If you’re a Google AdSense publisher and are plagued by extremely low Click-Through-Rate (CTR) despite a large traffic, here’s an experiment that you might want to indulge in.
All conventional AdSense tutorials endlessly harp on the importance of modifying your ad palette to blend the ads into your site’s layout and/or to place the ads cleverly within your content. Sometimes you’re even advised to leave the link colour at the default blue as it supposedly serves as a subliminal-click-beacon to your visitors by virtue of being the default “link” colour on every other site.
Trust me when I say that I’ve tried all the above approaches and while it did cause a hike in the CTR (from next to nothingness) – it still failed to give the boost that I really craved for. That’s when I came upon this new hypothesis that suggests that, the average visitor after having visited thousands of sites with similar ad formats develop a kind of ad-blindness. When people get used to certain ad formats, they consciously / subconsciously avoid the ad and there goes your CTR down the drain.
If you consider the case of 468×60 banner (which is the most widely used ad format on the net) apparently less than 5% of visitors actually read the banner, while the other 95% consciously avoid looking at the banner because they know it’s an ad. With so many site publishers advertising with AdSense, more and more surfers are beginning to understand how AdSense works. The blended color themes and ads going together aren’t doing well anymore. This is what Ad-Blindness is.
To counteract this even Google keeps constantly testing new ad formats, including AdSense with backgrounds like the themed ads (scroll to the bottom of the page). As for publishers – a lot of them have tried to break out of the monotony by using something called AdSense Beautifier, which places images next to each ad in an ad unit and makes them look like part of the ads. According to reports, images adjacent to ads can help increase click through rate (CTR).
However, when you embark upon such experimentation you need to consider a couple of aspects of Google’s AdSense Program Policy.
- You are not permitted to change the ad code itself or according to the exact wording in their policy:
Any AdSense ad code, search box code, or referral code must be pasted directly into Web pages without modification. AdSense participants are not allowed to alter any portion of the ad code or change the layout, behavior, targeting, or delivery of ads for any reason.
- You can not draw undue attention to ads, either with text or images. Once again, the wording in their policy says:
Web pages may not include incentives of any kind for users to click on ads. This includes encouraging users to click on the ads or to visit the advertisers sites as well as drawing any undue attention to the ads.
While the second rule is kind of fuzzy and open to subjective interpretation. Even so, a lot of publishers have been warned by Google for placing images next to their ads using AdSense Beautifier. The only way you can do so is to include a thick border between the ads and the images, thus clearly demarcating the actual ad unit. As I said, there’s a very thin line here which you can easily step over and get banned from AdSense.
However, there’s another approach – which I’m currently experimenting with. This embeds your ad unit in a given graphical background thus enhancing it to a certain extent while blending it in with the site as the same time. The “attraction” factor seems to work in this case and Google doesn’t seem to have a problem with this as you’re not modifying the ad code in any way.
There’s a very handy tool for this called AdSense Decorator, which is freely downloadable from the author’s site. The main function of this software is to compose and export background images for displaying with Google AdSense. It also generates the HTML code necessary for displaying the ad unit embedded within the image.
The interface is really easy to work with and contains three tabs, namely Edit, Preview & Code. Edit is the visual designer, Preview shows you the results while Code shows you the actual HTML code you’re supposed to place in your site.
- Supports the 12 formats of Google Ad Units
- The colour palette of the embedded Google Ads is customisable
- The Ad Editor allows you to insert objects including images, text and frames to the AdSense template
- Ability to export the AdSense template to a JPG image file
- Single-click preview of the template
- Auto generation of HTML code (code for the image + AdSense ad code)
It’s very easy to create new backgrounds for your ads as long as you’ve any decent picture editor. If you don’t have one, try Paint.NET which I reviewed recently. It’s equally easy to insert your image and place the ads on it using the visual designer of this software. Once done you can check the results in the Preview tab or hit Code to get the finalised ad code.
In case you find yourself lacking inspiration for coming up with innovative backgrounds, you can check out Jay Young’s site, which offers a pre-packed list of themes (backgrounds) which you can use with your ads. However, this is priced at $67. So the ideal way of going about it would be to get in touch with one of your friends who’s good at digital art and get him/her to design a set of backgrounds for you. Here are a couple of examples of what your ad might turn out to…
I’ve started using it very recently and cannot provide you with a feedback on the actual boost in CTR. However if you check back with me in a couple of weeks, I’ll surely let you know. To my own eyes the ads look quite catchy and I’ll experiment with a wide variety of backgrounds over the next few weeks.
FOOT-NOTE: Whenever you find yourself in doubt it’s worth lopping off an email to AdSense. Just make sure that you politely ask them to drop by at your site and take a quick look at your ads to make sure you’re within their guidelines. If you approach them with a question like this they usually give you an opportunity to make amends in case you’ve broken the rules. As long as you’re polite and make it clear that you’re approaching them because you want to adhere to the rules, there shouldn’t be a problem.