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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 06:17 AM | Comments (15)

November 01, 2007

Problems with Chitika's non-existant support and uncashable check payments

Publishers probably remember the Chitika audited payments scandal which saw many publishers earnings drop by about half, with some losing as much as 90% of the earnings. I was one of the victims, and ended up removing Chitika off the majority of my sites. I do earn enough with referral earnings and the limited pages I still run it on for test purposes to get a check a month. Isn't much, but meets the minimum check requirement and supports my Starbucks addiction :)

However, when my check arrived at the end of September, my bank would not accept it. Why? Because they had also printed someone else's check on the back of mine... complete with their name and earning amount (no, I am not going to say whose check I received printed on the back of mine). But whoever did the Chitika checks thought it would be fine to just simply use a pen and cross out the other check printed on the back of my check and then send it off to me. Well, funny, but banks don't seem to like a second check printed and scratched out on the back of a check I am trying to deposit!

So, fine, everyone makes mistakes, it should be simple to clear it up, right? Fire off a support ticket and get the check re-issued either immediately or at the very least, when the next payment for me is processed at the end of the month. Apparently not, it is definitely easier said than done. I submit a support request on October 4th, mark it as priority urgent and explain the situation. And get no response. So I follow up again two weeks later, on the 19th, again tagging it as urgent. And no response. So now here we are, one day short of two weeks after my last support request, and nearly a month after my initial support contact and my support ticket is still sitting as "Open" without a single response from Chitika. I can't imagine they have so many support requests that mine could possible go nearly a month without a single person looking at it or even sending a simple "Hey, I need to check this out, but I'm on it" response.

And aside from the fact I can't get a support response, then there is the privacy issue. I know I certainly wouldn't be happy if it had been my check on the wrong side, and this other person saw my payment amount and details printed on the check and check stub. But here I am with Mr. K's check printed on the back, knowing exactly how much he made.

And what about Joe Publisher who might really need that money for rent, mortgage or food? Not cool for Chitika to not even respond, even if the issue couldn't be dealt with immediately. Any response is better than complete silence. And Chitika's competitor's fix their payment issues when they pop up.

I did see my check for September earnings has just been sent, but no, the amount of the August earnings was not added to that, because I also had wondered if maybe someone had dealt with it but a response back to me was never made. No such luck.

Now, someone blogged today (and many times over the past month while I have been waiting for a response) from Chitika, so somebody is home. But it seems getting a support request answered is impossible. With no way to get a response from Chitika, I am basically writing off this amount since I can't get a response and will be removing the last of my Chitika from my pages, something I do know many publishers have done for their own reasons. But this entire situation is definitely a disappointment from someone who lived through the audit fiasco and lost a substantial amount of money because of that too. I know others have had issues with Chitika as well, and now no longer use them or recommend them.

Perhaps I should have challenged them to a Team Slayer match so I could have finally gotten a response from them, and gotten 4000 MS points to boot.

Update: I have not received any communication from Chitika other than the comments some Chitika people made to this blog entry, and a blog post they made. No emails or phone calls whatsoever, and my support request online simply vanished from my account, instead of Chitika posting something on it as a followup or the ticket being listed as closed. Ryan Travis of Chitika posted that the check was being sent Fed-Ex, but it just finally showed up today having been sent regular USPS snail mail.

Posted by Jenstar at 11:45 AM | Comments (15)