Playing around with ad formats and colors

Recently I’ve been playing around with Google AdSense ad formats and colors on my more popular blog Supreme Commander Talk. The results have actually been a bit counter to established wisdom, which says that while image and animated image ads are flashy and annoying, one should leave them enabled, because they have a higher click-through ratio and thus bring in more money. I found the opposite to be the case.

Two weeks ago, I modified Supreme Commander Talk’s ad-serving script to use two different ad formats, one that was all text and one that enabled image ads. It served up one of the two ad formats randomly on a page-by-page basis, so half of the blog’s visitors saw pure text ads and the other half saw the ad format that allowed image ads. The results were startling. The non-images format was earning nearly double on a per-page basis. I’ve since removed the image ads and have gone to text-only ads now. I think I may have a few explanations for these results.

My site was getting heavily inundated with low-value image ads. The leaderboard ad format that I’m running can display up to four text ads side by side, but only one image ad. So when an image was displayed it only gave one potentially relevant choice rather than four. All of the image ads were very low paid, so even if they did get clicked more often (which I doubt, though Google won’t provide data on this), the total revenue wasn’t good. Supreme Commander Talk is a hardcore gaming blog for a hardcore gaming audience, and most of the image ads ended up being ads for various massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), e.g. “Join Furcadia now!” or “Join Adventure Quest now!”, etc. These ads just aren’t worth much.

My audience is also a bad group to target ads to. Hardcore gamers are very adept at using the Internet, and they pretty much just mentally filter out ads and would almost never think of clicking on them. Combine this with all of the bad, low-paying, oftentimes irrelevant ads that gaming blogs seem to attract, and you see the problem I’m having over there. Text ads ended up being better because the image ads paid little, were annoying and subliminally filtered out by experienced web users, and were advertising online games much inferior to the game that is the subject of the blog, Supreme Commander. Now if my gaming blog was about various online RPGs, the ads would’ve fared better.

What’s very telling is that earnings from this blog and Supreme Commander Talk are roughly equal, even though SupComTalk has readership numbers at least five times as high. The relevance and profit-per-click of ads on the two blogs isn’t even remotely comparable. My next experiment on SupComTalk that I will report back on in another week or two is whether it’s better to use a clashing color scheme that stands out or one that blends into the page. Also, it’s important not to over-generalize my findings. Image ads may still be better than text ads overall, it’s just that for one particular subject matter they didn’t do well at all.

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