July 12, 2011

AdSense Optimization for Online Classifieds

We've all read the generic Google AdSense optimization articles. They claim you can double or triple your eCPM's (aka. RPM's or revenue per thousand impressions) if you follow their special tricks. Problem is, these "special tricks" are basic changes that are more relevant to people with tiny blogs. AdSense optimization is a different beast depending on the type of site and how large it is. Things are a lot different when you're looking at an online classified with millions of unique users per month rather than a few thousand. These dramatic RPM increases are a lot harder to come by and if actualized, result in increases of millions rather than dollars. This article will focus on how to optimize Google AdSense on a high traffic online classified site.

Below is a step-by-step process of how to maximize your AdSense revenues on your free classified:

1. Implement DoubleClick for Publishers

We'll start off with the first and most fundamental step. Serve Google AdSense with DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP). If you decide to go for DoubleClick for Publishers Small Business (DFP SB), you can use it for free. You can use DFP SB if you have less than 90 MM non-AdSense impressions. If this is the case for you, you're golden. DFP SB doesn't have all the fancy features as DFP Premium, but it works as a great ad serving solution that continues to improve. You can't really go wrong when you invest in Google technology.

After implementing DFP for our clients, we have seen immediate increases in AdSense RPM's. DFP simply serves AdSense in a much more optimal fashion. This alone makes it worth implementing DFP. DFP also allows publishers to splice in direct sales ads and other ad networks. You'll have many more features available to you to optimize AdSense further and easier. Bottom line, DFP allows you to complete the next five steps of AdSense optimization for online classifieds.

You're thinking, "DFP may be free for me but it's going to cost time and programmer resources to implement it." True! However, there are simple options to implement DFP. If you decide to not segregate your ad inventory and start with a run of network setup, you could implement DFP in hours. We recommend this from the start and then phasing into a more sophisticated setup as you gain RPM traction. Therefore, you don't commit to many resources off the top and you can invest more once you see the results.

2. Find the Optimal Text Ad Creative Combination

The second step is to find the best text ad creative combination that fits your site. These ad creatives include text size, text font, border colour, background colour and title, description & URL colour. You can find the optimal text ad creative combination the simple way or the more sophisticated way.

The simple way involves changing the creatives and recording the RPM changes in a procedural fashion. You would essentially try a new combination every 24 hours. When recording the results you'll record the exact combination as well as the day of the week and the day of the month. Keep in mind what days of the week tend to perform best and be mindful that RPM's tend to be stronger at the end of months and end of quarters. There's no way you'll be able to try every single combination possible with this process. However, you can make educated guesses by only choosing colours that are on your webpage. The goal is always to integrate the ads into your classified as much as possible.

You can do this the more sophisticated way using multivariate testing with your AdSense creatives. We would recommend using Google Website Optimizer in this case. You would essentially setup up multiple variations of your website with the different combination's and let Google Website Optimizer find the best performing AdSense creative according to CTR.

Whichever one you choose, we highly recommend you take this second step. By finding the most integrated creative combination, you could see quick boosts of up to 50%.

3. Place Ads in Optimal Spots

Similar to the first step, you have a choice of doing this the simple way or the sophisticated way. However, it is very important that you do not combine the testing of step 2 and 3. Otherwise, you'll get mixed results that won't be genuine.

You can move the ads around using educated guesses every month to test different ad spots and sizes. The sophisticated way involves using multivariate testing for your ad placement. This would test for the optimal combination of ad size, and ad placement. The implementation of this sophisticated test isn't easy and would require a decent amount of programmer resources. Again, we would recommend Google Website Optimizer for such a test. Although, this method does suck up the most resources, the ROI would be higher for this method of testing.

4. Optimize the Browsing Pages with Google Custom Ads

If you are a Google Preferred Publisher you are able to use the customizable Google javascript ads. This allows publishers to customize the ads to a higher degree. The benefit of this is you are able to integrate your ads even more, which is very useful for online classifieds.

Best practices have online classifieds implementing the Google Custom Ads in the internal search and the browsing pages of the classified. These ads are integrated into the top and bottom of the ad lists. It is recommended to implement the ads using the "AdSense for Search" code rather than "AdSense for Content". We recommend to place 3 ads at the top of the ads and 3 ads at the bottom just above the 'previous' and 'next' buttons. To further integrate the ads, you should add a default no image attached photo with the ads. Remember, the main goal is to make the Google AdSense ads look like the organic ads.

Kijiji just nails it with these Google Custom Ads. They are as integrated as they can get. The ads are the same size, colour, font style & size with the no image attached photo beside each one. This is the level of integration you should strive for your online classified.

5. Open Google Ads up to All Potential Ad Types

You should always opt into all different ad types. This opens you up to much more advertisers which will boost your RPM. The reason why Google AdSense performs so well is its optimization engine. It chooses the highest paying ad type and advertiser possible. Google AdSense's predictive algorithms are the tightest in the industry. If you opt out of certain ad types then you're missing out on advertisers that could outbid your current inventory. It's important you give access to Google to do what they do best: optimize.

In addition to opting into all ad types, you must detail and structure your ad "placement" structure. Placement ad types are the advertisers on Google AdWords that pick your site out specifically out of a huge list of websites to advertise on.

It's the closest to direct advertising as AdSense gets. These ads generally pay more than contextual ads. Therefore, you'll want to open your entire ad inventory to these types of ads. You'll also want to put the important details for each ad spot and segregate your inventory according to category. The more you segregate, the more advertisers can target within your site. You really have to put yourself in their shoes and ask, "What would they want?" We recommend getting an AdWords account and checking the placement section to see what your inventory looks like from the AdWords advertiser perspective. Does it make sense? How does it compare to the other placement sites? How can you make it stick out?

Detailing your ad inventory on Google Ad Planner is important too. Many large ad agencies use Google Ad Planner for media buying. You could get some very large placement buys just from being transparent on Google Ad Planner. In fact, after detailing ad inventories on Google Ad Planner we have seen consistent growth in placement ad impressions and RPM. Make sure to be as detailed as possible about your site description and ad descriptions. Make sure to opt into the traffic stats pulled from Google Analytics. Google Ad Planner generally under predicts traffic without the Google Analytics opt-in. Remember, advertisers are more interested in publishers with more traffic. Finally, make sure to choose relevant categories that yield high CPC's. Don't choose pharmaceuticals when you run a puppy website. Choose the most relevant category that yields the highest average CPC's.

6. Optimize Google Ads by Serving Other Ad Networks

Like we said from the start, the best way to optimize AdSense is with DFP. DFP was made for ad management with the competitive advantage of AdSense optimization. You are able to optimize AdSense much easier through DFP to a point that no ad management tool could even come close to matching.

In addition to internal AdSense optimization, DFP allows online classifieds to splice in other ad networks. This will show the single largest increase of AdSense RPM's. Every time you add a new ad network you are squeezing the AdSense impressions. This is the same effect as opting into every ad type that AdSense has to offer. You are opening your online classified up to more advertisers. The more advertisers you have competing for the same impressions, the higher your RPM's will be. It is important to drive the internal competition of your ad inventory as high as possible.

As you can see the traffic is the supply. Let's assume traffic stays the same so we can isolate the increase in advertisers. When you add new ad networks to your inventory, you increase the amount of advertisers competing for your ad space.

This represents an increase in demand for you ad space. When demand increases and supply is restricted (Therefore and upwards shift for supply), the revenue grows. Since revenue is your X axis and unsold ad impressions are your Y axis, the equilibrium is the RPM. Therefore, the more you grow demand the higher the RPM goes up. This is why opening your ad inventory to so many more ad networks yields such higher RPM's. This means dramatic increases in ad revenue at the same traffic level.

In fact, you will see higher AdSense revenues with less ad impressions. Whaaat!? You bet, the RPM's will grow so much from all the above six steps, the increased variety and the growth in internal competition that you'll actually earn more from less. Check out a detailed explanation of this phenomenon here.

It would be a mistake to miss out on the opportunity to dramatically boost your ad revenues without traffic increases and only serve AdSense instead. There is a lot more money to be made for you AdSense buffs.

Kean Graham is one of the banner ad monetization experts at Monetize More. He specializes in boosting the banner ad revenues of high traffic websites. Kean specifically specializes in online classified monetization.

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