I have implemented the Google Adsense advertising platform for this webcomic website, as you can see. You can read about pros and cons of monetizing your comics with Adsense, but this post is just about improving the user experience for the ads.
To start: Im not making much with Adsense right now
Ads are invasive by nature. There’s no getting around that. In this article I want to store methods for improving the UX of these ads, and thereby improve earnings as well. To be transparent, I make around 2 dollars per day at this point, with 90k Facebook followers. There are other metrics to take into account of course, but let’s leave it at that for now. The only days I make over $5 are those days I post comics to Reddit.
Naturally, I’m concerned by such low numbers, so over the past few weeks I’ve delved deeper into trying to understand how to increase earnings. The number one way to increase Adsense earnings is to increase traffic. But comic websites, especially gag-a-day comic websites, are fickle. People come to these sites to see the comic of the day and perhaps the bonus panel, and then they leave. Time on a given page is very low because it doesn’t take long to read a short comic and move on.
I need to improve the user experience of Adsense for my comics, and hopefully increase returns.
Here are some ways to do that.
Adjusting the Ad balance
Within an Adsense dashboard, this section is located at My Ads > Content > Ad balance.
What is Ad Balance? Adjusting the Ad Balance means increasingly showing only those ads that make you the most money. Here’s Google’s explanation. Why does this improve the user experience? Well, because those ads that make you the most are the ads that people click the most. It’s therefore within reason to assume that showing users the ads they’re more likely to click on improves the user experience because instead of content they don’t care for, the ad property displays something they actually consider interesting.
By default, your settings will indicate that you’re showing 100% of potential ads, accounting for 100% of your earnings. Note that you will have had to already be running Adsense for some time on your site for any adjustment here to be representative of its estimation.
Here is the default setting:
As you can see, the slider indicates where the ‘better user experience’ range lies. I dragged the slider until it looked like this:
Any lower than 35% of potential ads and the system estimates it will start to affect my earnings. Remember that this is all based on my website’s Adsense experience up until this point.
But what does this mean, and how does it translate pragmatically into how Ads are served? This adjustment reveals to me that up until this point 65% of all the ads that my platform showed (or ‘impressed’) had been ignored entirely by my visitors, and so represent 0% of earnings. The percentage number you see in the screenshot above is called the Fill Rate (more information). It means that Adsense will deliver an ad 35% of the time. So instead of showing visitors ads which are useless to them and me, I choose to only show the highest-paying ads that visitors will be interested in. This means two things. 1) 65% of the time ads may not be delivered, and 2) When they are, they’re much more likely to be clicked on.
Note that most literature on Adsense says to go for 100% fill rate, but I’m starting to feel that this is NOT the way to go for a comic website.
How is setting a low Ad Balance potentially useful? One metric that will increase as a direct result of these adjustments is the RPM. The Adsense RPM metric is Page Revenue per 1,000 impressions. Every time an ad is served in one of your ad slots, that counts as one ‘impression.’ So if 65% of my ads net me 0% profit, then allowing those ads to display will tank my RPM. Conversely, the ‘Impressions’ metric will fall, given that I’ve just instructed the system not to deliver ads 65% of the time. Still, I prefer to have a good ratio between ads served and ads clicked, over simply having more impressions.
Important takeaway: Adsense for comics is NOT like Adsense for niche blog websites
Every digital marketing expert might read this post and wonder what the hell, it’s wrong. They would say you have to increase traffic, that you have to go for 100% fill rate, etc. But this is key: the nature of navigating a webcomic site is much different than a blog. On a niche blog with well-positioned ad units, you’d expect an RPM of between $5-$10 (relevant: how much traffic you need to make 100k). Comic sites are designed for quick navigation from one comic page to the next, with very low time on page averages. Naturally, there are going to be far more ‘impressions’ of ads, and therefore a much lower RPM. My RPM before Ad Balance adjustments was $0.20. After these adjustments, my RPM has gone up to $0.70. Total impressions have been halved, as I mentioned would happen. This has a negligent effect on earnings given that you do earn a tiny amount for more impressions.
Making this change will improve user experience, no doubt. However, if these changes decrease monthly income through Adsense, then I will have to readjust the Ad Balance once more. In any and all cases, regularly monitoring this feature is important.
How to increase the CPC for a comic site – Advice ive yet to take
This section offers advice that I have not yet implemented myself, but which I know to be invaluable.
Cost Per Click (CPC) refers to how much an advertiser is paying you every time a visitor to your website clicks on their advert. The way it works is conceptually simple. Google crawls the content of your website, and delivers ads to your ad slots based on recurring keywords in your on-page text (also, based on user cookies if they have those enabled).
I make on average $0.20 per click. It’s below average (about $0.58). Here’s an image created by WordStream (It’s based on Adwords accounts, but the lesson is transferable):
The infographic above is revealing because it shows how much advertisers in each industry will have to pay for a click. We’re interested in the “Display Network”, which refers to Adsense publisher websites where ads are “displayed”, like on thingsinsquares.com.
The thing to learn is this. Certain industries pay more than others for clicks. If you have a niche blog about finding employment, then you’re looking at a CPC of $1.66, based on the above graphic.
With this information in mind, how can I increase the CPC for my webcomic Adsense units?
Well, if Google delivers ads based on textual cues from the on-page content, then our comics need more text. I already write long alt text poems, which Google does crawl. I could just write more content below each comic.
There are two problems with this:
- I’d be writing something related to the comic. The keywords would be comic-related. So the advertisers bidding on my ad unit properties would still be low-paying advertisers in the comics industry, not like the high-yield ads in the employment industry.
- I could write something specific to a given comic. For example, beneath the comic “Get a job“, I could write a few paragraphs related to finding jobs, so that maybe Google would deliver ads from advertisers in the employment industry. The problem is that Google delivers ads based on site-wide content. In order for the keywords that I write below the “Get a job” comic to trigger employment industry ads, the same keywords would have to appear on a lot more pages, if not most of them.
Now you can see why I haven’t taken my own advice. To take advantage of this advice, I’d have to make my comics about something more specific, and include text on each page. Here’s an idea: why not make a funny blog about customer service, and illustrate the posts? That way, you have a high-earning niche category, text for Google to crawl and for you to optimize for searches, and content that is shareable. You’d probably make some money, and the user experience for Adsense would be really good because the content, illustrations, and ads would all have to do with a common theme: customer service.
Ad styles matter for the Adsense user experience
Why? Well, there are three kinds of ad displays: text, image, and rich media. When a text ad appears on your website, it will use the ad style you’ve set for that specific unit. Here are the styles I have to choose from:
See the green arrow? That points to a custom style that I created. The colors are the same colors I use on this website, so they flow with the design. You could probably go with “Neon” and catch people’s attention better. But you’re already pushing ads in front of them, so you might as well try to make the experience as painless as possible by using relevant style. Just go to My ads > Content > Ad styles to see your options. Every time you make a new ad unit, be sure to set the ad style to the custom one that matches your website design.
A note on colors
There are design and marketing-minded people who have spent far more time contemplating the theory of color than I’m willing to invest. So here’s a relevant conclusion: Blue is a good color to use for your links. Otherwise, Ad style color combinations should be complementary or analogous to the main colors of your website.
User experience means good positioning and sizing of ad units
Too many ads is a bad thing, but so is the wrong ad in the wrong place. Imagine if you come to this website to view a comic on your phone, and the very first thing that greets you is a big 300×250 pixel mobile ad. Yuck.
The ads you choose for your mobile site might be different than those you use for the desktop version of your site. You could do what I do and use CSS to display different ad units for different device widths, or you could save yourself the trouble and just use Google Adsense’s responsive ad units.
Since there is so little real estate to work with on a mobile device, I’m partial to the 300×50 ad unit size. It’s thin, and not intrusive. Google describes all their sizes best. Further down, I use a 300×250 mobile square slot. This latter is my best-performing ad. You can also set the background color for when an ad is not delivered and the space is left empty. Now that I’ve implemented a stringent ad balance, this fallback color needs to be set up, otherwise the empty space is filled by ugly beige-yellow.
On the desktop version of this site, there is a leaderboard atop the header, which has the weakest performance of all my ads. Below the comics are two 300×250 ad units. To cause as little disruption to the user experience (UX) of my site as possible, I put these last two ads after the bonus panel link.
Thoughts on increasing real estate space
There seems to be a trend towards single-column layouts for comic sites. That’s why this website uses a single column (excluding this blog). However, I’m starting to realize that a double column layout (using a sidebar) for the desktop would be better. I would be able to present an additional ad unit there, much like Zach of SMBC does. Also taking cues from his site, I’d be able to push new shop products without having to clutter my header space. So even though I don’t have a sidebar on most of this site, I’m a proponent. I’m also a proponent of making a dedicated homepage instead of putting the most recent comic as the main landing page. Gregor does it with his site, Loading Artist, and I think it’s a good practice. Finally, I think I need to find a way to cut down on the header space my current site already sucks up:
All of these considerations are directly related to improving the user experience for visitors vis-a-via the Adsense ad units. I wrote this article partly as a way to consolidate what I think I know, and I’ve learned a lot by writing it. This site’s ad units aren’t as good as they could be, neither for revenue nor for the user.
I invite comments to help us figure it out.
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