In my last post, I mentioned the danger Adsense Smart Pricing poses to blogs. Blogs are particularly vulnerable because most blogs don’t work well with Adsense. In this post, I examine the issue further and look at a couple of potential solutions for WordPress users – but there’s a twist in the tale.
What Is Adsense Smart Pricing?
First, lets look at what Smart Pricing is. In my last post I said:
Not many people have heard about Adsense Smart Pricing and there’s little information about it. It appears that if you have a low CTR (under 1 or 2%), you may be penalised, so you only get about 10% of what clicks are worth.
This was based on Courtney Tuttle’s recent explanation of Adsense Smart Pricing. The theory is that having a low CTR (below 1 or 2%) will result in a penalty, so you only receive about 10% of what clicks are normally worth.
The Danger To Blogs
Simply put, the typical blog is in danger of having a low CTR because they rely heavily on regular visitors and social traffic (such as StumbleUpon). Both of these groups are unlikely to click ads, resulting in a lower CTR. In particular, a burst of traffic from StumbleUpon is likely to have disastrous effects on CTR – a large number of impressions with very few clicks.
Search engine visitors do click ads. There are many factors that go into how high your CTR is, but it’s accepted that the higher the ratio of search engine visitors, the higher the CTR. While most blogs get search engine traffic, the majority of their visitors come from other sources.
This blog’s CTR is well under 1%. That’s not surprising given the target audience and the fact that only 25% of traffic comes from search engines, but it also means this blog is in danger of being smart priced by Adsense.
What Can Blogs Do About Smart Pricing?
The solution seems simple – to me anyway. Why not just show Adsense ads to search engine visitors only? This should result in a much higher CTR. Of course, a few clicks may be lost, along with a lot of impressions – but it would be worth it, if the value of clicks were higher as result.
I went ahead and did it on this blog. You won’t see Adsense here, unless you came via a search engine. I’ll tell you more about how I did it later.
Does It work?
It’s early days yet, but I’m still getting clicks (I don’t seem to have lost any) and my CTR has moved from well below 1% to around 2 or 3%. It’s looking good, so I decided to write a post explaining how to do this.
But Here’s The Twist!
When writing this post, I went digging for some official information about Smart Pricing. There is very little to be found. The best I could come up with is The Facts About Smart Pricing from Google’s official Adsense Blog. This is more than two years old.
Importantly, it contradicts what Court says. Here’s a quote from the post (emphasis mine):
The percentage of clicks that convert for an advertiser is the most important factor in an advertiser’s ROI, so it’s not only possible, but common, to have a low CTR and a high advertiser conversion rate. It’s also possible to have a high CTR and a low conversion rate. Don’t remove the AdSense code from your site just because it has a lower CTR – it may be one of your best converting sites.
Did Court Get It Wrong?
Yes, I think so. I have the greatest respect for Court and he has a lot more experience with Adsense than I do. He’s basing his theory on what he’s personally seen, others verify it and Google’s statement is ancient.
However, it seems more likely that Google would use advertiser conversion rate, rather than CTR, to determine whether Smart Pricing is applied. After all, Smart Pricing is all about Google delivering value to the advertiser.
Does this make a difference?
Only a little. There is probably a high correlation between high CTR and high advertiser conversion rate, because both are a product of targeted traffic.
People who are searching for a solution to a problem are more likely to click ads promising a solution. They are also more likely to buy something from the advertiser than a regular visitor who wasn’t actively searching for something.
So a high CTR probably means a high advertiser conversion rate. Showing Adsense to search engine visitors only should also result in a higher advertiser conversion rate and help prevent you getting smart priced.
However, you should try to determine if you’re smart priced before taking action. Don’t just disable Adsense because you have a low CTR.
Are You Smart Priced?
It’s hard to tell, as click value varies from ad to ad and from niche to niche. If your clicks are only paying 10 cents, then you are probably smart priced, but there’s no real way to know.
The only way is to experiment and see if the click value goes up. Try showing Adsense to search engine traffic only – you’ll lose some clicks, but it should result in higher CTR and higher conversion rate. It may take a week for you to see the benefits and you need to monitor how much you’re making closely.
If your earnings don’t improve, then maybe you weren’t smart priced. If that’s the case, undo the changes!
Is This Blog Smart Priced?
As I mentioned earlier, the CTR on this blog is way below 1%. In fact it’s below 0.2%. So I should be smart priced right? But I don’t think I am.
In the past, I’ve had periods where I was only getting 6 to 10 cents a click, but for the last month or so, I’ve been getting 30 to 90 cents a click. I think that’s probably about right for this niche. If someone out there can confirm this, please let me know!
Even though I think I’m not smart priced, I’m going to stick to my plan to only show Adsense to search traffic. I’m confident that search engine visitors are the ones who click my ads. I’ll use Adsense on other projects, so I want to protect myself. If this blog gets smart priced, so will all my sites.
How To Show Adsense To Search Traffic Only
I’ll mention two possible solutions for WordPress users:
1. The Who Sees Ads Plugin
One solution for WordPress users is the Who Sees Ads plugin. This has the ability to display ads for search engine traffic only. There are many other options, but this is the only one we are interested in. It works with the Adsense Deluxe plugin, which many people use, and can control ads in the sidebar as well as in the post body.
If you use Adsense Deluxe or manually insert Adsense code, then this is the solution for you. I won’t go into how to set Who Sees Ads up to display ads for search engine traffic. Just follow the instructions from the plugin’s home page. You want to set if Visitor comes from a search engine to display and turn the rest off. If anyone wants me to give detailed instructions on how to do this, leave a comment below and I’ll do this in a future post.
2. The Shylock Adsense Plugin
Personally, I prefer the Shylock Adsense plugin because it places the ads for you. Most plugins require you to manually enter a HTML comment where the ad should appear (in each post). This affords greater control on where they appear, but means they can’t be moved without editing each post! With Shylock‘s system you specify where ads should appear (eg top right of the post, middle left, etc) and Shylock adds the Adsense code to all posts.
A key feature of Shylock is that it allows you to only display ads on posts older than a certain number of days. If you set this to say 14 days, ads will not appear on new posts, meaning the majority of regular readers and social traffic won’t see them. This will certainly improve CTR and advertiser conversion rate, but there are a couple of problems:
- It only works for ads in the post body. Ads in the sidebar will continue to appear to everyone.
- Some regular visitors, social traffic, people following links will visit old post and be shown ads. It’s best if it appears for search traffic only.
As my sidebar ad is my highest earner, I’m not willing to give it up. Therefore, I decided to hack Shylock and the sidebar, so that ads are only shown to search engine traffic. This sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple. This post was supposed include instructions on how to do this, but I think I’ll leave that to a separate post, later this week.
The Final Word
Adsense Smart Pricing is something everyone wants to avoid, but the average blog is in serious danger of being smart priced. The solution may be to show ads to search engine traffic only. However, don’t assume that a blog is smart priced simply because it has a low CTR – do some testing to see if this is really the case.
Got an opinion on this? Let me know!
Last updated on August 18th, 2011