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January 18, 2007

What does the removal of "contextual" from competitive ads mean for AdSense publishers

I have had many questions from publisher who have noticed that the new competitive ads policy no longer specifically states that you cannot run other contextually targeted ads on the same page. This change was made as part of the AdSense policies update yesterday.

Prior to yesterday's policies update, the section in question read (emphasis mine):

Competitive Ads and Services We do not permit Google ads or search boxes accessing Google search services to be published on web pages that also contain what could be considered competing ads or services. If you have elected to receive contextually-targeted Google ads, this would include all other contextually-targeted ads or links on the same page as Google ads. 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. If you have elected to receive Google search services, this would include other search services on the same site and non-Google query-targeted ads. We do allow affiliate or limited-text links.

The new policies changed this to read:

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.

Removed was the specific reference to contextuall targeted ads. So the immediate assumption is that using other contextually targeted ads - whether IntelliTXT, Yahoo Publisher Network or another ad network - as long as the ads were formatted in a way that makes them appear different from other AdSense ads. However, there is a slight problem with this... the AdSense terms still prevent publishers from using other contextually targeted ads on a page with AdSense on it too.

The AdSense terms state clearly:

If You have elected to receive content or Site-based Ads, You further agree not to display on any Serviced Page any non-Google content-targeted advertisement(s).

So as it stands, the AdSense Terms & Conditions would also need to change in order for publishers to be able to run other contextual ads on the same page as AdSense. This was why I didn't go into very much detail about this change... because the AdSense terms still wouldn't allow publishers to use those competitors on the same page.

If Google does in fact allow AdSense to run on the same page as other contextually targeted ads, this could set up a situation where potentially publishers could run both AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Network on the same page, provided they both had different color palettes. But unfortunately for publishers, YPN would also also need to change their terms in order to do this, since YPN currently does not allow other contextually targeted ads on the same page as their YPN ads. From the YPN terms:

For any webpage or RSS feed that includes the Ad Code, you agree not to display or link to any other advertising (including but not limited to any listing) that is mapped to or responds to the content of the Ad Page.

Will either AdSense or YPN change their program terms to allow the other company's ads on the same page as their own ads? Possibly. And it would definitely make a lot of publishers happy and remove some of that anti-competitor feeling that the policy has always given publishers.

I have contacted Google about this situation with whether or not other contextual ads will be allowed with AdSense provided the palettes were different. I will keep you updated on this once I hear a response back. But as it stands, it is still against the AdSense terms all publishers agreed to when we signed up for AdSense.

Posted by Jenstar at January 18, 2007 12:00 PM


On the page level contextual exclusivity thing, I tried getting an answer from Eric Schmidt on this at SES and got this PR speak back (this is from the transcript posted on Google's site).

(me) Q: You talked a lot about transparency, and you guys have talked about kind of being good, doing no evil. On the AdSense side, there are two things we hear from the publisher community. One is kind of they want to know what kind of revenue share they're really getting, instead of a black box. And also we hear a lot of feedback about your requirements and your terms of service about requiring contextual exclusivity at a page level. And both those things seem to be in conflict with some of the big themes that you've talked about vis-à-vis transparency and I'm just wondering if you could talk to that.

(Schmidt): Eric: Again, the general theme about transparency is to talk about what we're doing. The specific product details we've decided to keep largely proprietary, partly because of competitive issues and partly because they continue to change. And the particular things that you're asking, both the rev share and the need for terms of service, are as related to landing page quality as they are to the things that people are asking about. We're trying to find ways to give that information but without giving up the information that we don't want our competitors to see.

>Huh? Publishers need to cry foul on this one. And when Yahoo! launched its publisher network they also failed to take the high road on the exclusivity issue. Maybe when YPN comes out of its forever Beta state it can take the high road? Or maybe when MSN pushes its Content Ads program out it won't act monopolistic and take the high road?

Publishers ought to demand better behavior. Google especially owes much success to the Long Tail. We need a Norma Rae to unite the long tail!

Posted by: Jay Sears at January 18, 2007 01:07 PM

Geez. They can't even look the same, throughout the entire SITE?

"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"

What the hell? OK, so now I need to go change my Adsense...

Posted by: Gary at January 18, 2007 03:32 PM

Interesting note Jennifer, regarding the Terms and Conditions. Seems odd that they wouldn't mention it in the Program Policies though.

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Posted by: tom at January 18, 2007 11:49 PM

I don't think it's a good idea to allow other contextual ad units to be displayed simultaneously.

Look at it from an advertiser point of view. I run pretty much the same ads in AdWords ad I do in YSM and adCenter.

Now imagine Joe Blogs having a page with AdSense, YPN and MS-whatever contextual ads. My Ad could be there 3 times. I could be paying for 3 impressions in case of CPM. They would have to co-operate to avoid showing dupes, which is never going to happen. And it would mean that combined they waste 2 good opportunities to show ads, slicing their impression delivery potential significantly.

Posted by: Johan a.k.a. T0PS3O at January 19, 2007 02:03 AM

How about this - Google changes that piece of information so that even sites like adbrite who have non-contextual advertising that still "mimics" adsense, are clearly against the rules.

So in fact, this change in policy gives us even less options to mix with adsense on our webpages. That's how I read it, anyways.

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