Musings On Adsense
A friend recently asked me in passing if I made much money off the Google Adsense Ads that I have on my site. I answered with "No", stretched out over several paragraphs, and thought that given the first part of my theory, my response would probably make a good blog entry.
I have a theory (actually, I have many theories, but most of them are rubbish, vague, or both) that the single best way to make money using adsense is probably to blog about making money using adsense. Given that I haven't really made any money using adsense I'm totally unqualified to speculate but then, unqualified speculation is exactly what blogging is all about.
I think there are probably three main classes of adsense clickers.
Standard carbon unit A, Typical User
This is the claimed target-audience for adwords, the informed visitor, who reads your wonderful content (which is how you got into google in the first place), enjoys it, and wanting more, decides that the ad listings contain something of value to them that they wish to view. This user, I expect, is extinct. I expect that if someone knows the ad is an ad, they know that clicking on it won't give them more "useful, free information", but will in fact send them somewhere that wants to sell them stuff. Google hint that this is how adsense works, and that a good majority of traffic comes from these generic carbon units. Yes, I expect this fits for some visitors to some types of content (eg, someone reading a review on an LCD monitor, who doesn't have a favourite retailer, who then decides to find somewhere to buy it using ads on the review page) but on the whole, I'd say this user is a rare beast, very close to extinction.
This user is fairly common (on my site, anyway). They arrived because they used a sensible search phrase, and what you have on your page is exactly what they wanted to see. This is probably more prevalent for techy blogs, but I would expect it applies to many other fields as well. They know more or less what it is they are looking for (which is information, not a purchasing option) and they recognise what is going to give them more information and what is going to get them a sales pitch.
They are also likely to have their established favourite online or physical retailer for products and services and at any rate are cluey enough to use cool resources (like http://www.staticice.com.au/ or Froogle) for finding competitive deals, and aren't going to click on Ads thinking that there's anything there for them.
The times the Savvy Surfer does click on Ads though, I suspect, is as a deliberate reward to the site owner. I don't know if this is prevalent, or how prevalent it is. I have seen people mention that they click ads on sites they want to acknowledge as being helpful, and I've seen advertisers complain about clickfraud being out of control. My guess is that the savvy surfer effectively gets advertisers to pay alms on their behalf to those starving bloggers who give them something useful.
Ahh, now here's the meat. I have a strong suspicion that the true market for Adsense revenue comes from this group, the idiots. Unlike Standard Carbon Unit A, Idiots are in great supply, and breed at astonishing rates. They also can't tell the difference between ads and navigation. This is an important point (I said that just in case you didn't notice that it was in bold), and I am sure that Google knows it.
These users are the ones who typed in a woefully inadequate search phrase ("where are my keys?") and upon looking at your page ("Creating SSH Keys for remote Access"), they think "Oh, that's not really what I wanted (scan scan scan) oh.. there it is!" and click on the Ad for 24-hour locksmiths (in Uganda). Fish, Barrel, Dynamite.
There are a few reasons why I think this is the true revenue model for Adsense publishers. Firstly, it seems to be the one that Google is always encouraging publishers to target. Well, as much as they can without upsetting the advertisers. Google's tips often talk about ways to make the ads blend in with your navigation and page design, while their terms and conditions warn about doing anything that might mislead visitors about whether the links are ads or part of the site. I think this apparent dichotomy is really at the crux of it - the real money in AdSense is in tricking people into clicking the ads - just don't tell the advertisers.
Secondly, I think the numbers support it. I really can't prove this, and I am definitely using statistics as a drunk man uses a lightpost (for support, not illumination) but my click-through-rate is abysmal - my all-time CTR is less than 1%. To me, this means that of all my visitors (this is a pretty low-traffic site) very few of them see the ads as being of value to them.