Since launching Fat Stacks, I’ve been asked to review a lot of websites and blogs and provide feedback about ad placement and to offer suggestions for increasing ad revenue on a RPM basis.
After reviewing at least 100 sites like this and not to mention 100’s of sites I’ve checked out for research and analysis, as well as endlessly testing ad performance across my portfolio of sites, I’ve determine several common mistakes people make when it comes to using AdSense and other display ads for monetization.
While most of the mistakes I outline are mistakes that hurt revenue, some points I make are geared toward ad placement that while good for revenue, may be pushing the envelope with AdSense TOS.
Here’s a list of common AdSense mistakes I see and have been guilty of:
Mobile display pitfalls:
You must be mindful of ad sizes and placement on mobile. Here are some general rules to follow and mistakes to avoid:
i. 1 mobile ad on the screen: You cannot have mobile ads so close so that 2 of the ad units (or even parts of 2 ad units) display on the mobile screen at the same time. The one exception is you can have the footer anchor ad and a regular ad display at the same time.
ii. Mobile ad size: As far as I know, you cannot use a 300×600 AdSense unit on mobile.
iii. Top of page mobile ad: As far as I know, you cannot have an Adsense ad that longer than 100px at the top of the site.
iv. Failing to ensure ads fit on mobile: This isn’t common anymore, but I still visit the odd site where the ad is chopped off. This is a revenue killer. Take care to ensure the ads that display on mobile fit mobile screens.
Website is too busy
This is one of the most common problems I see when asked to review a site with an eye toward increasing RPM.
I know magazine and news themes are popular these days because they look great, but in my view, they’re too busy. The ads get buried among all the things going on. Every link, bit of text, color, background stuff, boxes, tab units, design feature, border, social sharing button, etc. distracts visitors from the ads. Keep this in mind.
FYI, I use various design features in my posts such as table of contents, tabbed sections, boxes, etc., but I do so below the fold.
While I can’t prove it, websites with bright colors distract from ads too. I’m talking about bright navigation bars, header backgrounds, etc. They attract the eye, which can be great if you want to direct attention to these features, but if you want ad money, I think non-bright colors is better.
This is one reason why I think Eleven40 theme performs well with display ads.
Content area too narrow
I simply don’t understand why websites don’t make the content area wide enough to accommodate 728×90 px ads. These ads can generate a lot of money, especially above or below the title. Moreover, they don’t take up a lot of above-the-fold real estate because they’re only 90x in length down the page.
If you like your theme, that’s fine. Just hire a coder to go in an widen the content area to accommodate a 728 px wide ad. Be sure to widen the entire site so your sidebar doesn’t get crunched.
I use WPCurve for these types of tasks. It’s $79 for a one-off job and they take care of it in a day or two. You can certainly do it yourself, but usually it’s not so simple because you must make several width adjustments. Instead of butchering my site, I don’t mind paying $79 to see that it’s done right.
Failing to test
This is an obvious mistake, but so many website publishers don’t test ad placement, sizes, colors and other ad networks. Recently I helped out a website publisher implement testing and I was able to triple RPM in 24 hours. Tripling RPM means tripling income (assuming same traffic levels). These days I strongly recommend using Ezoic for ad testing (read my Ezoic review here). Yes, it was with Ezoic I was able to triple the RPM in 24 hours.
Drop down menus and other items
Take care when placing any drop-down features, including menus on your site so they don’t overlap AdSense ads. This is an outright violation, even if it’s an innocent mistake.
This is why I use a push mobile menu on my sites and place full navigation in the sidebar. I avoid drop-down features and if I do use them, I take care to ensure there are no Adsense ads underneath.
Non-Family Friendly Content
Watch out for curse words and fleshy images on your site. AdSense is not permitted on “non-family friendly” content. How Google defines non-family friendly content is not 100% clear. For example, Google doesn’t provide a list of curse words it doesn’t like, so err on the side of caution.
For many publishers who control the publishing of all content, this isn’t an issue (although watch the comments on your site). However, if you publish a user-generated-content website, you have less control over what’s published and non-family friendly content may end up published unbeknownst to you.
To protect against this, I use Ezoic’s “Objectionable Content” tool which scans your site for curse words and fleshy content. When it finds it, Ezoic won’t place ads on that page.
Too many Google ads (it can easily happen – read on)
AdSense permits 3 display ad units. If you use Ad Exchange, you can have 5 units.
The problem arises when adding ads from other ad networks that use Ad Exchange as backfill ads. In this scenario, you can end up with more Google ads than you’re permitted.
The simple solution to this is asking those additional ad networks to not display Google display ads. I use many ad networks and I’ve asked each one to not display Google display ads.
Ads near pagination links
Again, this is a grey area issue. A common ad placement is directly above or below pagination navigation buttons. This is done because visitors click the ad (especially Google ads with a Nessie Arrow), thinking it’s the “next page” link.
I’m not sure if this is a violation. I’m not saying to do this or not do this. I’m saying it’s a possible issue and to be mindful of it.
I don’t do pagination, but I’ve experimented with it and when I do it, I place buffer content between the Google ad and pagination buttons/links. Buffer content can be a related text links widget (promoting your own content), social sharing buttons, a news ticker, an author box… something that makes it more clear to visitors that the ad is actually not the pagination button.
2 sticky anchors
Many ad networks, including Google, offer the sticky footer anchor ad on mobile devices. I recommend you use this, but use it for only one ad network. If you’re using multiple ad networks on your site, ensure only one network is displaying a sticky footer anchor ad. I use Google’s anchor ad (Ezoic provides the option to turn on the footer anchor ad).
Popups and Welcome Mats
If ad revenue is your focus, don’t use welcome mats and popups on your site unless they are delayed quite a bit. These features distract from the above-the-fold ads and can kill RPM.
If attracting email subscribers is your focus, by all means use those features, but if you want as much ad revenue as possible, you’ll have to compromise your email sign up conversion rate. Something has to give.
On my B2C sites, ad revenue is my focus. I don’t have anything pop up or slide in or do anything that distracts from the ads.
However, with Fat Stacks, email subscribers is important so I use various pop ups, scroll bars, welcome mats, etc.
Lack of universal post layout
This is not terribly important, but it makes testing ad placement sitewide a lot easier if you have a similar post format sitewide, especially if you use a lot of images.
I don’t suggest you make every post identical with respect to paragraph count and image count. However, one thing I do is use short paragraphs in the first part of my content so I can test ads after each paragraph that won’t be spaced apart too much.
Too many ads above the fold
I’m pretty aggressive with ad placement, but even I have limits. I regularly visit sites where the entire space above the fold is largely dedicated to ads.
I strategically ensure the above-the-fold space is a good balance of ads and content. I carefully analyze this all-important web real estate space on desktop, tablet and mobile. I then customize ad placement for each device.
For example, you don’t want to have a 300×250 ad at the top of your site on mobile (yes, I know many sites do this).
Likewise, I don’t place a 580×400 unit at the top of the post on desktop and tablet. It’s just too much ad at the top.
Be careful: If you have an ad unit with a crazy high CTR, you might want to move it. I’m all for high CTR, but at some point (15% or more), it’s ridiculous and you can bet your last dollar many of the clicks are accidental clicks.
Not aggressive with ad placement
Isn’t it annoying when people say one thing and then tell you not to do it. Above I suggest avoiding too many ads above the fold and now I’m saying to be aggressive with ad placement.
The fact is it’s a balancing act. You need to make money. Therefore, you need to put ads in locations that make you money. However, at some point it’s too aggressive. That point is unique with every site – but I think generally you know it when you see it.
For example, as tempting as it is revenue-wise to use interstitial ads, I don’t use them because they’re annoying.
Fail to crunch the numbers
I’ve stopped using many ad networks because they don’t pay much. If an ad makes pennies per day, I’m not interested in having it on my site.
I require every ad to generate decent revenue or else I remove it. This goes for placement and ad networks.
Obviously I don’t expect ads way down at the bottom of content to perform as well as ads above-the-fold, but I do expect them to earn something decent.
Determining this requires paying attention to what each ad is earning and what each ad network is earning.
Another good number crunching practice is looking to see which traffic sources generate the highest RPM. Yes, traffic sources can make a huge difference.
For example, RPM from Facebook traffic is pretty good for me. That means it’s worth it for me to invest time and money in generating traffic from Facebook.
Likewise, StumbleUpon traffic generates a very low RPM for me. Therefore, I know it’s not worth wasting time with StumbleUpon.
Failing to try other ad networks
Despite the fact many ad networks don’t deliver, I think it’s a big mistake not to test other ad networks. You never know what will work. This is particularly the case if they offer unique ads.
FYI, I’ve never removed Google ads to run other ad networks. However, I do use Media.net ads in premium locations because Media.net ads generate for me an excellent RPM.
My approach with testing new ad networks is to place them below the fold and see how they perform. Usually it’s a bust, but once in a while I discover winners.
These days I’m running 5 Ezoic ads, 3 Media.net ads, GumGum ads, Criteo (with Media.net backfill) and ads from TheBloggerNetwork (way below the fold on long content) and I’m testing some RevContent units. That may seem like a lot of ads, but my content is very long and I set up ad placement so only longer content gets more ads.
Failing to test different ad colors
The default AdSense colors are a bright blue and bright green. Yes, they stand out, but I suspect people are more blind to those colors since they’re all over the web.
Ad color, especially for text ads, can make a difference. It’s definitely worth testing different ad colors.
Sticky AdSense ad in the sidebar
By default, you are not permitted to make an AdSense ad in the sidebar sticky so it floats down with the visitor as they scroll your site. Yeah, it’s too bad because sticky ads make a lot of money.
I say by default because some sites get permission to do this. If you use Ezoic templates, you can do this (I don’t use Ezoic templates – I use my own placement – so I can’t take advantage of the sticky AdSense ad).
Other ad management services may have this permission too.
Just know by default, at this time, sticky floating AdSense ads are not permitted.
My solution is to use a sticky floating Criteo ad with a Media.net ad for backfill which together perform spectacularly.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.