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Comments August 31, 2009

Ads More Obvious = Drastically Reduced Revenues

Filed under: Advertising — Dave Rathbun @ 11:51 am CommentsComments (4) 

When I have time I like to browse the Google web site and check out their Adsense blog and forum. Recently one of the things I learned about was a much better way to integrate their search results into my site template. I’ve been using Google’s search option on my biggest board for years because it gets around the “stopwords” issues and let’s people search for software version numbers like “6.5″ and “XI R2″ which are not indexed by the standard phpBB search process. The side benefit is that I also get paid when people click on the paid links that appear in the search results. Let me talk about that for a bit and then come back to the search page revisions that I made.

Revenue Trend Background Information

About a year ago I wrote a blog post that included lots of graphs showing various trends in my revenue from Google. In that post I detailed how search revenues were increasing as a percentage of my overall Google income while content revenues were decreasing. Here is the graph I used to show the number of clicks over time on the content links.

Click trend graph

Despite the steep decline in clicks, my overall Google revenues were up, as shown here.

Revenue trend graph

The fact that revenues were flat to marginally higher over the past year was driven by the fact that my search revenues had jumped from about 5% of the total mix to over 40%. This graph showed that.

Revenue mix graph

Search Results In My Template

All of these graphs are about a year old because they were built for a post published in November of 2008. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I recently learned about some new options for formatting search results. I can embed the search results inside my own page. Before all I could do was give Google a logo to display at the top of the search results. Now I can use my board template (both header and footer) to frame the results, and I also can control where the Google ads appear. In the old version ads were displayed on the top and bottom of the page, meaning both before and after the search results. I strongly suspected that was the reason I was seeing such an increase in search revenues; people were mistaking the search advertisements as search results. While I appreciated the income, that was not what I wanted to see.

Here is what things look like after I reworked the template using the new tools Google provided:

Google search results image

The formatting looks great, if I do say so myself. :) It’s embedded within my board template. The search results are clearly demarcated as the ads are enclosed in their own box and labeled. Anything I put on my board header (banners, site announcements, and so on) is included on the search results. The bottom of the screen image is cropped but I can tell you that my standard board footer is also displayed. I am very pleased with the formatting of the results.

It was easy to do. I created a page in my board root directory that looks like this:

<?php

// standard hack prevent
define('IN_PHPBB', true);
$phpbb_root_path = './';
include($phpbb_root_path . 'extension.inc');
include($phpbb_root_path . 'common.'.$phpEx);

// standard session management
$userdata = session_pagestart($user_ip, PAGE_SEARCH);
init_userprefs($userdata);

// set page title
$page_title = 'Google Search Results';

// standard page header
include($phpbb_root_path . 'includes/page_header.'.$phpEx);

// assign template
$template->set_filenames(array(
        'body' => 'google_search_body.tpl')
);

$template->pparse('body');

// standard page footer
include($phpbb_root_path . 'includes/page_tail.'.$phpEx);

?>

The code posted above is for phpBB2, but it would be just as simple to do the same thing for phpBB3. The template is also simple. The only thing in it is the code provided by Google when I set up the custom search parameters. It’s a bit of css and javascript and that’s it. I won’t show the code here because it would be different for each Adsense client.

Format Good, Clicks Bad

There was a significant impact of the format change on my search revenues. The next graph shows total search revenues since the beginning of 2009. Note that I cannot provide too much specific detail as per Google’s terms of service but I think the scale and direction of the change are quite obvious. (Clicks are on one axis and revenues are on the other in order to make them show up with a similar scale.)

Historical search revenues graph

As I said, there was a significant impact to my bottom line. :) Fortunately I view the revenues from Google as a supplement to my regular advertising. As such, I don’t plan to do anything to reverse the changes I made. I like the new search results formatting. The fact that my search revenues have dropped over 80% isn’t a major concern for me. I should restate that. I am not happy that my search revenues have dropped over 80%, but I am not going to do anything about it. I view the fact that so many people were (apparently) clicking on advertisements thinking they were search results as a problem that I have just solved. The revenue drop is a result of that solution.

It will, however, be interesting to see if this is a minor bump or a long-term change in user behavior on my board. I will follow up in about a year and let you know. 8-)

4 Comments

  1. You can basically file this away as a ‘null’ comment. :)

    But I will add something. I think that I clicked on a paid search result in Google the other day, but there was no notice saying so (you know, how they are usually on the side and all of that). But I noticed a rather thin hr line separating about 5 results at the top (including one I clicked) and about 10 more below.

    Funny thing, which made me doubt, was that the link I clicked was to a rather “ordinary” site. It wasn’t trying to sell something, like most of the paid search results are. How bizarre!

    Comment by Dog Cow — September 2, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

  2. Also, Google has started tracking what results you click! This is very sneaky, because when you mouse over the URL to see it in the status bar, all is fine! But when you click, the link is sneakily transformed with Javascript to “bounce” off of Google before sending you to the site. I don’t know how long this has been going for, but I first noticed it over this summer (June, maybe).

    Comment by Dog Cow — September 2, 2009 @ 3:23 pm

  3. Of course they track the results you click, that’s how the advertisers get billed, and how I get paid. :)

    Comment by Dave Rathbun — September 2, 2009 @ 9:29 pm

  4. Yes, but this occurs in the organic results as well, which no one gets paid for. I’ve never clicked a paid result, unless that one I mentioned earlier was in fact a stealth paid result.

    Comment by Dog Cow — September 3, 2009 @ 10:10 am

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