. Advertiser’s need to get smarter, too, and realise that this power is at their fingertips if they only look. Having said that when Google updated the AdWords interface a while back they manage to bury all the features I’ve just told you about. It took me ages to actually find them again!

Google make a big song and dance about how quickly and easily you can be up and running with AdWords. It’s true, anyone can do it in less than half an hour. It’s rarely successful though and to make a success of AdWords you need to really know your stuff, to the point that you can pass their certified professionals exam.

So what’s the solution? Pay a pay-per-click agency thousands to do it for you? Spend hours learning AdWords inside out? Well, yes ….and no. Why not KISS?

When we put AdSense on The Lichfield Blog we weren’t surprised that it didn’t generate a lot of revenue. After something like 3 months we switched to the much simpler and easier Addiply system. In the first month we had secured £42.50 of advertising revenue, beating those 3 months with AdSense by miles. It took some phoning around and it’s by no means a living but it pays some costs and considering it’s very much a ‘suck it and see’ effort, it’s gone very well.

There’s still some ground to be covered… Addiply is simple and easy to use, AdSense is feature rich and powerful once you know what you’re doing. There’s a middle-ground somewhere and in this period where local media is looking for ways to make the web pay, that middle ground is going to make publishers and advertisers everywhere very happy… as well as a small pot of gold for the person who gets to that middle ground first!

Hat-tip to Rick who prompted this post after finding Jeff Jarvis’ mood swing ads.

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