Two Ways Google Is Trying To Juice AdSense: Ad-Only Search Boxes And Syndication Pages

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Google turned in healthy third-quarter earnings largely thanks to the fact that Google is finally getting serious about cost containment. But that is only half the story. Going into the expected economic downturn, Google is now turning on every additional source of advertising revenues it can. For instance, so far earlier month it began offering AdSense in Flash games, new AdSense links at the bottom of Google Maps, and introduced click-to-buy buttons on YouTube videos. But there are at least two more ways Google is trying to juice those AdSense revenues: an AdSense search box and AdSense ads that link to syndication pages filled with . . . more AdSense ads!

Google might just be testing these, but these efforts are starting to get noticed. One reader who runs a site about Google Chrome, for instance, runs AdSense. But instead of a regular text ad, Google served up the search box at left, inviting people to search for specific ads. In effect, Google is saying, “We are not 100% sure what ads you’d like to see, so why don’t you just tell us?” An ad-only search box is a departure from Google’s past policy of showing the most relevant results, with ads on the side. Although it is clearly labeled, some people might still confuse the AdSense search box with a regular Web search box. Others might find it more helpful than the regular text ad links. [Update: Some readers say this search box is nothing new, see comments].

More troublesome is Google Syndication. Another reader, Michael Oxley, noticed that the AdSense text links on his golf site are directing readers not to a product page with information about a “Tiger Woods Caddy” or “Golf Wear,” but rather to a Google Syndication landing page filled with more AdSense ads (see screenshot below). These landing pages are run by Google (they take you to a googlesyndication.com URL). These pages basically syndicate a bunch of other AdSense ads triggered by the keywords in the original ad that was clicked on.

If Google starts using its Google Syndication pages more widely (they’ve actually been around for a while, it seems, and are also known as Link Units), it could become controversial. That is because they seem to run counter to Google’s own stated policy for landing page quality, a factor that goes into how Google scores each ad. As this NYT article explains:

Google now takes into account the “landing page” that the ad links to, and, for example, gives low grades to pages whose sole purpose is to show more ads.

The lower the quality score, the higher an advertiser has to bid for a given keyword. Google itself provides the following guidelines to advertisers who want to improve the quality score of their AdSense ads (I’ve bolded parts for emphasis):

Relevance:

* Users should be able to easily find what your ad promises.
* Link to the page on your site that provides the most useful information about the product or service in your ad. For instance, direct users to the page where they can buy the advertised product, rather than to a page with a description of several products.

Originality:

* Feature unique content that can’t be found on another site. This guideline is particularly applicable to affiliates that use the following types of pages:
o Bridge pages: Pages that act as an intermediary, whose sole purpose is to link or redirect traffic to the parent company
o Mirror pages: Pages that replicate the look and feel of a parent site; your site should not mirror (be similar or nearly identical in appearance to) your parent company’s or any other advertiser’s site
* Provide substantial information. If your ad does link to a page consisting mostly of ads or general search results (such as a directory or catalog page), provide additional, unique content.

The question here is: Why isn’t Google heeding its own advice?

And is it in effect running house ads that it wouldn’t tolerate from an outside advertiser (or at least punish by increasing the minimum bid required to run them)? When times are tough, anything goes.

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