Friday, June 6, 2008

10 Important Tips

Tip #1: Don't put ads on empty pages.

When I reworked my site, I built a skeleton set of pages that had no content, just titles and some meta tags. I displayed ads on those pages, however. Although all you see are public service ads at first, the very act of displaying ads on a page causes the AdSense web crawler to quickly fetch that page for analysis. A page with good content will thus begin showing relevant paying ads fairly quickly. 

If you don't have any content, then, Google will have to guess as what your page is about. It may guess wrong, and so the ads that it displays may not be relevant. You'll have to wait until Google re-crawls the site for the ads to correct themselves.

Tip #2: Don't be afraid to ask questions

If you're wondering about something, don't be afraid to ask Google

Tip #3: Avoid non-English characters on English pages

This one is a bug, to be honest. My surname is French, and I prefer to write it out correctly with the accent grave on the first "e". Every page on my site would then include at least two accented letters, because my name shows up twice in the footer. On some pages my name shows up two or three more times. 

Normally, this wouldn't be an issue. But on some pages the presence of the accented characters is enough to cause AdSense to display non-relevant ads in French. This happens whether the browser indicates a preference for French or not.

Tip #4: Check your keyword density

Although Google doesn't release exact details as to how they determine the ads to serve on a given page, they do tell us that it's the text content of the page that matters, not the meta tags. Before serving ads on a page, then, you might want to check its keyword density. A good, free tool for doing this is found here:

AdSense Tip #5: Manage your own AdSense account

My series of AdSense tips continues with a tip about who should control an AdSense account. This tip comes directly from a conversation I had with someone who had been ripped off. Why were they ripped off? Because they weren't in control of their AdSense account.

For some sites, an AdSense account is like a license to print money. Now, most sites aren't making thousands of dollars a month from AdSense, but it's very feasible for niche sites to make a hundred or more dollars a month — see Rick's recent entry on Feedbuzzard, for example. Whether you're making a lot or not so much, it's still extra income that should be coming your way.

I say should because the reality is that many people outsource the management of their sites third parties. Not everyone has the time or the expertise to develop their own Web pages, so outsourcing the development and maintenance of a site may make sense in many cases. But don't outsource the management of your AdSense account or, worse yet, let someone else use their own account to display ads on your site. The AdSense account should be registered in your name (or the name of your business), not in anyone else's name. The money should be sent to you directly, as should the tax information. If you want to give the guys maintaining your site a cut of the revenue, fine, but do it yourself from the money that Google sends you, don't have the money sent to Google.

For similar reasons, make sure that the ownership and control of your domain name rests with you and not a third party. Your domain name (or domain names, it's common to have more than one, even if they just point to the same site) is a valuable resource, it's part of your brand. Take the time to learn how to use a domain name registrar (it's easy) and manage the names yourself. If you ever have problems with your hosting service, for example, you won't be held hostage by them (you do have local backup copies of your website, don't you?) if you control the domain name — there are plenty of web hosting companies out there eager for your business.

AdSense Tip #6: Carefully craft blog or forum pages

My series of AdSense tips continues with a tip closely related to AdSense Tip #1: Don't put ads on empty pages. This tip is AdSense Tip #6: Carefully craft blog or forum pages.

AdSense publishers often complain that the ads that get shown on blog and forum pages are not really that relevant to the topics being discussed. This is because the Mediapartners crawler — the crawler that fetches and analyzes pages that display AdSense ads — visits pages at unpredictable intervals. The first impression you make to that crawler, as discussed in Tip #1, is therefore extremely important. The first time the crawler visits your forum/blog there better be some relevant content on display there.

There's another problem with many blogs and forums: the keyword density is skewed by all the links and extra “fluff” found on the page. For example, many blogs have multiple feed links listed on the page. These are often images. If those images all have alt attributes that say something like “RSS feed for, a blog about Goofy” then “blog”, “feed” and “Goofy” will have higher densities than you might expect, especially if (in this case) “Goofy” and “” show up in other places on the page (links to the home page, links to other pages on the site, alt attributes for images, and so on). You shouldn't be surprised if all the ads you see for that blog end up being related to blogging and/or Goofy, and not necessarily the specific topics being discussed.

There's no predicting when the Mediapartners crawler shows up, so it's hard to tune things for it. You can control when the first crawl occurs, though, so spend some time tuning that first crawl by making sure the blog/forum is displaying the right kind of content. Use a keyword density checker on the page before you place ads on it to make sure things are OK, then activate AdSense for that page.

Note that you'll have better control over permalink pages and thread-specific pages, provided again that you don't have too much fluff on those pages, either.

If things are really bad, rename the page and place a redirect in the old page's place. I had to do this recently with my Vioxx page. In Make Easy Money with Google I point readers to the address for additional information about Vioxx. But the ads that were showing weren't well-targeted, because in my hurry to get the page up (there's another AdSense tip — take your time!) I had neglected to check the keyword density. But when I did, after the fact, it's because that “fluff” I mentioned above was overpowering the Vioxx-related keywords. So after I fixed the page I renamed it to and changed the original to redirect to the new one. When I activated the ads on the new page, the crawler was able to correctly figure out what the keywords were and now the ads that are shown there are highly relevant.

The fix-and-rename technique works well, but it's not always possible to do it, in which case you just have to wait for the Mediapartner crawler to revisit your site. Perhaps Google's new sitemap feature will help in this regard, but I haven't done any experiments yet to know if that's true or not.

AdSense Tip #7: When NOT to use CSS

Cascading style sheets (CSS) are a great way to control how Web pages look. They make it easy to separate the presentation from the structure of the content. However, some people go overboard and use CSS in ways it shouldn't. When this happens, AdSense publishers often find that the ads being displayed on their sites are mistargeted. What's happening?

HTML is a markup language. Its primary purpose is to describe the structure of a Web page. Tags let you specify which parts are headings, which are paragraphs, what the title is, and so on. HTML tags also let you format text using tags like 'i' and 'b' to indicate italic and bold text, for example. However, much of the formatting was done poorly and it polluted the content — there were tags all over the place and all kinds of tricks were done with 'table' tags to get things to position where the Web page designers wanted them.

The emergence of CSS removed the need for many HTML formatting tricks, which is great. HTML returned to describing the structure of a document. However, there are a few tags that you should not remove. For example, don't remove the header tags ('h1' and so on). Don't remove 'b' or 'i' tags. The tags are used by AdSense and search engines to figure out which keywords are prominent and important in your content. If you take them out, you're making it harder for them to figure out what your content is all about. Leave them in, but take out the other formatting tricks.

AdSense Tip #8: Access your console from alternate domains

It's rare, but on occasion access to the AdSense management console is unavailable from the usual address. If it's not working and you really need to check your earnings, try logging in through one of the alternate domains like or, since these entry points may be up even if the main “” site is down or inaccessible. You'll get a “Domain name mismatch” error from your browser because the security certificate is for “” and not “” or “”, but if you just ignore that you can still access the management console. You may have to select a different language using the language selection box at the top of the login page — for example, “” defaults to (big surprise) French text. 

AdSense Tip #9: Join the AdWords program

This is a continuation of my irregular Google AdSense Tips series. I'll get back to my ongoing AdSense case study tomorrow. (If you haven't seen the case study, it's a step-by-step account of what I'm doing to build a nice-oriented money-making site called the Invisible Fence Guide.)

For a long time now, I've recommended that AdSense publishers join Google's AdWords program. (If you don't know what AdWords is, see my AdWords summary.) There were two good reasons for joining:
To access good keyword estimates
To drive traffic to your own sites by buying ads

Now there's a third, even more compelling reason: AdWords customers get access to the Google Analytics service for free! (Actually, the program is free to all comers, but AdWords customers aren't limited to the number of page views they can track.) Google Analytics tracks how visitors use your sites by gathering all kinds of statistics. All you do is register your sites and embed some simple JavaScript code onto your pages. Google takes care of the rest.

Google Analytics is something that Google acquired during one of its (few) recent acquisitions. (Google doesn't buy many companies, and the ones it does tend to be small, Google seems just as interested in getting good people as well as intellectual property. I doubt you'll see them ever buying a big company because of that — too much chaff. But I digress.) As a company, Google loves to collect and analyze statistics, so it's no wonder that they're interested in collecting statistics about how people visit websites in their quest to provide better searching and advertising services.

Google Analytics is already causing a lot of buzz, so spend the money to join AdWords (it only requires a credit card and a small initial payment of $10 or less — it depends on where you are in the world) and reap the benefits of seeing what's happening. The great thing about this is that even bloggers whose blogs are hosted on sites they don't control — like the domain — can use this service. This is a great way to get some good data on what people are doing on your site.

Note: expect delays when trying to access the Google Analytics site for a while, at least until the dust settles due to the excitement this is causing in the webmaster community.

AdSense Tip #10: Plumb AdWords for keywords

Hopefully you've been following my ongoing series of Google AdSense Tips in your quest for better earnings with AdSense. This tip is for those who followed my advice in AdSense Tip #9: Join the AdWords program. If you're not an AdWords customer, you can't do this.

AdWords customers have access to a number of useful tools, including the following:
Keyword Tool to build keyword lists and do keyword comparisons
Traffic Estimator to see how well certain keywords perform

Now while these tools are designed for advertisers to use, they're also extremely useful for us publishers. Particularly in finding the right keyword combinations for attracting more visitors (and ideally more clicks) to our site.

Here's what you do, it's all very simple. First, log in to your AdWords account. Then click on the Tools link in the Campaign Management tag->

Next, click on Keyword Tool->

Now type in the main keyword/keyphrase for your site and press the Get More Keywords button->

Scroll to the bottom of the page and click the Additional keywords to consider link->
Scroll back to the top and select Cost and ad position estimates in the Show columns drop-down list->

You won't see any estimates until you enter a value in the Calculate Estimates using Max CPC field. Use the maximum value for the currency you're working with, which in my case is CA$120 (approximately US$100), and press Recalculate->

Now you'll see estimated average cost-per-click values for each of the keywords in the list. Click twice on the Estimated Avg. CPC link to sort the list in descending order (highest to lowest value)->

And presto!, you have a list of potential keywords showing what it would cost you on average to get top billing for your ad.

AdSense earnings are based on what the publisher pays per click, so this handy tool gives you a good idea of which specific phrases are good ones to target. That said, be aware that the price you see listed here is only the maximum bidding price and that most advertisers will in fact pay less. That and Google's smart pricing algorithms will all conspire to reduce the amount of money you actually earn on a per-click basis. So don't treat the values you see here as the Gospel truth — but they're good for judging the relative worth of different keyword combinations. See my high-paying keywords page for more information.

Once you've looked through your list and identified promising keywords, head back up to the Show columns drop-down and select Keyword popularity to see which keywords are the most searched for and which how popular they are with advertisers. If most of your traffic comes from search engine traffic, you'll use this information to further refine the list of keywords you should target.

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