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November 14, 2007

Changes to AdSense ad clickable areas means likely lower CTR & eCPM

While it doesn't seem to be publicly detailed yet, some publishers have received an email from Google AdSense regarding a change in the way the text ads are formatted, and yes, it is a legitimate email (I received one from an account rep, and I have received many copies of this letter from people who received this as well, and it seems to have been sent to those with account reps).

What is the change? AdSense has just changed where a visitor can click on an ad and actually end up truly clicking the ad to visit that advertiser's site.

This screenshot of an ad unit details the way you used to be able to click on an AdSense ad, and the new areas where a visitor can click on the ad. As you can see, they have dropped the clickable area down by well over half, and with many ad units, it is just a fraction of the original clickable area.

newadsenseclickableareas.gif

This is already live on publisher's ad units, although it appears to be rolling out as not all ad units are behaving this way yet, so some ad units on your site could be using the new clickable areas while others are not (including the same ad unit sizes on the same site). There is the possibility that Google is also using the rollout to do some A/B testing between the new clickable areas and the old ones, so perhaps the change isn't as certain as the email leads publishers to believe.

It is also worth noting that several smaller ad formats do not have a URL displayed when you use them. Those without a URL appear to have the ad text clickable as well, although this could be a part of the rollout. If this change is permanent, it could make sense for publishers to switch to the smaller ad units if they see a huge drop in CTR and earnings.

The two ad unit sizes without URLs are:

The official reason is to reduce the number of accidental clicks, and I suspect it is to help combat the prevalence of "Made for AdSense" sites. But Google is acknowledging that publishers will likely see a decrease in the CTR rate, which means that users will also end up seeing a loss of income. However, Google speculates that as this is making a change good for advertisers, since they are reducing the chance of accidental clicks, that they will also see a trend of more advertisers opting into the content network or increasing their ad spend.

I suspect many publishers will not be happy with this change, especially coming right at the beginning of the hard-core holiday shopping season. While I agree that reducing the ad click area was a good idea, I think they reduced it by far too much. If they wanted to reduce the clickable areas, I do believe they should have kept the ad text area (even if just the specific text area that has text on it) as a clickable area instead of only having the title and URL clickable. In other words, make all the text clickable (Title, Description, URL) and the white space non-clickable, as I am also fairly certain there were clicks made on white space areas that should not have been counted as a legitimate click.

What should you do if you see a drop in income or as a preventative measure to avoid the income drop? First and foremost, change your titles to hyperlink blue, as visitors are used to seeing links in blue. And if your site design doesn't include other on-page links in blue, you might consider a slight style change.

Other things to try include perhaps try mixing some image-only ad units (which remain fully clickable) or try some of the non-URL ad units. And yes, I believe publishers will see a drop in income due to this change, meaning some publishers will have less Christmas spending money than expected.

I am seeing some slight initial CTR drops, but I will continue to monitor it as the rollout becomes more complete (not all of my ad units have the new clickable areas) and post followups, including what happens with the non-URL ad units.

What do you think of the changes? Are you happy with them or not-so-happy?

Posted by Jenstar at November 14, 2007 06:17 AM

Comments

I'm not really happy with it, cause i see a significant drop in my AdSense earnings. But that raises a question: Does that mean that i had so many accidental clicks in the past? Cant believe it...

Posted by: BloggingTom at November 14, 2007 08:08 AM

i think, it's a good move by Google. Less accidental clicks means more advertisers will trust the system. We might have a sudden drop in income but the benefits will be visible in the long run.

Posted by: marhgil at November 14, 2007 09:37 AM

I also think that in the long term that advertisers will raise their bids again. Ultimately, fewer erroneous clicks will mean higher return on ad spend for the advertisers.

Competition will then drive these people to raise their bids. I am in favor of anything that improves the life of the advertisers. It's their money that fuels the web.

Posted by: Eric Enge at November 14, 2007 01:59 PM

I think it’s about time Google made this change. Other sponsored link providers, like Pulse 360, have been adhering to a guideline of clickable text only for a long time now.

It really matters for individual advertisers when they have to pay for "mistake" clicks, and this is a classic example of Google doing what’s right for them, but not for advertisers.

As for the publishers, when Google responds to advertiser complaints by lowering prices, the publisher suffers.

Posted by: Tina at November 14, 2007 02:29 PM

This is another move by Google against publishers that signifies a "shark jumping trend" we should expect to see more of over the next year. Whereas Google before was an innovation company (products and programming to support products) they are now retreating into a "preserve and enhance revenue" mode. Google is penalizing adopters of the technology for a number of reasons; advertiser maturity, better revenue through lower payouts, etc.
Google fails to see the value of billions of long tail channels in favor of the short term big pay out. Pity.

Posted by: Jack at November 15, 2007 09:20 AM

I dont agree with this move either, and Im thinking alot of other people feel the same.

Posted by: Dedicated Hosting at November 15, 2007 10:30 AM

I think it's going to be bad for publishers as there will definitely be a drop in CTR, but it's a good thing for both advertiser and user.

Remember that this will also see a drop in earnings for google, so at least this is one move of theirs that doesn't SEEM to be greed oriented for once.

Posted by: Josh at November 16, 2007 12:49 AM

So thats what it was! Ive been wondering why I had experienced a 50% drop in CTR. So many accidental clicks though?
Does this mean that the display URLs should now be made to stand out? The advice Ive read up until now seems to suggest the display URL should be blended.
This change will probably increase the use of sub-domains so that display URLs are more prominently displayed as

mykeyword.mydomain.com

Posted by: Jabber at November 16, 2007 01:30 PM

Yes, Josh, I think that's exactly what it means. I just made that change myself, I've just changed all the links on one site to stand out a little more than they used to.

Posted by: FredW at November 16, 2007 02:23 PM

Sad to hear this. Mind if I borrow the picture above?

Posted by: NikShikin at November 17, 2007 12:07 AM

Jennifer, who do you think you can fool? With your low traffic (Netcraft rank bellow 100000) you surely have an account rep. Don't try to make yourself look more interesting than you are...

Posted by: John Cusak at November 19, 2007 01:54 AM

I'm numb to adsense changes by now. My only wish is that there was some tit-for-tat copycat competition from MSN and Yahoo.

Yes Santa, it's in the list.

Posted by: Price Negotiator (lower) at November 19, 2007 05:09 PM

Not happy. The CTR dropped significantly. I think this change will affect many genuine sites too.

Anyway I am trying YPN as an alternative.

Posted by: Angsuman Chakraborty at November 19, 2007 08:51 PM

We have noticed a drop in Adsense revenues also. Not sure why ....

Posted by: apple-iphone-canada at November 19, 2007 11:44 PM

As always they are adsense winners and adsense losers. :-)

Posted by: AdsenseLoser.com at November 20, 2007 07:15 PM

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