Thursday, January 15, 2009

Asking Dave Taylor about AdSense

Inside AdSense: Where did the idea for your 'Ask Dave Taylor' site come from?

Dave Taylor: There's a great backstory, actually. I've written twenty different books on various business and technical topics, including Teach Yourself Unix in 24 Hours and Creating Cool Web Sites. Each time I'd publish, I would be sure to include my email address and other contact information. Problem was, people would send me email with questions. Lots of email with questions.

Over time I found myself answering the same questions again and again and realized that there had to be a better way for readers to search through an archive of already answered questions. I tried an online discussion forum, but it didn't really work very well (though it did give me an excuse to write my own bbs system from scratch, but that's another story.

Then early in 2003 this "weblog" thing started to gain a bit of traction. When I first saw how it was built upon the concept of an author writing entries and others being able to add their comments, I realized that it could be ideal for my needs.

IA: Why did you join the AdSense program?

DT: As a businessperson, I had always viewed my website as a cost center. I mean, you had to pay for hosting, you had to pay for graphic design, you had to pay for Internet connectivity, etc. That was just my mindset. It was a marketing expense and its purpose was lead generation for my consulting and book sales.

In mid-2003 my friend told me about this "AdSense thing" and said that he'd been experimenting with it and making some money. So I finally decided that I'd try putting some adverts on my site (I'd been on the Web since 1996 but never had any adverts on my sites until that point). That first month I made more than I expected by simply adding the AdSense adverts to my pages and was surprised as heck.

That's when it hit me, that my website was becoming a profit center for my business, not a cost center. I began to pay more attention to the site and published new content on a more regular basis. Within a few months I was earning enough to pay my mortgage, and today my website, and specifically Google AdSense, is a primary revenue stream for my entire company.

IA: Can you talk a little about your experience with optimizing your ads?

Enter A/B testing. I read and talked with many AdSense publishers, tried what they suggested and what had worked for them, fiddled with my own ideas, and generally tried every variation I could imagine to see if I could improve the click-through-rate of my ad blocks. The greatest boosts I saw in clickthrough rate were when I moved the advert into the middle of my articles, when I made sure it had the same color background as the material around it, and when there wasn't a solid border or other visual element to make the ad stand out from the surrounding content.

Truth be told, I've also paid close attention to the sites profiled on the AdSense blog, looking at how they integrated ads into their own design and trying to emulate their successful techniques on my own site.

IA: Glad to hear you used the blog! Any other optimization tips for our readers?

Focus on generating really good content that meets real user needs.
Design your blog so that there are minimal distractions for the user.
Wrap your blog entry around the Google ad unit and put the ads where users will see them, though make sure you have them visually distinct from your content: trying to trick readers into clicking on ads is a definite no-no and anti-reader too.

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