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New AdSense Interface Causing Lots of Problems & Issues

Google AdSense updated their reporting interface today for the first time in years.  It looks sleek, uncluttered and a very minimalist version of the old interface.  If you don’t have it updated in your account, AdSense is rolling it out to all publishers over the next few days.  For those who are in the dark, here is how the new look appears.

However, since the new UI launch, my inbox has lit up with plenty of complaints about the new UI.

Many AdSense publishers access their accounts via mobile phones, which isn’t too surprising in this day and age.  Unfortunately, the AdSense team failed to take into account this very major usability aspect into consideration.  So now those attempting to access their earnings and reports discover that the new AdSense UI essentially breaks when viewing on a mobile phone when they switch from the “Mobile View” with limited information to the “Classic View” with more detailed reporting information.  Mobile version does display basic information, and does load cleanly and quickly, but for power AdSense publishers, it is the more detailed information that they really need to access.

What phones aren’t working?  Reports include iPhones, Blackberry phones as well as (funnily enough) Samsung 3S running Android.  There are probably more, since the update is still rolling out, but it is the iPhone that has everyone up in arms with comments about whether it could be intended or not due to it being a competitor to Google’s Android.  Some people are reporting a better mobile experience, athough no one specified what mobile phone/platform they were on, of it they attempted to get more detailed information from the “Classic View” versus the “Mobile View”.

Meg Geddes (@netmeg) left a comment on the AdSense Google+ page about the issues she is having:

Now that it doesn’t render on my iPhone, it’s entirely useless. Was that intentional or just a happy coincidence?  Not only that, because I previously viewed it in Classic view, there’s no clear way to even GET to the mobile view.  I finally managed to manipulate it (via going back and forth in portrait and landscape mode) to click on the mobile view, and all I get now is a message that says “The authentication with the AdSense API failed” with a click to reload that gives me the same error.  You people need to actually TEST this stuff before you release it

They have also changed how reporting is ordered in the UI as well.

Also, when visiting the “Performance reports” tab, you’ll notice that your reports are now organized by type. Click ‘Common reports’ to access your standard reports, and then use the new date range selector. You’ll still be able to choose to either see your default report or daily account performance, just as before.

There is also a second problem with the new UI.  Those publishers who access their accounts in another language have most of their new interface displaying in English.  For those who know both languages, or remember what stats look like, it is easy to figure out.  But for those who do not know English well, this is a major stumbling block.

On the positive side, the AdSense team is aware of the English / non-English issue and are working on it.

Details: We’re currently experiencing problems with non-English versions of the AdSense interface. In these other languages, the majority of content is being displayed in English. However, this has no effect on ad serving or reporting. Our engineers are working on fixing this problem as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

No word on when “as soon as possible” will be unfortunately.

If you are having problems viewing the AdSense with your mobile, please comment with the phone, OS and whether you tried Classic View or Mobile View.

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Remember the woman who sued Google when they suspended her for clicking her own ads?

JenSense suffered a database failure, and one of the side effects was the database ate dozens of posts. While I was restoring some of the corrupted posts (thank you Google Webmaster Tools for showing the 404s and archive.org for all the content of those blog posts) I was reminded of the case of Theresa B. Bradley, who clicked on her own AdSense ads, had her 9-day-old AdSense account suspended, and then sued Google for $250,000 over it.

You can read the whole original post here and the follow-up one that went more in depth on her claims.

The whole lawsuit was pretty bizarre – she claimed it took her staff 100 hours to implement and review ads on her 30-ish page site; she admitted she clicked her own ads to make sure they didn’t sell competing products; that Google damaged her reputation; that Google deleted all her Gmail emails about her AdSense account suspension. And this lawsuit was filed by someone with a history of filing a lot of lawsuits.

The case worked its way through the courts for six months, until Theresa Bradley filed to dismiss the case against Google after she was denied the opportunity to appear via telephone in the court case. And the case was dismissed on February 15, 2007. This filing has some interesting information about the AdSense program for AdSense buffs.

You can read the full case file here which shows all the filings by both Google and Theresa Bradley as the case progressed in court.

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How newspapers are earning money from ads visitors cannot click & sabotaging their CPM rates too

My local newspaper, the Victoria Times Colonist (and a second newspaper owned by parent company Postmedia News, the Montreal Gazette) decided to go with a paid subscription model a week ago – once you have read ten articles per month, you can only view the homepage for free.  And while there are some paid subscription model newspapers out there, most of them would load the first sentence or X number of words of the article and then entice you to click a link to purchase a subscription or pass to continue reading.

But the Times Colonist did something different.  It loads the entire webpage – including all the Doubleclick CPM ads as well as Google AdSense ads, before it throws up a layer over top of the page that darkens the page and has a box with their subscription options.  Now, while the Times Colonist – and their parent company Postmedia Network Inc – want to promote subscriptions, they are also ensuring they keep all the advertising revenue for those pages that we can’t actually read nor click on any of the ads.

The big problem with this is that many of those ads are being displayed on TimesColonist.com on a CPM basis through DoubleClick.  Which means that those advertisers are paying for those ads every single time they are viewed.  But once a visitor has hit the 10 page monthly limit (which didn’t reset for me at the start of this month for some reason), those ads still load but become unclickable.  So even if someone is genuinely interested in one of those advertisements, the subscription blocker means that even though the advertiser has paid the news site for their ad to be on that page view, none of the visitors can actually click it. And their behavioral targeting is a little off – that is a Manscape Spa, apparently a spa for men, in the top leaderboard… I would have clicked that just to see what on earth it was!  But alas, Times Colonist didn’t want me to click it, and no, I didn’t try and find the site after.

Along with the ads served through DoubleClick, there are also Google AdSense ads, through Google’s premium publishers.  Now, not all Google AdSense ads are CPM, some of them are EPC ads, so the advertiser doesn’t have to actually pay for those ads unless someone clicks on one.  But suddenly no one can click them, which causes a few problems.

The first is a biggie.  Even brand new AdSense publishers know the cardinal rules of AdSense – don’t click your own ads, don’t do anything gimmicky to draw attention to your ads (oh the good old days of animated arrows and icons next to each ad) and don’t cover your AdSense ads with anything, such as a drop down menu, slidey anything or in this case, a pop up window that blocks the entire page.  In fact, AdSense doesn’t allow any pop-ups at all, pop-unders are the only kind of pops allowed.  So basically the Times Colonist is doing something that would get a warning for the average Joe publisher.  But the one clever thing about this is it would escape any potential quality checks since the problems don’t appear until after you view 10 article pages.  Click the image below to view full sized AdSense ads underneath the pop-up.  As an added bonus, note the link “Subscriptions to timescolonist.com” on the bottom – if you already have your ten page views, that page is obscured too.

The second is that while the Times Colonist and Montreal Gazette are trying to increase revenue through a subscription model, what they are also doing is completely sabotaging their CPM rates while they do it.  Suddenly because people cannot click those ads, the value of the ads that appear decreases due to a lower CTR and the two newspapers will find that their ads are worth even less than before the subscription model.

From a simple standpoint, let’s say the Times Colonist and Montreal Gazette generated 50 clicks on their ads per 1000 page views prior to the subscription paywall.  Suddenly you have people having ads load on their screen they cannot click even if they are interested, and those 50 clicks per 1000 page views suddenly drop down to 20.  The value that on-screen real estate has for advertisers suddenly declines because advertisers know far less visitors actually click them to go through to their landing page per those 1000 page views.  So ad networks begin charging advertisers a lower CPM rate and the newspapers not only have reduced page views from people who stop visiting the site since they cannot read anything but also because the reduced number of page views will pay less CPM since ad clicks have dropped per 1000.

Third, as an advertiser, I would be pretty angry if I am paying the Times Colonist and/or Montreal Gazette (or any news site implementing this layered subscription notice page) to display my ads, but some of those ads being displayed cannot even be clicked on by interested visitors. Under a CPC model, it could be viewed as extra branding because it costs the advertiser nothing. But under a CPM model – where I am paying for every single page view – I would fully expect that those displayed ads would be clickable and that the ad serving companies (in this case Google AdSense & Google’s DoubleClick) would take action on any site that is scamming the system (whether deliberately or accidentily) by charging me for ads being displayed that the end user cannot click through to go to the advertiser’s site.

Now, maybe the subscription revenue will cover the advertising losses.  The Times Colonist charges $9.95 a month for non print subscribers and $2.95 for print subscribers (really?).  The Montreal Gazette, which offers 20 articles free before the paid wall goes up, charges only $6.95 per month but is free to print subscribers.

The other interesting thing is that I went to the Press+ website, which manages the paid subscription services for both newspapers, and they claim that for “News Site X” that the site’s online advertising revenue went up after the switch to subscriptions, which I find pretty hard to believe.  But they offer no further details other than the chart and no information backing up those claims whatsoever.

But I went hunting for information to corraborate those claims.  The Nieman Journalism Lab published Moneyball and Paywalls: Lessons on paid content from smaller papers earlier this month.

That may be why, in the RJI study, a majority of publishers said a paywall would reduce pageviews by only 20 percent, or have no effect at all. And, again, more than 50 percent also said they didn’t expect a paywall to have impact circulation.

But note, this is from publishers who haven’t yet implemented the system. So that is only what they think will happen.

At The Augusta Chronicle, which was also early to implement a metered model, pageviews have been increasing, said Alan English, executive editor of The Chronicle. In January 2011, the first month after the paper’s online subscription model went into effect, pageviews increased 2 percent from the previous year. In March that jumped to 11 percent.

But I wonder how much of that is due to people having more accessable devices that are easier to read on while on the go, such as the iPad and the new Blackberry Playbook, and the many apps that go along with them to make getting that news content from your favorite online news source easy and automated.  So it isn’t neccessarily that the online subscription model increased page views, its that there were just more people reading the news site over the previous year with easier ways of reading the content than before.

Hitwise data published by Read Write Web showed that page views dropped significantly (11-30%) after the New York Times implemented the paid subscription model.  And you can’t forget the infamous Newsday paywall which cost $4 million to implement but generated only 35 subscriptions in three months and resulted in a drop of 43% in uniques.

But New York Times is a unique case – the content is superior and more in-depth than what you will find in your local newspaper, so it isn’t surprising that the New York Times has over 100,000 digital subscribers.  But their reach is much broader than their local NYC audience, something that smaller papers like the Victoria Times Colonist or Montreal Gazette are lacking.  Generally if someone from outside the Victoria area is reading the TC, it is because they either used to live in Victoria, they live in Victoria and are on holidays, or they have some personal connection to the city which makes them want to keep in touch.  But for people reading the New York Times from Victoria, for instance, it isn’t necessarily because they have a tie to New York, it is because of the superior quality of journalism that the NYT is well known for.

So out of curiosity, I wondered how many other newspapers using this type of paid wall were also running afoul of the Google’s advertising terms by displaying non-clickable ads.  Sure enough, the Columbia Daily Tribune was running afoul, complete with an Ads by Google ad on the top that was likely CPM, and a whole lot of Doubleclick ads. But because they redirect you to a subscription page, they could easily modify the page to remove the ads, or just remove the popup on that page completely. (Click the image below to see it full-sized)

The Commercial Dispatch also uses a paywall and it also runs afoul with Google, those are ads by Google served through double click on the right side.

New York Times, probably the most famous of the North American newspapers to go to a paid subscription model after 20 free articles are read does a similar pop up, but at least in this case, while some of the advertising was covered up, the ads that were still visible were able to be clicked on. But if the ad was lower into the darker grey area, the clicking might have been disabled (click the image below to see full-sized).

Wall Street Journal, which offers a great deal of free content but with premium content behind a paywall, does the best job of a paywall while retaining their ad impressions and high CPM rates by displaying the ads in full, without any popups covering up any part of the ads.  Instead, WSJ offers slightly more than the first paragraph (to make it obvious there is more to read) and then adds “To continue reading, log in or subscribe.”  As a side note, those are the MSN ads displaying below the article, not Google ads.  (Click the image below to see full sized version of their less obtrusive paywall solution).

The Tallahassee Democrat also implemented their teaser content page correctly by allowing ads to show unobtrusively. However, on multiple page views I didn’t get any ads to load. This is probably due to their being so little content on the page (outside of navigation) to actually target ads to. At most, I only saw the first two lines of content included. This does make the WSJ superior from an ad revenue point of view. This news site, which started subscriptions over a year ago, does not offer any freebie page views, it goes straight to paid.

Dallas Morning News also has a type of paywall, although their paywall is for exclusive premium content, and at first glance, it did seem to be premium, not something you could Google and find elsewhere for free. And their subscription page allows the ads to display properly and are clickable, as they also use the teaser content model instead of an obscuring pop-up.

It all seems to be one type of system that is displaying unclickable CPM ads and causing a reduction in CPM rates, and that is the obscuring pop-over layer style. While there are likely other companies utilizing it, the ones I saw were all run using the Press+ subscription paywall system. The teaser content style were all find because they still displayed the ads without rendering them unclickable. In fact, the teaser style might actually increase ad clicks because there isn’t much content on the page and visitors could be more likely to click, especially if the ads were somewhat targeted.

While I think we will see more and more paywalls coming up on newspaper sites as they try to make up revenue from loss of paper subscriptions, it is pretty certain a lot of them rely on their online advertising revenue. And sabotaging CPM rates due to the way the paywall is implemented will have an impact on the online ad revenue. I would advise all publishers to utilize a WSJ type of subscription system where teaser content is displayed on the page, which allows ads to be clicked, rather than running a layered pop-over that Google/Yahoo/MSN could have issues with. Because they also need to keep their advertisers happy, and as an advertiser, I sure wouldn’t be happy if any site was serving up my ads that I am paying per page view, yet those ads cannot be clicked.

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Google AdSense quietly updates their policies regarding chat programs & iframes

IFrames are so 1990s but alas there are probably some webmasters out there that are still displaying their AdSense ad units via iframes. And AdSense has quietly updated their AdSense policies a few days ago to include that AdSense ad units can no longer be served within iframes.

AdSense code may not be altered, nor may the standard behavior, targeting or delivery of ads be manipulated in any way that is not explicitly permitted by Google. This includes but is not limited to the following: clicking Google ads may not result in a new browser window being launched, nor may Google ads be placed in an IFRAME

This isn’t much of a surprising change. After all, showing AdSense in iframes often meant mistargeted ads for people using it legitimately, and there was seldom reason to use it legitimately, except in cases of some old school CMS systems and ad managers that used iframes as a way of delivering content.

Not surprisingly, however, the most common usage I ever saw of iframes was by less legitimate AdSense publishers who used iframes to game the system. One of the tricks I saw included inserting supposed high paying keywords into the iframe with the ad unit, but having no other content within the iframe (however, I probably don’t need to tell you about the fact that those supposed high paying ads are seldom clicked when they are on pages of unreleated content). The other thing I frequently saw, but which would also get a compliancy warning or suspension for the publisher, was inserting the AdSense ad unit into an iframe that was smaller than the ad unit, in order for the “Ads by Google” to be hidden, so that publishers could blend the ad units within the content resulting in people clicking the ads because they were tricked into thinking they were links within the site and not ads.

The other change is the addition to disallowing AdSense on chat programs, something I have noticed with more frequency over the last year or so, as more sites implement their own chat programs.

Under the Ad Placement section of the AdSense policies:

Google ads, search boxes or search results may not be:
•Integrated into a software application of any kind, including toolbars.
•Displayed in pop-ups or pop-unders.
•Placed in emails, email programs, or chat programs.
•Obscured by elements on a page.
•Placed on any non-content-based page. (Does not apply to AdSense for search or mobile AdSense for search.)
•Placed on pages published specifically for the purpose of showing ads.
•Placed on pages whose content or URL could confuse users into thinking it is associated with Google due to the misuse of logos, trademarks or other brand features.
•Placed on, within or alongside other Google products or services in a manner that violates the policies of that product or service.

I know some sites/companies were given compliancy warnings and/or suspended for running AdSense within software applications, including chat programs (since AdSense cannot target within software).

The other possibility is that Google is possibility working on their own end-user chat application where publishers could add a Google chat program to their websites that they could earn AdSense earnings from the ads displayed. It wouldn’t take much for many AdSense publishers to switch from a third-party chat program – especially since many of them charge for the service – and utilize a Google one they could earn money from.

If you are running a chat program in an iframe on a webpage that also has other content on the page, it should be okay to still show AdSense on those pages, as long as the script isn’t auto-reloading the page – and the AdSense ads – at regular intervals.

If you are serving ads within an iframe, you should remove them from the iframe and serve them directly on the content of the page. Remember, you agreeing to the terms of service also means you agree to adhere to the policies, even if/when they change. Likewise, if you are running AdSense within a chat program, you will probably want to remove it ASAP so it doesn’t jeopordize your entire AdSense account by doing so.

Thanks to Digital-Inspiration for noticing the iframe policy change which caused me to dive in and analyze all the AdSense policies and notice the chat change.

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New style of Google AdSense ad units causing problems with how ads are displayed

I noticed a couple of days ago that the AdSense ads on some various sites had been slightly altered to give a bit more spacing around the ad units and to help the text “pop” more. However, the change seems to have gone largely unnoticed by publishers and hasn’t been officially confirmed by AdSense.  Unfortunately, although the new style looks much better, this is also causing issues with how some ads are displayed, resulting in ads within the ad units either not showing the URL under the ad, or only partially showing the url (such as the top ad in the ad unit only showing the top half of the URL line). In others, the “Ads by Google” on the bottom right runs over top of the ad text.  Several of the screenshots were taken from the JenSense blog ad unit you can see to the right of this post, so you can see it in action too.

Here are some screen shots of some of the ad units I have seen.

By contrast, here is the old style from the AdSense ad unit format page.

The last time I remember AdSense changing anything significant in their ad units was a couple years ago when they began allowing a variety of fonts.

I do like the new spacing in the ad units, it helps them stand out a bit better, it becomes much more obvious when you compare the old and the new styles how much the new styles catch a visitor’s eye.  Unfortunately, there seems to still be a bit of tweaking to be done for the ads to display properly, especially in the smaller sized ad units.  I didn’t see any problems with the large rectangle ad units, most likely because they seem to run 1-3 ads per ad unit rather than the maximum 4, and which the majority of AdSense publishers seem to use.  However, I suspect some publishers would get a little cranky if the ad units that usually show 2 ads are reduced to single ads in the ad units to accomodate the new ad look, especially when you consider that the liklihood of a click goes a lot higher with multiple ad options, when it isn’t a case of the units being auto-targeted with single ads because they have the maximum CTRs.

If advertisers are running campaigns specifically on the publisher network and you can afford to do some tweaking, it might make sense reduce the ad copy slightly so it fits better and you do not have to worry about losing the URL, especially if your company is well known or branded and people click because they notice it is your specific URL.  The Google YouTube ad above is ironically a perfect example of an ad copy that fits perfectly with these new ad style changes.

Forum discussion on Digital Point, the change seems to have gone unnoticed on other forums.

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Use Google AdSense to donate to the Japanese Red Cross

Google AdSense posted today that they are helping the Japan via AdSense for publishers wanting to donate earnings to the relief effort.  Longtime JenSense readers will remember this post detailing how to change your alternative AdSense ad (what shows when there are no relevant ads to display).  But since PSAs have been phased out, it isn’t possible to pick and choose your own PSA (unless you are maybe running some old legacy AdSense code that still permits it).

Google also has a crisis response page allowing people to donate to the relief effort.

As well:

We’re working to roll out a way to donate earnings directly from your AdSense account. Please check back here for updated information.

Check back to their blog post for more information when this option will become available.

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Google AdSense has new Custom Search Ads

If you have long wanted new customization options when you are using AdSense for Search, you just got your wish. Their new Custom Search Ads allows you to customize it to better suit the look and feel of your site.

If you are wanting to see them in action before you try it live on your site, both LemonFree and eCrater are currently running the new style of ads on their site.

Only a limited number of publishers are able to sign up for it, so click here to sign up ASAP.

More on the Inside AdSense blog.

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Speaking at SES Chicago on Content Monetization

Another SES Chicago is around the corner (and it’s not in December!) and I will be speaking on Thursday October 21, 2010.

My session is Marketing in the Content Networks Clinic bright and early at 10:45, following the morning keynote by Googles Maile Ohye. Marketing in the Content Networks Clinic is where people can bring up their websites, ask questions on how to monetize it and find out if their ad placement is really working for them.

Hope to see you there!

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Yahoo Publisher Network officially closes & refers publishers to Chitika

It is a sad day for Yahoo Publisher Network publishers, as the program that was once considered the best potential competitor for Google is officially shutting down. And interestingly, they are recommending Chitika as a replacement. Chitika currently resyndicates ads through the Yahoo Content Match (similar to Google’s premium publishers) so publishers can still run Yahoo ads via Chitika. I do find it interesting they aren’t recommending Microsoft as an option.

Here is the full email I received:

Yahoo! continuously evaluates and prioritizes our products and services, in alignment with business goals and our continued commitment to deliver the best consumer and advertiser experiences. After conducting an extensive review of the Yahoo! Publisher Network beta program, we have decided to close the program effective April 30, 2010. We expect to deliver final publisher payments for the month ending April 30, 2010 to publishers no later than May 31, 2010. All publishers eligible for 1099s for the 2010 tax year will have those mailed by January 31, 2011.

Because our content will no longer be delivered to your ad unit spaces after April 30, 2010, we recommend removing all YPN ad code from your pages by that date.

For the opportunity to continue earning revenue, we suggest using Chitika, a leading advertising network that syndicates Yahoo! Content Match and Sponsored Search ads. Chitika has set up a special process for YPNO beta publishers to participate in its platform. Click here for more information.

We thank you for your participation in the Yahoo! Publisher Network beta. If you have any questions regarding this announcement, please contact our Support Team at (866) 785-2636, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. PDT.

Sincerely,

Your Partners at Yahoo!

Publishers have a month to remove the ads and switch them to a competitive product. Here is the blog post on the YPN Blog.

Decision does not affect large, direct publishers and partners, nor advertisers using Content Match

Earlier today, Yahoo! emailed a small group of publishers participating in the Yahoo! Publisher Network self-service beta program (also known as “YPNO” or “Yahoo Publisher Network Online”), to inform them that we have decided to close the program effective April 30, 2010. This only affects our self-service platform for small publishers who syndicate our Content Match (contextual) listings.

No change for large partners/affiliate network
This decision does not affect nor impact our relationship with large direct publishers and partners in any way. As Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz has stated previously, our publisher (or affiliate) network is an important part of our business, and Yahoo! will continue to invest and innovate to ensure that our publishers realize the best value possible from our partnership.

No change to Content Match ads
Publishers participating in the self-service beta program displayed our advertisers’ Content Match ads (or text-based ads), but this made up only a small amount of total impression volume. Advertisers’ Content Match ads will continue to be displayed on our large, direct partners’ sites, as well as across relevant content on Yahoo! sites. Sponsored Search ads are not affected by this announcement at all.

Publishers with questions regarding this announcement are welcome to contact us through the YPN portal.

I wish best of luck to all the YPN people I have gotten to know since YPN launched in beta several years ago.

Note: This blog post was corrupted in the database and was reposted, please see archive.org for original comments

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AdSense launches new user interface for publishers

The adSense user interface has not changed much since AdSense originally launched back in 2003, with the exception of adding the new account overview page a few years ago.  But today AdSense announced at Content Revenue Strategies a brand new user interface for publishers.  It is starting as a closed beta, but if you are at CRS today, head over to the optimization lounge to get on the whitelist for the closed beta.

I have played around with it a bit, and I like it a lot.  There is an inbox where you can check for messages and tips from the AdSense team, something I know many publishers have requested, especially when the Google support or compliancy emails have been eaten by a spam filter.  This is especially useful with the increase in phishing emails related to both AdSense and AdWords, as well as sleazy marketing techniques by companies who send fake termination emails to sell their service.

When you login, you also see running totals on the right hand side showing not just your total (thus far) for today, but also revenue since last payment and month to date revenue. It is a nice at-a-glance look at where you revenue is.

There are also many graphs you can do based on various metrics.  You can see graphs with any/all of the metrics included: earnings, clicks, page impressions, page CTR, page eCPM.

They have also integrated many of the help topics within the interface, so if you have quesitons relevant to specific metrics on the page, you can quickly click the help link for more information.

Not sure about the new UI.  You can currently toggle between the old and new interface, but not sure when everyone will be added and using the new interface exclusively.

The Google AdSense blog has more on the new interface.  I will be doing my keynote at CRS where I am peppering the AdSense team with all your burnming AdSense questions, so I will follow up this post with more details on the new interface, which they will be showing off.

So if you are at CRS, hit the Google optimization lounge before 5pm today to get whitelisted.  If you aren’t at CRS, they will start a rolling release in the coming week for publishers to get the new UI, so be sure to check your emails for an invitation.

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