Or anywhere on the theme?

My gut reaction is no. Definitely no if you paid money for the theme. While I don’t begrudge a designer who is trying to get a little extra SEO benefit, or any other type of advertising, from a text link in the footer, or sidebar or whatever, I think the site owner is 100% within their rights to remove that text link.

That said, if you agreed to leave the text links as a condition of getting the theme, then I think it’s dishonest to remove it. If that wasn’t part of the deal, as is the case with many free themes, you shouldn’t feel guilty removing it.

There are plenty of linkbuilding companies out there who create free themes with those footer links as a way to build links for their clients.

Links are the currency of the web.

When you first start a site, you have no history. You’re like a baby who just got slapped by the doctor. No one knows who you are, no one knows what you’re capable of, and no one is willing to pony up a few bucks to see what you can do. That’s OK, that’s why performance marketing has flourished on the web and why so many people are making a living off it.

Performance marketing, or affiliate marketing, works because advertisers don’t have to trust you. They only have to trust what you are able to do, which is how it should be. They’ll pay you a percentage of a successful sale or they’ll pay you $20 if you can get someone to sign up or apply for something. They don’t pay unless you perform.

The Beginning

In the beginning, the struggle will be for you to get approval to run offers. Some advertisers are more relaxed than others about their approval requirements. Once you’ve built up a fairly respectable site, start applying for relevant programs. You’ll get into some of them, you’ll be rejected for others. Don’t take it personally, oftentimes it’s an automated decision process.

Cracking Picky Advertisers

If you are rejected, move on unless it’s an offer you feel is perfect for your site. If it is, try to find the affiliate manager’s email or telephone number and give them a call. Get a reason (or reasons) why you weren’t accepted and fix those issues. If the issue is performance (a manager only has so much bandwidth to cover their affiliates), ask them what they’d need as a minimum before they’ll accept someone.

One way to crack a picky advertiser is to find their competitor and promote them. In every niche there is always going to be a company looking to break out. Find them, promote them, and develop a performance history. If you can bring that history to the pickier advertiser, they may accept you on that alone.

Negotiating Higher Payouts

Once you’ve started to generate leads, even if it’s only a couple a month, contact your affiliate manager to find out about higher payouts. The vast majority of affiliates generate zero sales or leads. Once you’ve generated a few, you’re separating yourself from the pack and showing you can send people their way. Talk to your manager and find out what you need to do to bump up the payouts or the commission rate. You may be surprised to learn that 5 sales is enough to get you to the next level, but you won’t have a goal unless you ask.

Beyond Highest Payouts

Once you’ve developed a history of strong performance, you may have reached the highest level of payouts. Your quantity of the leads or sales is high, the quality of those leads and sales are high, and the advertiser is generally very happy with your performance. However, reaching the highest payouts isn’t the end of the growth in the relationship.

The next step is to look for ways to partner with the brand outside of performance marketing. You may need to bridge the gap between the marketing department and the advertising department, which are increasingly growing closer and closer together. Consider ways for brands to sponsor areas of the site, such as a section or topic category, sponsor email newsletters, or simply purchase display advertising.

When you have a history of strong performance, these sweetener type of deals may not convert more leads or generate more sales, but it solidifies a relationship. If you have a 6 month display ad with a company, how likely are you to swap out their offer for someone else, especially after you factor in the value of that ad from a blended CPA perspective? Less likely, especially if it’s an untested offer.

In the end, remember that the rules aren’t set in stone. If you can think of a creative way to build on a relationship, give it a try. The worst they can say is “no” and then you’ll at least know. I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, please share any of your own below!

On January 8, I blocked some filtered categories from appearing in the Adsense blocks. My guess was that it would cost me a few dollars, hopefully not too many, and that it would result in a much better user experience. Fewer people would be clicking on Get Rich Quick scams and the world would be a better place.

To measure the impact, I looked at the seven days preceding the change and compared it to the seven days since. The difference? eCPM fell by 6.8% and the CTR fell by 7%. While that sounds like a lot, it’s half of what was excluded. The eight categories I excluded accounted for 15.6% of recent earnings.

It may be a little early in the game for comparisons, Google Adsense may need more time to adjust to the exclusions, but the drop wasn’t as big as expected.

Have you filtered out some of the categories? Any early results so far?

Load Your Highest CTR Adsense Block First

by jim on January 11th, 2010

Here’s a mistake that you might be making and not even realize it. Google puts the most valuable ads in the first Adsense block that is loaded. In this case, “valuable” means the one that generates the most revenue for them and, subsequently, you.

Specifically, they load the ad that gets the highest % of clicks times the cost per click to help decide which ads are the most valuable. The algorithm is more detailed than that but for our purposes that sums up all we really care about it.

One common mistake that many bloggers make is that they don’t load their highest converting Adsense block first. When you look at your page’s source code, it should appear higher than the other adsense javascript calls.

An Example Common Error

The left sidebar is usually the block with the highest CTR, however it may not be the one that is loaded first. A lot of websites put ads the header, like beside the website logo, which is usually loaded before the body of the post. The left sidebar might have a higher CTR but your header Adsense block has more valuable ads!

How can you fix this? In this scenario, you will need to use CSS to move parts of the page around so that you can put the javascript near the bottom but have it appear near the top.

To do this, you’ll need to wrap the Adsense javascript code in a div tag and then play with the CSS to get it to appear correctly.
<div id="GoogleAdsenseAd1">
Your Adsense Code
</div>

Then add this to your CSS stylesheet:
#GoogleAdsenseAd1 {
width: 468px;
height: 60px;
position: absolute;
left: 140px;
right: 0px;
bottom: 0px;
top: 350px;
}

Tweak the settings as necessary to have it appear where you want to. Good luck!

How to Block Filtered Adsense Categories

by jim on January 8th, 2010

If you’ve used Adsense much on your site or just visited lots of sites with Adsense advertising, you’ve probably seen a lot of scammy types of ads. Whether they’re teeth whitening or get rich quick, lasik or pay day loans, Adsense has a lot of advertising that may not be a good fit for your site. As good as Google’s targeting may be, sometimes your site will still get unrelated ads that some would find scammy. If not scammy, at least irrelevant.

Block Individual URLs

So, how do you block them? Well in the past the only way was to add filters based on URL. You would go to your Adsense Setup, Competitive Ad Filter, and enter in URLs to filter out of your results. It used to have a limit of 200 several years ago but nowadays there is no limit.

While this is great, it’s very time consuming. There are thousands, if not millions, of URLs promoting everything and they change constantly. You could spend hours finding every URL promoting unwanted stuff today and by tomorrow, there will be even more URLs. It’s simply not feasible, which is probably why Google introduced categories.

Block Entire Categories

Login, go to Adsense Setup and Ad Review Center. The first heading is Category Filters, which will probably say you are blocking none. Click change and it will reveal a box like the one below.

Adsense Filtered Categories

What’s helpful is that Adsense will tell you both % recent earnings and % recent ad impressions, to give you an idea of what you’ll be giving up. I was surprised to learn that 9.6% of my recent ads were from Get Rich Quick, accounting for 8.1% of my revenue. If I were to remove Get Rich Quick ads, I could expect my revenue to suffer, at most, 8.1%.

However, in thinking about it some more, I want ads that perform better on my site. It’s hard to come to any definitive conclusions because there are too many unknowns, but at the very least I know that none of these filtered categories outperform. For every category, the % earnings is less than % impressions. That means the unfiltered categories, in aggregate, have % earnings greater than % impressions.

Either way, I do know that these ads aren’t doing me tremendous favors so I excluded the maximum number I could – 8. Cosmetic Procedures & Body Modification, Date, Get Rich Quick, Politics, Religion, Ringtones & Downloadables, Sexual & Reproductive Health, and Sexually Suggestive. I kept Drugs & Supplements because I have a few posts on fitness, video games because I have a few posts on video games, and weight loss because I hit the limit, it’s a small percentage and less scammy than the other ones I could’ve chosen.

I’ll report back in a week or two to see how it has affected earnings.

It Will Probably Cost You

For those not willing to wait a week, I got the idea to test this from Alex Schultz. He recently decided to remove the weight loss category of ads from his cocktail recipes website and saw his earnings take a hit.

Ultimately, it comes down to creating a great user experience so that you can grow even bigger – not squeeze a few more cents out of the visitors that do come. I met Alex briefly once at Facebook, where he’s in charge of internet marketing, last year during Elite Retreat – user experience is paramount at Facebook so it’s not surprising Alex feels the same way about his private projects.

In his case, weight loss ads accounted for 10.6% of his recent ad impressions and a whopping 20.2% of his recent earnings. In his case, earnings > impressions, so removing them really was a testament to his desire to maintain a good user experience.

It remains to be seen how the change will affect Bargaineering. At the very least, there will be fewer get rich quick scams!

How To Price Banner Display Advertising

by jim on December 30th, 2009

One of the hardest things to do as a blogger is quote a value for your site’s real estate. One day an advertiser is going to reach out to you and ask to buy some banner advertising on your site (chances are you’ve fielding about a million text link buying requests already!) and you’ll be tempted just to throw out a number.

Avoid the temptation!

If you give too high a number, it may scare off the advertiser (probably not). If you give too low a number, you’ll be lowballing yourself! The best way to price out display advertising placements is to find out how much they are actually worth to you. Here’s how you figure that out.

Select Your Placements

You can pick placements randomly or you can use a data driven CTR-based approach to selecting ad placements, but you will need to pick out a few places on your site that you would consider selling advertising space.

Skycrapers (120×600 & 160×600), headers (468×68), and 125×125 buttons are probably the most popular sizes (of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s standard ad units) so if you pick out spots just for those sizes, you’ll be set.

Use Google Adsense Blocks

Grab an Adsense block and stick it in the spot to see how it performs. The metric you want to look at is eCPM because it’s the closest analogy to a display ad you can get. The eCPM of an Adsense block will be calculated based on clicks, it gives you an idea of what that placement is worth to you.

You can use that eCPM and your traffic figures to calculate a base monthly rate to start with.

If you already have placements with Adsense, you can simply look at historical data.

Make Adjustments

With that as your starting point, you can begin to make adjustments. Here are some important thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Traffic growth: If you’re a growing site and the buyer wants terms of longer than a quarter, you’ll want to factor in growth. You don’t want to sign a six month deal only to double your traffic and be giving a huge discount in the fifth and sixth months.
  • Negotiation buffer: Add in a little more with the expectation that the buyer will want to negotiate you down. Whether this is 100% more or 50% or 20% is up to you, but definitely build this into the number you return.
  • Lack of optimization: If you haven’t split tested Adsense palettes, there’s a strong chance you aren’t optimized. In that case, add a small premium to your quote to account for the fact that you haven’t squeezed all you can out of Adsense.
  • “Handling” fees: This advertising relationship is going to require a bit more work than Adsense, which is a set it and forget it type of ad. You will be spending time negotiating, re-negotiating, sending invoices, etc. Factor all that effort in.
  • Collection fees: If they are paying by PayPal, add in the fees for processing. If they are writing a check, consider the cost of depositing it.
  • Collection risk: If it’s a well known company or if they pay up front, this is less of a risk. If you think they might be a hassle to deal with, build a buffer into that cost.

This may not be the ideal way to price your placements (that would be if you had an auction) but it’s better than guessing, right?

Do you have a way to price your placements? Or things you consider that I missed?

Does Adsense eCPM Grow with Traffic?

by jim on December 23rd, 2009

Jeremy at GenXFinance recently asked me whether site traffic had any impact on CTR and eCPM figures in Adsense. While there’s been a lot of discussion about the idea of “Smart Pricing” and how low CTRs can result in a CPC penalty, this isn’t what this article is about.

Here’s Jeremy’s question:

What I want to know about adsense is whether or not you’ve seen it grow in a linear fashion alongside traffic. Meaning, if you were earning $1,000/month with 50k pageviews a month does that mean you can expect $2,000/month with 100k PVs, $10,000/month with 500k PVs, etc.

Obviously, there are variables in terms of what ads are being shown, how much clicks are paying and so on, but I think over time and with averages you should be able to see whether or not CTR and eCPM scale in-step with traffic as a whole or if there’s some sort of plateau.

First, I can’t speak to CTR because I believe that is something that should remain fairly constant for your site as long as your placements remain the same. There are always going to be targeting issues but since you will be catering to a certain target audience, the law of averages should play itself out.

As for eCPM, I think external factors play a bigger role than traffic in that but for data I pulled Bargaineering’s 2008 Adsense data for the left sidebar (in 2009, that spot was replaced with a display advertisement). I charted eCPM against impressions:

Adsense eCPM vs. Impressions

Correlation Coefficient: -0.22351944
Rsquared: 0.04996094

The two are slightly negatively correlated which means that as traffic goes up, eCPM goes down a little bit. Remember, correlation is not causation (eCPM doesn’t go down because traffic goes up, the two just move in that direction on this data set). I used Excel’s CORREL and RSQ functions to calculate those (I also ran a PEARSON but it matched the result of the CORREL function).

Here’s where a little intuition comes into play, when I look at the eCPMs by date (averaged across seven days to smooth out the chart a little), it looks like seasonality may play a bigger role:

Average eCPM by Date

In the beginning of the year you have the glow of a very strong 2007 holiday season, a little blip in April for tax season, then relatively flat figures until you read the 2008 holiday season. Throughout that time traffic was steadily increasing, thought it’s not reflected in this chart.

So to answer the original question, I think eCPM may be affected a little by traffic but I wouldn’t bet on it. There is no plateau or something “obvious” you can attribute to the data, so I think external factors dominate it in this case. Granted, I’m not a statistical expert so I invite someone to take a look.

Thoughts? Interpretations?

How to Determine Display Ad Placements

by jim on December 23rd, 2009

When it comes to ads on your site, something you shouldn’t consider until you have a few hundred (or at least a thousand) visitors a day, it’s very important that you are selective and tactical when it comes to ad placements. If you put too few placements, you might be leaving money on the table. If you put too many, you’re creating a bad user experience. You want to find the sweet spot and the only way to do that is by testing.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume everything is a cost per click (CPC) ad like Google Adsense.

Create a Good User Experience

Goal number one should always be to create a good user experience because without your readership, your site will languish. Without comments, the site will feel lonely. So in all of your testing, you should keep this in mind – “If I came to this site for the first time, do the ads turn me off?” If you don’t feel like you can determine the answer to that, ask your friends. Ask someone who doesn’t know you run the site and ask if they think the ads are annoying. If you aren’t sure, chances are the ads are annoying. If they’re clash, they’re annoying. If they’re everywhere, they’re annoying. If there’s a point on the site where you expect content and instead there’s an ad, it’s annoying.

Avoid these at all costs.

One of the reasons why I recommend doing this after you have a thousand visitors per day is because you need that many to have enough data to analyze. If you only have 100 visitors a day, it will take you a much longer time to get enough data to make a meaningful decision. Testing at that stage is less effective.

Test Placements & Track CTR

CTR stands for click through rate and it’s the number one metric you need to be aware of when it comes to cost per click ads on your site. Whenever you put an ad up with Google Adsense, make sure you assign it a channel so you can track the Page CTR. Then try a bunch of different placements independently and see how each of them performs. You should see CTR values all over the map with some placements performing better than others.

The left sidebar skyscraper (120×600 and 160×600) has always, on every site I’ve ever tested it one, performed the best. It beats out the right skyscraper, a right 300×250 rectangle, it beats a 468×60 banner in the header (to the right of a logo), and beats the 468×60 at the end of a post. The only one I haven’t tried is a 300×250 rectangle underneath a post title but before the post content, I think that violates rule #1 – create a good user experience (though I hear it’s good for generating revenue).

Test them independently because the first block on the page will usually have the most targeted and profitable ads. By only have one ad per page, you are keeping everything but the ad constant. If you use multiple ads, you run the risk of one block having a better targeted ad and thus getting a higher CTR because of relevancy rather than placement.

Pick Two, Test Some More

Once you’ve played around with some ad placements, put ads in the top two performing spots. After you run that for a while, review their CTRs and consider dropping one of the two. You may even consider dropping both if the CTRs are so low or the revenue is so low that you prefer to keep the real estate for more valuable content.

On Bargaineering.com, the homepage does not have a left skyscraper advertising placement because in reviewing the data, I saw the CTR was low relative to the CTR on individual posts. This is because most visitors to the homepage are regular readers (my guess) who are not interested in ads (proved low CTR). Why show ads to people who don’t want them? I took them off so that I could show more content on the homepage.

With data, specifically CTR data as a proxy for interest, you can make an informed decision on where to put or remove ads.

Place CPC Ad Blocks in a Left Sidebar

by jim on December 21st, 2009

Every once and a while I stop by Liz Pulliam Weston’s website, AskLizWeston.com, to see what she’s been up to. As one of the most prolific personal finance writers out there, I’m always surprised to see her maintain a personal finance blog as well as keep all her other commitments. Heck, she even took the time to join JD Roth and myself on our personal finance podcast, The Personal Finance Hour.

The last time I was there, I saw that she added some monetization elements to the site. There are Google Adsense blocks after each post, a Sunglass Hut banner at the top, some other 125×125 ads in the right sidebar, plus a list of her books on Amazon. I sent Liz an email offering some help, if monetization was a goal of hers, and got in contact with her web designer to discuss it a little more.

I thought one particular discussion would be valuable to share with you. The designer said that she understood that it was standard to have the advertising in a right sidebar and that it was a better user experience. I don’t know what is considered standard (left or right) or which was a better user experience but ads in the left sidebar perform better.

Eyetracking Supports Ads on Left

Ads in the left sidebar are clicked far more often than ads on the right. I wish I could quote statistics from Bargaineering but when I made that decision I was less testing/analytics driven than I am today. Any heatmap eyetracking study has shown that the hottest areas are in the top left, rarely pushing too far to the right. This heatmap image from an eyetracking study of Google Search results pretty much sums up the internet experience (in most cases). Here’s the accompanying press release, which is also a valuable read.

CPM vs. CPC

If the ads are from a CPM perspective (paid based on the number of times it’s loaded), it’s better on the right because fewer people leave the site by clicking on the ad. Since you’re paid for the number of times the ad is displayed, rather than the numbers of clicks, the right side ad is better for a publisher because you still get paid and you don’t lose a visitor.

Adsense is based on a CPC model, so you are, for the most part, only paid when someone clicks and leaves your site. If you’re trying to maximize that, you’ll want to put it in the left sidebar where the visitor is almost always going to see it.

Give Freebie First, Then Ask For Email

by jim on December 5th, 2009

Robert Cialdini’s Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is a great book if you want to understand more about human behavior, backed up by statistics and science. Alex Moskalyuk’s summary of each of the fifty ways is even better, because you can read it in a fraction of the time.

I decided to run a small test of my own on #9: “A small gift makes people want to reciprocate. People who received a small no-strings-attached gift from a stranger were twice as likely to buy raffle tickets from him than those who were just pitched on raffle tickets.” (Alex’s summary from the book)

On my personal finance blog Bargaineering, I raise a popup to new visitors offering a free ebook with 100 Money Saving Tips. I did a split test where half of the visitors’ popup that gave the book away for free and asked for an email (Freebie First) and the other that only offered the ebook after someone signed up for the list (Regular). The idea was that if I gave them a gift (the ebook), they may be more like to sign up to reciprocate.

The Freebie First form had 151,478 displays and a sign up rate of 0.9% (1373 signups) whereas the Regular form had 149,707 displays with a signup rate of 0.7% (1103). The Freebie First had a 22% increase in signups. What I didn’t do, and I don’t think I can do with Aweber, is see the unsubscribe rate for both lists. I’d imagine the regular form’s unsubscribe rate is higher because people only sign up for the list to get the ebook.

The conclusion here is that you should split test it yourself to see how your particular readership responds.