AdSense RPM Plummets After Google Removes Text Ad Arrows (on Some Sites)

money going up in smoke

Is ad arbitrage toast?

It may be for some publishers.

At the beginning of April 2016 AdSense yanked the beloved Nessie arrows from desktop text ads on many websites.

A few days ago a colleague and friend told me his Google desktop text ads no longer displayed the arrow (referred to as the Nessie arrow).

As of this morning, I’ve noticed the same on one of my sites.

The result:  much lower RPM on desktop.  Those arrows help get more clicks.  They don’t look pretty; they earn money and drive traffic to advertisers.

However, the Nessie arrows are prone to accidental clicks.  It appears Google started addressing that at the beginning of April 1, 2016.

Frankly I’ve always been amazed the Nessie arrows are in ads at all.  Regardless where the ads are placed in content, whether near navigation, pagination buttons, images or text, they look like a “Next page” button.  They just do.

That said, I can totally see how some placements on some sites end up with more accidental clicks than other placements.

I guess my placement, which I didn’t think was too aggressive, resulted in too many accidental clicks.  That’s okay because I have a game plan. Keep reading.

My Solution to Nessie Arrow Penalty

This is an update that’s worked for 3 months starting March 2017.  Fill in the box directly below to read how I’ve overcome the revenue-hurting Nessie Arrow penalty.

Thanks for requesting this bonus content. My solution is very simple.  I replaced my above-the-fold in-content AdSense ad units with AdSense link units.

You see, not too long ago AdSense redesigned the Link ad unit so that the buttons are bigger and look like menu buttons.  It’s still a two-click system meaning you get paid only when visitors click an ad on the second page.  However, this is great because the two-click unit insulates you against accidental clicks.  Moreover, AdSense also dramatically improved the second landing page so that the CTR is actually really good.

FYI, these link ads are my highest earners (by far).

I suggest testing different colors and borders.  I find a solid background with white text works well for me.

In fact, these link units performed so well on mobile I had to move them below the fold because although it’s a two-click system, the CTR was so high, I didn’t want to incur some other problem.

That’s my simple solution in the event you lost the nessie arrows.  Give it shot.

It’s not just me…

The best bit of information about the loss of Nessie arrows (in April 2016) on desktop text ads on some sites can be read in this thread at Google Product Forums.

Specifically, it’s the post by db8316 in which he set outs the following:

Just had a great chat with AdSense Support Team.

Here is a summary.

Q: The arrows on the Desktop Text Ads has disappeared, which I have never seen happen before
A: Last week our product team changed the way arrow buttons work. They will no longer show on some desktop sites where the implementation is prone to accidental clicks. So when you do see text ads, they will be currently missing the arrow button, as you noted.

Q: What is the main cause in my site design?
A: Placing Ads close a navigation element (in my case AdSense team thought it was close to the NEXT PAGE button)

Q: Is this done per ad-unit?
A: Apparently the change is made across the URL and can’t be isolated to specific ad units.

Q: what is considered high invalid activity? is 1% too high?
A: Unfortunately we don’t have specifics about how the Invalid Traffic team determines this.

Q: What are my options, is this a permanent change across my entire website?
A: The best thing you can do is change your implementation. We’ve been told that the system will continue to review pages and then if the implementation is better, the arrows will return!

Q: How soon after I make the change to the layout, will the arrow button return?
A: Not sure, will email more details over email.

Source: Google Product Forums (AdSense)

Webmasterworld forum members on the April 2016 AdSense Earnings and Observations thread have reported the same (see jbayabas’ message #4799059 here).

Roman Abramovich on Webmasterworld in Msg#:4799080 reports he’s still getting arrows, but color changes are not showing on Chrome.

A few other comments to note from the same thread discuss observations that some big sites are dropping AdSense (Msg#4799093) and running other ad networks. Media.net is getting a lot of mentions too (for good reason).

Interestingly a few posters suggest the arrows are bad because they’re ugly.  That may be the case but they earn and that’s the point, which is driven home the last few days as many publishers are watching AdSense revenue plummet without arrows on desktop ads.

The list goes on as to the AdSense chatter given these developments.  I strongly recommend you check out the April 2016 AdSense Earnings and Observations thread.  Usually these threads are pretty boring, but there’s some good stuff there given these significant AdSense developments.

This fairly significant change is after AdSense changed the mobile ad design which I noticed also caused a drop in RPM.

If you’ve lost your Nessie arrows, what can/should you do?

Fortunately, we have the benefit of the chat transcript from the Google Product Forum above which suggests that you should change ad implementation to reduce accidental clicks and by the sounds of it the arrows will return in due course.

That’s pretty simple.

I’ll be doing that for sure.  Below I set out my step-by-step plan to deal with this.

Please keep in mind that I haven’t verified that transcript above.  I’m taking it at face value that it is indeed a transcript of a chat between publisher and AdSense rep.  However, it reads fairly legitimately and makes sense to me.

Won’t ad RPM decrease without high paying AdSense ads in the premium spots?

Yes, but AdSense isn’t the only game in town anymore, which is fantastic.  Yes, you must do some testing of different ads and networks, but there are other ad networks that can generate some great revenue.  Moreover, those networks are more forgiving than AdSense with respect to placement.

What I’m going to do

1. Swap out the high CTR AdSense units

On desktop, I’m going to replace my highest CTR Google ad unit (below post title) with either a Media.net (read review) unit or a TBN unit (read my The Blogger Network review).  I’ll probably test both and see which pays the best.  I think you should also try RevContent.  RC isn’t good on my niche sites, but I’ve seen some amazing revenue numbers from colleagues so it’s an ad network that can earn really well.

I specify desktop because this hasn’t happened on mobile  yet.  That may come, who knows?  I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

Initially I was going to wait to remove that top AdSense unit but given what the Google Product Forum thread sets out, it looks like the prudent thing to do is to get rid of high CTR ad units.  That’s no problem and for me it’s the unit below the post titles.

That’s about it.

I don’t think it’s a big deal in the long run.  I may take a hit on revenue, but since TBN and Media.net are paying out so well these days, they’ll do just fine and they’ll be happy to have ad placement at the top of my site.

By removing the high CTR AdSense unit, I’ll just wait until the arrow returns.

When the arrow returns to my existing AdSense ad units will I put AdSense at the top of the post below my titles again?

Probably not.  That would be kind of stupid I think unless I get wind that Google decides to stop implementing this “no Nessie arrow” program.

2. Continue growing Affiliate revenue

While affiliate revenue is still a fraction of display ads (I’ve been saying this for way too long) I will continue working hard to diversify beyond display ad revenue by hopefully growing my affiliate revenue.

I strongly suggest you do the same.

Opportunity comes a-knockin’

1. Lower Traffic Costs?

Normally I don’t like changes like this because it forces me to work hard after I already have a smoothly running operation.

However, that’s a poor way to look at what could be a monumental change with display ads.

My colleague who I chatted with this morning believes this offers some amazing opportunities.  I think he’s right.

Here’s the deal, this change targets sites with an abnormally high AdSense CTR, which are sites with pagination, clever ad placement … often buying traffic.

Yeah, that’s one of my sites, although I don’t do pagination, but I do have fairly aggressive placement.

The thing is it may well be the case that many sites that focus on buying traffic may no longer be able to buy traffic.

This is great because the cost of traffic may very well decrease.  For sites that can maintain decent RPM levels, buying traffic will cost lower (especially on the native ad networks like Outbrain and Taboola).

After all, the lion’s share of native advertisers are doing ad arbitrage.  If many get squeezed out, demand for clicks will go down.

It’s pure Economics 101.

BUT, and there’s always a but.  In order to take advantage of this potential opportunity, you must still be able to earn a decent RPM from ads.  If you still have the Nessie arrow, you might want to adjust placement.  If you no longer have the Nessie arrow, you’ll want to test other ad networks in those premium ad spots.

Moreover, it will take a few weeks at a minimum before the cost of traffic goes down, I think.  I may be wrong here though (I hope I’m wrong).

2. Higher earning Adsense alternatives

If AdSense RPM drops for many publishers, those publishers will use other ad networks which will help them grow, attract more advertisers and hopefully offer higher and higher RPMs.  This, I think, is a good development because it provides publishers with real AdSense alternatives.

FAQ

Please keep in mind this is a very new development so I can only speculate and report what I’m reading online.

Will I stop using AdSense altogether?

No.  I’ll put AdSense/Ezoic ads in places where the CTR is a bit lower.  Basically I’ll start by substituting my below-the-title AdSense unit with something else.  That’s the highest CTR unit.

Should you do anything if you still have the Nessie arrow?

I can’t answer that.  I don’t want to suggest the wrong thing because I don’t know what you should do.  I think if you have aggressive placement such as below the title or near navigation such as “next page” links, it might be good to use another ad network and see what happens.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Can’t all sites adjust like you suggest so they can keep buying traffic?

Some can, many can’t.  The thing is many sites doing ad arbitrage are not terribly good sites and have largely capitalized on the Nessie arrow.  It really boils down on how much losing the Nessie arrow hurts a particular site.  While it’s hurt my site, it’s not catastrophic because I have very solid revenue from other ad networks.  In other words, my revenue is diversified across several ad networks.

Yes, the Nessie arrow helped me earn more, but I believe I can overcome its loss.

Please don’t take me wrong.  Buying traffic is not going to be easy.  It never was easy.  There are many moving parts.  The key is to figure out how to make it work.

OR, do what I’ve been focusing on for some time and that’s publish a site with a 3-prong traffic strategy which is: paid, organic search and organic social.  Even if I can’t buy traffic, I still have over 1 million monthly page views.  Even a dip in revenue from one or two ad units won’t hurt too much (it hurts, but I’ll figure it out).

The key here is change in this line of work is inevitable.  You must be flexible and ready to adapt quickly.

I will keep you updated with my developments.

Updates

April 6 though 13, 2016:  Desktop RPM dropped to less than one-half.  Nessie arrows still removed from ads as of April 13,0216.  RPM on mobile and tablet remains stable.

April 13, 2016:  Replaced below title AdSense (Ezoic) ad unit with 728×90 Media.net unit (desktop only).  The below title space is typically the best performing ad location so this is a significant change.  I’ve always run Google ads in this spot.  It’ll be interesting to see how Media.net performs.  Given the plunge in Google ad revenue, I have nothing to lose.

April 18, 2016: My arrows on desktop were restored over the weekend.  Desktop RPM increased nicely (as expected).  BUT, I currently still have a Media.net unit in the #1 earning ad spot (below title) and I think for now I’ll keep it there.   The thing is, that Media.net unit below the title is earning very well… nearly earning what AdSense earned in that spot (but still not as much as AdSense).

Another interesting observation is the RPM increased quite nicely with having removed the AdSense unit below the title which means the arrows do help revenue in below-the-fold ad units.

Here’s the deal.  I don’t know if the arrows are here to stay for all sites (it seems many sites have had their arrows restored) or if this is still part of testing and AdSense will turn arrows off on a per site basis based on CTR or some other criteria.

I’m going to play this day-by-day.  If it appears arrows are here to stay across the board, even in high CTR locations/sites, I MAY restore AdSense unit to below the title.   One other approach I’ll test is placing AdSense units somewhere else above the fold to see how it does with the Media.net unit in the top spot.

April 19, 2016:  Today I’m getting more image ads.  I haven’t seen an arrow on my B2C site that lost the arrows.  I’ve kept the Media.net unit (728x90px) below the title.  It keeps earning more and more each day so I’m very happy about that.  I’m going to do some pretty radical testing over the next 2 weeks… stuff I’ve never done before on my B2C site.  I’ll keep this updated and publish a post about it.  Stay tuned.

April 26, 2016: Nothing new to report.  My site still has no arrows on AdSense text ads.  C’est la vie.  Earnings still good though… just not quite as good if I had arrows.  At least it’s not catastrophic.

May 6, 2016:  Arrows have returned to my AdSense ads.

May 9, 2016:  Despite arrows returning to my AdSense ads, AdSense revenue is still at fairly low levels, which is a big surprise.  In fact, it appears the arrows have not increased revenue at all.

May 20, 2016:  Desktop arrows gone as of today after 10 days having them back.  Very strange.  They come back, they disappear and so on.  Totally unpredictable.

June 6, 2016:  Arrows were back as of yesterday, Sunday, June 5, 2016.

June 28, 2016:  

a. The BAD News: Arrows were again removed about two weeks ago and have been gone since then.  Amazingly, AdSense revenue is still decent, but definitely not as good if I had Nessie arrows.

FYI, I’ve heard from readers that a quasi arrow “penalty” is AdSense making text ads all grey instead of colored text/Nessie arrows.  Perhaps this is a middle of the line approach for AdSense to reduce CTR.  I’ve had my arrows flat-out removed so I have no idea how the greying of text ads impacts RPM.

b.  The GOOD News:  I’m absolutely delighted to report that I’ve not only replaced my lost AdSense revenue, but I’m now earning more from display ads with another ad network.  I’m still using AdSense, but this new ad network is pumping a mind-boggling $15+ RPM on its own (I’ve had $18 RPM days).  That plus AdSense and Media.net and I’m now making more on an RPM basis than ever.

What ad network has boosted my earnings to record levels?  It’s an alpha program soon to go to beta.  I can’t reveal the network yet, but I will as soon as this ad network gives me permission to do so.  Besides, before I go off touting how great this particular ad network is I want to ensure these RPM’s hold steady… or perhaps they’ll climb.  Stay tuned.  If you join my email newsletter, you’ll learn which ad network this is ASAP.

August 22, 2016:  Arrows returned to my AdSense ads on desktop.  Several days before this I removed the 728×90 unit from above-the-fold except for the 300×600 unit in the sidebar.  I’m not sure if restricting AdSense units to 1 above-the-fold did this or if it’s part of the very recent AdSense policy update (permitting more than 3 AdSense units per page).

I have a hunch the arrows returned because I now have only 1 AdSense unit above-the-fold.

November 30, 2016:  I had lost the arrows sometime in September, 2016, and they’ve since returned about 1 week ago (November 23 or thereabouts).

 

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