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Google Expands Contextual Ad Placement Program To Small Sites

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Google has expanded its contextual ads program to allow many more content sites to carry its paid listings. The new Google AdSense program allows site owners to sign-up for the program in a self-serve manner, similar to becoming an Amazon affiliate.

Google's contextual ads program, Google Content-Targeted Advertising, was officially launched in March. In the program, Google negotiated deals with large web sites to integrate its paid listings into their web pages. Smaller web sites were not able to take part.

"When we rolled out content ads a couple months ago, we had set a threshold of 20 million page views per month for web sites we'd consider for the current program," said Susan Wojcicki, director of product management for Google's ad syndication programs. "We found there are huge number of very high quality web sites that did not meet that threshold."

The new AdSense program corrects this. It allows any site to apply, even those with only a few thousand page views per month.

"We built an online automated way for web sites to come to Google, sign-up and apply to be accepted into our network," Wojcicki said. "This program will be a way for web sites to earn money by putting ads on their pages."

Those accepted into the program simply insert some short JavaScript code into their web pages. In response, Google will deliver a banner or skyscraper-sized ad module filled containing paid listings.

While the program opens the doors to many more sites than before, not all will be accepted. Google will review the sites to ensure that they meet certain program policies. Among those not eligible are sites that include content about drugs, pornography or gambling, but sites might also be rejected for reasons not listed.

"Not all the sites that apply are going to be accepted. We have a strict way of measuring whether or not we think a site will grow well and whether advertisers will want to be on those sites," Wojcicki said.

The program also bans those in it from using contextual ads from other companies on pages that carry Google's ads. This means that anyone considering some of the other contextual ads options available would have to choose between Google and another provider.

Google Ads & Blogs

The program policies do not allow "personal pages" to take part. What's a personal page? This isn't defined. However, a traditional personal home page listing things like interests or family news certainly wouldn't be eligible. Similarly, some blogs may find themselves rejected, under this rule.

"In general, we're looking for at this stage web sites with more standardized content," Wojcicki said. "Blogs are an example of a gray area, and we will review them on a case-by-case basis to see if they fit our network."

This will be a difficult area for Google, because blogging tools aren't just used by those wishing to express personal views. Some use them simply because they are an easier way to publish a web site focused on a particular topic.

Gary Price's great search and research site, ResourceShelf, is an example of this. Gary moved to using the Blogger.com tool, now owned by Google, not out of great love to be blogging but because it was an efficient way to publish his content, he has told me in the past.

ResourceShelf is so tightly focused around a particular topic that it should be a natural for Google's program. But how about blogger Jeremy Zawodny's site?

Zawodny has a section of his blog archives that are specifically about Linux, which might be perfect for ads about Linux (should he wish to carry them). However, the home page of his blog is far more diverse, such as including a post (at the moment) about determining the optimal temperature for Heineken beer. Not exactly the standardized content Google wants.

Why even care about standardized content? Google's contextual technology automatically delivers paid listings that are deemed relevant to a page, based on that page's content. So, a blog that covers a wide variety of topics may be difficult to target.

For example, the jimpunk blog is about, well, a lot of pictures that have no apparent theme to me. But since this is a site making use of the free Blogger service, it already carries Google's contextual ads. This was done as part of the initial Google rollout of its contextual program.

What are the ads about? Buying "Iraqi Most Wanted Cards." Why? There's a part of the page that flows an article across the page that appears to be about the Iraqi conflict. As best I can tell, this may be what's causing Google to make the bad guess that ads for "Most Wanted" cards might be relevant to this page.

Sign Me Up!

Ready to sign-up? Then fill out the form at the Google AdSense site, which takes only a few minutes. Once your are finished, Google says it will take only a few days for you to get a yes or no answer about being accepted. However, heavy demand could slow this response time, initially.

"We have no idea what the demand will be. We think there will be a big demand, and we're hoping that we can turn things around in a few days, but we might deluged," Wojcicki said.

After you've enrolled, you'll be able to view online reporting to see how much you've earned from your ads. The reporting is rudimentary. You're only shown overall impressions and clicks generated by all ads within your account, with no ability to drill-down to the page level.

Those familiar with Amazon-style affiliate programs, where you are paid a clearly disclosed percentage of sales generated, will likely find the Google program to be confusing. This is because Google uses an undisclosed formula to determine what you've earned. The program FAQ page says only that you'll get a portion of the amount Google receives and gives no further guidance. The formula can also be altered at any time.

"Because we know things may change going forward, we reserve the right to change the formula, but we do give them daily updates," Wojcicki said.

Of course, you'll can easily see what you've earned when logging into the web site, and that will be enough for many publishers -- especially those who aren't earning anything at all on unsold inventory.

Google also believes that for the moment, publishers in the program will simply be interested in how much they earn per impression, the CPM, which they can compare to other CPM-based ad networks that they may be considering.

"We don't disclose the actual formula that we use to calculate the revenue but we do provide the different variables [impressions, clicks and earnings”," Wojcicki said. "We give the web sites all the information that they need to know how valuable their pages are and how well we can monetize them. We really encourage them to try it out and compare to other ways they would be monetizing the site.

The program is open to any web site that has content in English, so you needn't be US-based. However, payments are only made by check in US dollars, so you'll need to be sure you can accept payment this way.

Also, should you find you don't like some of the ads appearing on your site -- say from your competitors -- take heart. It's easily to set up filters to restrict certain types of ads or ads from particular web sites.

Finally, as a complete aside, you might recognize the name "AdSense" as being the same as product offered by Applied Semantics, a company Google acquired in April. Google is simply reusing the AdSense name for this program. It is not using the AdSense program or technology it gained with the Applied Semantics purchase.

Helping The Web, But...

Google makes the pitch that its ad program should be a boon to everyone who uses the web, since the revenue will help publishers keep making good content for users.

"From the user standpoint, this will be good. No only will it fund quality publishers to produce quality content, it will also produce a better user experience, because they'll be able to see ads that are related to the content," Wojcicki said.

An excellent recent article from Business 2.0 explores in more depth the idea of contextual ads as helping support good web content. It's an idea I buy into. When I got involved with building web sites back in 1995, I always hoped there would be a way to connect those with good content with advertisers to fund their work. Google's program certainly will help with this.

Nevertheless, one major downside remains to the expansion of Google's contextual ad program. It leaves the company even more vulnerable to accusations that it may favor sites carrying its ads in its search results, as I explained when the program first announced.

At that time, Google denied that this would happen. The company has even added a FAQ answer denying it. And Google cofounder Larry Page reemphasized this last month, when I spoke with him about the issue.

"That's not something we would ever consider doing. We wouldn't bias our search results based on the monetary relationships we have with people," he said. "It would be sort of dumb for us from an economic perspective. Let's make a little bit more money and in return get everyone in the world upset with you."


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