Decrease in AdSense Clickthru - Click area change

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November 22, 2007: Past few days Google has changed the way AdSense ads are displayed on publisher web sites - Accidental clicks fade into the background. To prevent accidental clicks the active area on the ads has been decreased and limited only to the the URL link and the ad title. Though this will promote interested-based clicks, it's bound to decrease Adsense click-thru rate on most web sites. But will it also affect the overall earnings in the long run? That remains to be seen. I will be keeping a close watch on my AdSense account and will provide an update in a few months once I get concrete figures.

Google AdSense display change - No clickthru on ad backgrounds

The latest AdSense change disallows clickthru on ad backgrounds. Earlier, the entire background of all ad units was clickable; i.e. clicking on the space beside the ad in the unit would take one to the advertiser web site - check image below.

Old AdSense ad clickthru area

The new change restricts the click area to only the ad title and the URL which means the text description is not clickable - refer image below.

Only the ad title and URL and clickable - text description is not

I had begun noticing this change on some pages and some ad units on muy web site. Also, when there were two ad units on a page, the change was generally applied to only one of them. But from today it appears on all ad formats and on all pages.

This change in the clickthru area was done to reduce accidental clicks and stem the growth of Made For AdSense (MFA) web sites, which Google thinks lead to a lot of unintentional mouse clicks.

AdSense clickthru area change - My 2 cents

Obviously, my first reaction to this change was not very pleasant - I suppose my earnings are going to fall. Also, not making the text description clickable makes me a little bitter. The description is a part of the ad, isn't it? Why should it not lead to clickthrus? For instance, the entire area of an image ad is clickable, so why remove the text description from being a link?

However, a few quiet minutes of "deeper" assessment on this latest change brought in these thoughts.

  • Less accidental clicks would mean visitors would stick around the site longer.
  • It is beneficial for the whole system. Advertisers would appreciate publishers that provide intentional and purposeful clicks and this could mean an overall increase in the ad price. Note: there would be no ads to display if there are no advertisers. Therefore, it is but natural that Google takes proactive steps to implement changes in the interest of the advertisers.
  • This can lead to a higher conversion rates. Also, advertisers might spend more for each ad because now the leads would be from people who have shown a genuine curiosity in the advertised product/service. Thus, the earning from one click might rise.
  • The AdSense clickthru rate (CTR) would not decrease substantially on web sites that have clearly demarcated the advertisements by a border, a background color different from the page background color or both. I suppose websites on which AdSense ads have been blended would definitely see a fall in the CTR. This is quite in contrast to what Google support has been telling us all along - that we need to blend the ads on web pages.
  • The change might result in a double-edged sword for Google - though on one hand they are making efforts to better the system (and please the advertiser), a lower CTR on many web sites, especially those that have blended the ads as per Google support suggestions, would result in a lowering of returns. Unless, Google starts taking a larger share of the earnings from the ads, they might not be able to show a healthy increase in profit. This means publishers would see a further decrease in earnings and this might prompt some to shift to other advertising networks or approach advertisers directly.
  • I also expect a perceptible decrease in clickthru on large box ad formats displayed at the left (or right) of the web page heading/paragraph. These ad placements are popular on high content web sites because they are at the hottest place on the web page heat map.
  • Ad placements prone to accidental clicks would take a severe beating. Though it is against the Google TOS, some publishers continue to place ads near dynamic drop down navigation, right scrollbar, close to game elements etc.
    So publishers who intentionally place ads in locations susceptible to accidental clicks have to work out a new strategy - either change the positions of the ads and/or the ad format or get out of the AdSense network. And this takes us back to the MFA point - change in the active area on the AdSense ads is to throw out web sites generating a lot of clicks with no benefit to the advertiser.
  • The first problem I see is with the font size of text, particularly the URL, which is very small on some ad formats (the smaller ones) and, thus, is difficult to click. Advertisers may not be happy if their ads are not easy to click. This displeasure may also be expressed by publishers whose web sites cater primarily to the less dexterous or not-so-tech-savvy (senior citizens).
  • Displaying only one ad on a large format would waste a lot of valuable space on the web page but results in an increase in font sizes (easier to click) and a maybe (just maybe) a better return for the publisher.
  • The thing is, AdSense ads provide no visual clues for clickable areas except for the URL which is underlined and if the URL is very small and difficult to click, the click thru would definitely fall. Also any call to action phrases embedded in the text description will be rendered useless with this latest change.

FYI, Google had implemented the same change in clickable area on the Adwords program in April 2007; for details read, Two changes to how top ads are displayed. However, these ads have a larger font size for the title and the URL than the ones on some AdSense formats.

Update - August 2009

A lot has happened in the past 19 months since the change in clickable area and the "predicted" decrease in Adsense click-through rate (CTR). On this web site, for example, I stopped the little "ad-blending" I used to do because there was no point in continuing with it. Obviously, this affected the overall clickthru rate and the renevue. Earnings were down... and I mean really down. But I have finally been able to generate much more from AdSense... it's now more than double the previous figure.

The initial drastic decrease in AdSense CTR gradually plateaued and then began to rise again. However, some sections took a major beating and haven't been able to recover.

So what is the take home message? A few pages responded well to the AdSense change, while others were negatively affected. Keep building original and valuable content for your web site!

Update - March 2011

Thwarting accidental clicks by decreasing the clickable area has yielded great benefits for this site. The eCPM is now at an all-time high. This means advertisers are getting 'more for their dollar'. Since the clicks were a result of genuine interest, the ad prices on this site have probably increased resulting in the higher eCPM.

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Page contents: AdSense update - November 22, 2007 - Click area changed and restricted to only the ad Title and URL might result in a decrease in clickthru rate.