AdSense Competitive Ads and Services Policy just got a lot tighter for publishers

Publishers have often complained about the rigidness of the AdSense policy that prevents publishers from running AdSense on the same page as another contextual ad program. So running AdSense & Yahoo Publisher Network on the same page during the same page view would be a no-no, but rotated 50/50 would be perfectly within the AdSense (& YPN) policies and terms. But not any more. Their competitive ad policy has gotten much, much tighter when they updated their AdSense policies today.

Their competitve ads & services policy was updated to this today:

Competitive Ads and Services
In order to prevent user confusion, we do not permit Google ads or search boxes to be published on websites that also contain other ads or services formatted to use the same layout and colors as the Google ads or search boxes on that site. Although you may sell ads directly on your site, it is your responsibility to ensure these ads cannot be confused with Google ads.

What does this mean for publishers? If you are running YPN and AdSense on a 50/50 ad rotation using the same or very similar color palettes, you would now be in violation of AdSense policies. Likewise, if you are running AdSense on one part of your site, and YPN on another part, you would now also be in violation of the policies if you are using the same or similar color palettes.

However, this also affects ad units that mimic AdSense, yet are not contextual based, something that was always well within the AdSense terms and policies before now. So if you are selling text ads or running affiliate links in ad units that mimic AdSense, you will be in violation of the terms.

There are a few things publishers can do so they don’t violate this new change. First of all, if you are rotating AdSense & YPN, you will need to make some major changes. If you are running border-less ads, put an ad unit border or colored background on either AdSense or YPN to make it clear they are two different ad programs. If AdSense resembles YPN’s color scheme, it will not be allowed.

What about those running borderless ad units? I asked Google, and it doesn’t sound as though simply changing the title link color is enough. You will need to do something more drastic, such as changing the color of all the text to something different, or adding a border or background.

As for ad units that resemble AdSense yet are not contextually targeted (such as some of the other ad networks use or ad units you may have created in-house), you will also need to ensure these look totally different from the way you are currently running AdSense.

If you are running the color palette rotation, you will need to make sure that none of the palettes in that rotation mimic anything else on the site.

And what about doing A/B testing? Unfortunately, A/B testing as I have long since advocated and used myself is now a thing of the past. Normally, I would run AdSense with YPN (or whichever ad network I was testing) on a 50/50 basis using identical color palettes to ensure I have the best data. Unfortunately, I would now have to make one ad unit look completely different which leaves extra variables unknown when deciding one program over the other, because not only am I dealing with one ad program over another, but also how the ad unit looks comes into play… and as we know, color choice and greatly impact CTRs.

So now, for A/B testing, you would need to rotate two completely different ad unit looks, or you would need to rotate one day using AdSense and another day using YPN etc. And you would need to ensure that the change is made site-wide. You still would not be able to use AdSense on one section and YPN on another using the same color palette on the same day.

I can completely understand why Google is doing this, they are the leader in this space (and the leader by a very significant amount) and most publishers will stick with AdSense and ensure they are in compliance. I don’t think this is something that YPN or Microsoft ContentAds (when they launch) would have been able to pull off first. But this decision could impact them significantly, because most publishers will use their highest CTR color scheme on AdSense, and use the “different” one on YPN or other ad network.

I was actually pretty surprised at the change in policy, most significantly the part about it being site-wide, even on pages that do not even have AdSense on them. If they had made it on a page-by-page and pageview-by-pageview basis, there wouldn’t be that much of an issue. But this change is much more far reaching because it affects non-contextual ads as well as being across an entire site.

I also suspect this is going to be heard in the blogosphere. It is a major change and one that affects a great many ad networks (and not just the contextual ones!) who have ad units similar to AdSense. And I suspect a lot of publishers will have to spend the next couple of days making changes to ensure things are all in compliance so Google is happy with them.

Update: I saw it got dugg, so I added a Digg It box to the top of the entry.

Update 2: I have also discussed the implications of Google removing specific mention of contextually targeted ads from the competitive ads policy.

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42 comments to AdSense Competitive Ads and Services Policy just got a lot tighter for publishers

  • Jen,

    One thing I noticed was absent from the new policy, and maybe I missed it. I didn’t see mention to other “contextual” ads. If I recall, the old policy mentioned contextual ads specifically thus making IntelliTxt, Amazons contextual ads, and other contextual ads that didn’t look like adsense against the rules.

    The new policy only says ads formatted like adsense are not allowed. Will this end the practice of google saying “No” to Intellitxt?

  • Wow, this is going to cause a lot of confusion and debate. They say “formatted to use the same layout and colors”. But, what is the same? Can I have light green AdSense ads and dark green YPN ads? How different does it have to be? Can I run AdSense leaderboards and YPN skyscrapers that are the same color?

  • AdverSpyser

    Completely over reacting. Google have simply clarified the policy and made it much easier to follow.

    Don’t try and cheat or confuse the user with your ads and nowhere does it imply that you can’t do A/B testing. You just can’t run ads on the same page with similar appearance.

    The best part is clarifying the copyright policy, hopefully that’ll scare the big time scrapers out there doing arbritrage.

    Other than that, rubbish.

  • AdverSpyser, you said “Don’t try and cheat or confuse the user with your ads and nowhere does it imply that you can’t do A/B testing. You just can’t run ads on the same page with similar appearance.”

    That is NOT true. You cannot run ads that are similar in appearance *anywhere* on the site if you are running AdSense. It is now site-wide, not just on a per page basis. That is why the new policies state “published on websites” not “published on the sane page”. Previously, you could run competitor ads as long as they didn’t appear on the same page during the same page view as AdSense.

    I also talked with Google about the changes before they went live and I confirmed this as well. If they look like your AdSense ads and they appear on the same site, even if it isn’t on the same page, it is in violation of the AdSense policies.

  • Rather presumptuous of GOOG to tell webmasters what they can put on pages that don’t carry Adsense. That’s not going to win them many friends or ad impressions.

  • Chris, most people who asked AdSense about IntelliTXT got the go-ahead to use it, I’ve seen people using the two together for years. The only problem would be if the pop-up box mimics the AdSense ads… I have seen some pop-up that look just like a small ad unit, however I am not sure if it was IntelliTXT specifically or one of their conpetitors.

  • Toivo, there is definitely going to be confusion over this. I would suspect two shades of green would be considered too similar in Google’s eyes. However, one green and one blue would likely be fine, or perhaps even one with a green border and white background and the other with a green background and blended border would be different enough.

  • argv1900

    Googs is becoming more & more like microsoft.

  • Would it be possible to serve AdSense in the morning and YPN in the evening?

  • Eli

    I’ve never used 2 ad networks on the same site, in fact, I’ve never used anything other than AdSense.

  • Mike

    Nice blog!

    Can you still use AdBrite and AdSense on the same page if you chage the look and fiel of the ads?

  • Great article jennifer. I’m new to adsense, and the points you have brought up will come in handy. thanks.

  • My eyeballs hate you. You should use a darker font.

    But regarding the article, good stuff.

  • Jen, but the old AdSense policies already stated that “This would also include ads throughout the site that mimic Google ads or otherwise appear to be associated with Google on your site. Although you may sell ads directly on your site, it is your responsibility to ensure these ads do not mimic Google ads.” So, they already talked about “site”, and that it’s not permitted to mimic Google ads. Next to the rewording where do you see the big change?

    (Reposted from Digg)

  • ashish

    i don’t know that how are you
    but i know you are a good person.
    i know some other thing and is reason you.
    because my englsih is not good because i am indian.
    but you use normal english

  • JohnMu

    What about image ads / banners? They all look alike to me. Would that mean no other paid (non-contextual) banners on a site that uses Adsense? Ouch.

  • They are protecting them self, what

  • They’re not protecting themselves, they’re trying to monopolize the market before it can grow out of the young stage it is still in.

    Google has thousands more publishers than YPN ever will — and these requirements are allowing Google to effectively own these publishers’ sites.

    In the very least, we should be given an opportunity to test out AdSense, YPN, and others to see the best mix and profit. We’re no longer allowed to do that, and publishers are expected to be okay with that. I find that terribly invading.

  • You could do double 50/50 with layout 1 adsense / layout 2 yahoo one day and l2 adsense / l1 yahoo on the other, where both layout 1+2 are distinctive enough but you would have data on it.

    Still, it sucks, and i am not sure if this will work out perfect for them – if I am as restricted with this, why not stop using them at all?

    Adsense is popular because they made it so easy to implement and use. If they make it so much more complicated – well then it might get time to say goodbye.

  • Konrad

    What would be considered a “site”? The complete domain (hopefully not) or just parts that belong together. For example, could I run AdSense on and YPN on my forum (

  • The question is, does it matter? Pretend you’re a high earning Adsense user with say one section of your site that uses YPN. If Google was okay with this setup for the last 18 months, do you really think they’ll going to close your account over it? Likewise, do you think they’ll close your account for 1 day of A/B testing? I don’t.

  • You’re right about this being the buzz around the blogosphere, even I heard about this, and I’m not into problogging as much…

    And depending on your theme… the ads bidclix, ypn, adbrite, etc. all can look the same… a lot of work for the bigger blogs around..

    Thanks for the heads up jensense, I actually came from 3 blogs, all of whom directed me to this same page…

  • Interesting.

    This smells like the same sort of policy that prevents you from publishing benchmarks results from expensive software (like Oracle) without prior written permission.

    It does make you wonder how far Google will push their ability to dictate what publishers may do on their own web sites, doesn’t it?

  • Hi Jen:

    Thanks for the details and discussion. I was just about to start testing YPN. Guess I’ll have to be more careful how and when I do that testing.

  • ss

    would having adsense and vibrantmedia ads or Kontegra ads on the same page be a violation

  • The more and more Google makes it difficult for me, the more and more I lean towards their competition. YPN has taken over 2 of my sites full time already. The couple I have that are in mixed rotation, are going to end up going one way or the other…. And I don’t have to say which way its headed.

    Bad move by Google IMO.

  • Good info and insight, Jen.

    Though not one myself, what this ominous development points to are the increasingly deleterious effects on publishers’ resulting from one company’s growing industry clout…when it comes to setting the terms and conditions of the use of their service/s.

    If publishers think this is bad, just wait and see what happens if Google’s paid search/contextual advertising market share continues to grow.

    If it does, in a few years, Google could try to, among other things, entirely prohibit the use of any competing revenue program (and they will of course define what “competing” means) and slash pubs’ revshare.

    For the good of publishers of all kinds, and the Internet ad economy in general, we’d all better hope that Yahoo, MSN, and others remain a strong presence in the online ad world.

    So who’s evil now?

  • Sounds like the move of someone who is a bit scared and defensive. Had anyone done the A/B testing Jen suggested above? I’d be interested in the results of any such tests.

  • I see no problem with these changes really, the biggest issue I see, is that google is obligated to actually enforce these rules if they want to make them legitimate. There are going to be quite alot of people who aren’t trying to disobey the rules, but if they see other people doing it they will too, just to try it out.

  • JP

    I still don’t understand.
    Google is saying you can either have AdSense on your site and nothing else, or you have to get rid of AdSense entirely? I think your article is a bit confusing between what you first describe and what you describe towards the end.

    I don’t agree that Google is doing this to limit competition.
    It seems Google is instituting this policy to prevent website owners and bloggers from taking advantage of Google, NOT because they are trying to limit choice. For instance, if Google’s AdSense figures out what ad to serve best at the bottom of an article, and then you use that data to sell that spot directly to the same or similar advertiser but this time without having to pay Google, that’s a cheapshot on Google’s program which did the hard work of figuring out which ad, and which color scheme, and ad size works best in the first place.

  • I agree with another commentor who brought up the issue of the lack of mention of other “contextual” ads in the new polcies. Personally, if this is really correct, I think the new polcies give a lot more flexibility in some ways as we are now allowed to use any other contextual ads provided they’re not formatted like the adsense ads that appear on the site.

    I think that’s also another key issue. According to my reading, you can use other similar-looking ads to your adsense ads provided they use a different color scheme.

  • I have just made a new entry on the removal of contextual ads from the competitive ads section of the policies. But the short answer is that the AdSense terms still currently do not allow you to run AdSense on pages with other content targeted ads. So the terms would also need updating (which they could possibly do).

  • scot

    But, at least Google isn’t Evil…

  • Ouch. Google is really trying to stick it to yahoo (and MSN). Given a choice, people will likely choose to use adsense over the others as adsense has a better track record.

    Yahoo has been getting beat up recently.

  • Remember, Evil is in the eye of the beholder Jen…. 😉

  • One of the easier things to do especially in a 50/50 AB testing is to switch randomly the ENTIRE ad content. This would be simplest on a page without heavy ad-content, which in my mind is the ideal for context/content based ad content.

  • Joe

    Hi Jen,

    Great article. Thanks for breaking this down for us!

    You mention that A/B comparisons are a no-no, but going sitewide with Google one day, and YPN the next would be fine.

    How specific is this? Why a day? Could you go morning/night, or hour by hour? How about even/odd minutes? Switching like this would mean that the entire site has one or the other for a period of time, then switches completely. You are not running both at the “same time”.

    Just a thought..

  • Matt

    And how does this go with image ads? I have tribalfusion ads running on the site (though its horizontal while adsense is vertical), and often I have noticed the same advertiser participiates in both ad networks. So one has to actively go out and differentiate between them?

  • Hey Jen –
    Ya, this is definitely causing quite a stir among the blogosphere as well as in peripheral advertising networks. I run, which is a free advertising network that serves contextual ads much like Google’s. We’ve received quite a few emails from users who serve our ads on the same page as Adsense ads who were wondering if they were in violation of Google’s TOS. Our stance so far has been to advise our members to alter their color schemes and borders so as to distinguish themselves from Googles. All in all it just sucks that such a dominant force like Google can cause such disruption in other services by making moves like these :\

  • This could work out well with Chitika I’d imagine..been wanting to integrate it on my Hot Deals site! Thanks for the informative post!