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.