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Interview with Chris Rand of EngineeringTalk, the latest AdSense case study

Inside AdSense featured a new case study with Chris Rand of EngineeringTalk, who completely redesigned his site around AdSense.

Engineeringtalk has been a successful AdSense publisher since June 2003. When the site’s old design needed a rethink, the team went back to basics on the site navigation and structure. Realizing that the vast majority of visitors reached the site through search engines, editor Chris Rand wondered: “Why are we prioritizing on helping visitors find their way around the site when they’ve already come straight in to what they’re looking for?” Moving site navigation from the prime ad positions – across the top and down the side – to a more logical place gave the team more options for ad placement.

Next, the team experimented with AdSense designs, focusing on optimization through typography and placement. They found the biggest influence on CTR was the similarity between the AdSense type (size and font), and the main body text of the page. The more similar the type, the higher the CTR.

I was fortunate enough to ask him more detail about his redesign decisions, as well as the question so many want to know… exactly how someone is chosen to be one of the featured Google AdSense case studies.

How were you chosen as a case study? Was it out of the blue or were you already working with someone from the AdSense Team?

The Google AdSense team contacted us several months ago (out of the blue) to assure us that they were always there to help us and to provide suggestions and support. Whilst we don’t qualify for the Google AdSense Premium Service, there seems to be a level of activity below this where you still get personal support from the Google AdSense team. I should point out that although we’re in the UK, we were contacted by phone and email from a named representative (and a well-known one :-) ) in California. Our initial conversations didn’t actually result in any changes to the way we used AdSense, they were more to make sure we’d tested all the sensible alternatives (we had). They must have been impressed with our results, and all the testing we did, because a few months later, they got back in touch to ask if we would consider being an AdSense case study.

Why did you design your layout the way you did? Did you do research first? Or work through a few designs before settling on what we see at Engineeringtalk today?

The case study shows what we did, but to summarise, we made optimised AdSense a key part of the site’s design. This sounds obvious, but I see very few sites out there which have struck a good balance between making the ads integrate into the site while keeping them obviously advertisements. Most sites go for one or the other. We tried dozens of combinations, but what worked best was when the AdSense ads were the same font, font size, font colour and leading as the copy next to them, yet clearly separate items. When the font, font size, font colour and leading varied from the main body text, response went down. However, if we “buried” the ads in our body text or in our links (as some sites do so “cleverly”), the response went down too. The optimum results were achieved by keeping the ads separate, but having the body copy alongside match them. Of course, that means if you’re using Skyscraper ads your body copy will be 13px/17px Arial, and if you’re using Leaderboards it’ll be Verdana, but that was quite acceptable to us.

Anything else you would like to add :)

One item I mentioned which the AdSense folks chose not to include in the case study is that we found Leaderboard ads did not perform as well as Skyscraper ads. Had these performed as well, there’d have been an argument for us to have majored on those and designed our site around the Verdana font. But they didn’t perform as well. And to be honest, that was lucky, because we couldn’t have used Leaderboard ads anyway, as it happens! We have 90-100 manufacturers taking out banner advertising at any one time, and almost all want 728×90 ads across the top. That represents US$400,000 – $500,000 a year (who said banner advertising is dead?) so they get what they want. If we’re to run AdSense too, then AdSense gets the space that remains, and that space is the Skyscraper slot. The fact that the Skyscraper slot turns out to be the best for AdSense is a real bonus, as you can imagine.

Thank you to Chris for doing this interview and giving us some more behind-the-scenes detail on his optimization techniques as well as how he was chosen!

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