Factors Affecting AdSense Ad Clickthrough Rate and Earnings Potential

This post topic has the ability to quickly get me steamrolled and a lot of hate, but I think advertisement clickthrough rate is something well worth considering before creating any website that is monetized via pay per click ads. I have recently launched a number of AdSense monetized sites and these are some of my early thoughts on factors affecting monetization and CTR.

Are there Any Ads? Are the Ads Relevant? Is There Any Search Volume?
If you search for Google and nobody is advertising for your targeted industry or phrase sets the opportunities to make money are going to be rather limited. The same holds true if the traffic volume is low or the bid prices are dirt. The Google Traffic Estimator Tool makes it pretty easy to get an estimate of the bid prices and AdWords click volume while the Google Keyword Tool lets you check the depth of competition quickly. You can also use Shawn's Google AdSense Sandbox to see how compelling and relevant ad offers are for a specific topic.

Signs of Desperation, Ignorance, or Stupidity
I am sure this category might get me a bit of heat, but I own one website that was getting about 400 pageviews a day about a specific topic. Adding a single page catering to some ignorant people in that vertical (one could assume a certain level of ignorance by their search queries - sorry but I can't give that term away) added 50 pageviews a day and doubled the ad clicks and earnings for the site.

Dumb or naive people are less likely to realize they are clicking paid ads when they land on your page.

What are some common signs of intelligence or lack of intelligence? Or signs of naiveness?

  • topics for kids - they clearly are going to be operating on limited business experience and limited financial and business understanding, and thus may click click click without thinking anything of it. I have a site that caters to a broad field, but the page most focused on kid friendly searches has a 50% ad clickthrough rate, whereas the next best page is coming in at 18%, and the site averages around 10%.

  • searching for things that do not exist - these are going to be easier to rank for than their official alternatives. These searches may be an indication of intelligence or lack of intelligence depending on vertical and query. From my limited experience, more frequently they will likely indicate a lack of intelligence, but it really depends on the reason WHY the market has yet to fill the demand.
  • misspellings and misuse of language - I am a bad speller so I offer no hate here, but on average most misspelled queries come from people who are below average on the intelligence scale
  • poor credit or lack of financial planning - sure we all go through ruts, but the average person looking for a payday loan is going to be less intelligent than the average person looking for a mortgage loan
  • general topic - the average person searching for scientific information is going to be smarter than the average person searching for a personality on Fox News or American Idol.
  • demographics - old and young people may not be clued into how the web works. Some other demographics may be more or less clued in. Many search queries may do a great deal to identify the gender, age group, or ethnicity of the searcher.
  • traffic source - On average the average Google user is going to be smarter than the average MSN Search user, who is going to be smarter than the average free spyware download search accelerator searcher.
  • query length and syntax - advanced search queries and specific long tail searches are most likely going to be from smarter searchers or searchers closer to purchasing.

Searches That Signify the Desire for Advertisements
Targeted buying searches and comparison searches may be searchers that are looking for just a bit more info before converting, perhaps through one of your ads.

Ad Integration
The more ads look like content the more they get clicked on. Default blue is a beautiful link color. Some people do well by placing images near their AdSense ads.

Quality and Quantity of Ad Alternatives
Content that is of amazing quality that solves the visitor's problems may make the ads look less appealing, although if it allows you to become the industry standard resource that additional distribution can more than pay for the added cost of creating real quality content.

If a page is a resource link list or has many alternative paths to leave the site outside of an ad click many people will take those paths.

Are the top SERPs dominated by real resources?
If the top results are quality informational PR7 .edu pages best of luck on the rankings front. You are going to need it ;)

If the top sites are cloaked pages or other sites that do not look like real resources it is easier to get your listing clicked on by crafting a quality page title and meta description.

Does Your Site Have Enough Authority?
As recently posted by Quadzilla, if you have authority it seems you can extend it out cross topic. If you lack link authority and age related trust it is an uphill battle to compete in Google.

How Much Commitment is Required to Buy?
Buying a home is a much more extensive and expensive process than buying a treadmill.

How Web Friendly is Your Product Offering?
Ads for physical books, heavy commodities or things like diamonds (which perhaps require some amount of trust to purchase) are going to go for far less than they are worth when compared to ads for items that fit the web nearly perfectly (take software or ebooks as examples).

Published: May 21, 2006 by Aaron Wall in contextual advertising publishing & media


August 27, 2006 - 7:14am

Aaron (W), I agree with pretty much everything in your post except one: correlation between poor spelling and low IQ.

I know dsylexic people who are highly intelligent. They have trouble spelling. Top notch programmers are often ridiculously poor spellers, as are some SEOs (you mentioned yourself :)

Some of the best bloggers (whose writing suggests great intelligence) seem not to be able to spell. On the other hand, since someone mentioned their IQ, in a comment above, I'll say that my IQ is very high, but I often type so fast that my keyboard keys stick. If I'm in a rush to post, I'll have tons of typos.

Understand that I used to be a print mag editor, copyeditor, publisher. I used to be very anal about poor spelling in the blogosphere up until about the end of last year. I started easing up because I finally realized I was being a snob. (I'm not at all suggesting you are.)

I'm still obsessed about spelling. Four years ago, I wrote 900 pages of text and code for a PHP/ mySQL book, and I swear I scoured the damn document repeatedly for the four months I spent on it so that it wouldn't be published with typos.

Only 300-400 pages made it into the actual book, for other reasons, and someone rewrote some of my chapters to use Smarty templates, but I'll bet there weren't any typos in my original printed chapters. But as I said, I've tried to ease off from this ridiculous behaviour. (You can't make a living blogging for other people and worry abut avery snigle tpyo :)

Let me stop babbling and drive home my point. Aaron, you said you're a poor speller, or at least suggested something of the sort. Your writing shows you to be highly intelligent. That may just be my opinion, but I don't think so.

Whew. Not a flame, just some observations. Still, what you said is true: spelling errors do exist, and show up in search engine queries. So keep that in mind when you write :)

May 21, 2006 - 2:28pm

Nice points, your blog rocks.

May 21, 2006 - 7:06pm

(as usual)
You've given me something to think about today just when I was drawing a blank of what to work on next.

Many thanks!

May 21, 2006 - 7:50pm

Market edges are easier to extract profits from (due to less competition and higher conversion rates).

While pigeonholing people is always sucky, when you have a diverse set of well ranked content and track the actual results the things I gave tips about are resoundingly true.

May 21, 2006 - 11:42pm

Unless this post was designed to be controversial; I hope you really don't equate intelligence with the one's ability to distinguish between paid advertising and regular web content.

It's one thing to take advantage (in a positive sense) of certain behavioural patterns; but putting yourself on a high horse and calling them stupid is just too strong for me

Just my 2 stupid cents

May 22, 2006 - 12:04am


That'll be "affecting" and NOT "effecting" .

May 22, 2006 - 12:08am

I don't think it is putting myself on a high horse to call some people stupid. People have called me stupid. Sometimes they are right, too ;)

I have done many stupid things and I still am ignorant about many topics (and if we knew everything would there be a point to life).

Foo even corrected me for being hosed up in this very article.

I think there is a strong correlation between intelligence and/or web savvy and the ability to distinguish paid ads on the web.

About 5 years ago I didn't understand the mechanisms driving search or anything about affiliate marketing. I was ignorant to the medium.

Intelligence is about being able to discern patterns and make correlations. Those who are working with limited intelligence are going to notice fewer patterns than intelligent people. That is just how it works.

I am not saying that I am now more intelligent than I was a few years ago, just that I am more familiar with this medium. Even with that familiarity I still could improve in many ways.

I even included one of my own weaknesses (spelling) in the list, so for anyone to feel I am putting myself on a high horse is somewhat absurd or missing the point IMHO. But I did expect some people to focus on that angle when I wrote this. It is an easy topic to be offended by.

May 22, 2006 - 12:50am

Aaron you said:
"just that I am more familiar with this medium"

that's my whole point. Familiarity doesn't equate with intelligence. I lost you completely on :

"..there is a strong correlation between intelligence and/or web savvy..."

A lot of attempts have been made to even define intelligence ( social intelligence, emotional intelligence etc you take your pick)

Being web savy IMHO is just another skill set .. not better or more valuable than let's say playing the piano or doing brain surgery ( which by the way I suck at both:( )

I do realize that I focus on a very narrow angle on your original post and I do apologize if this thread might have become something different than original intended. Maybe it's all a matter of semantics. BTW go to http://huizen.daxis.nl/~henkt/intelligence-definition.html#tab3 if you want to have some fun with that subject

May 22, 2006 - 1:04am

I lost you completely on :

"..there is a strong correlation between intelligence and/or web savvy..."

I think that is because it was easy to misinterpret my point and at some level some part of you wanted to lose me on it...from the point you were making it makes sense to read it that way.

between intelligence and/or web savvy and the ability to distinguish paid ads on the web

that link you posted was pretty neat.

May 22, 2006 - 7:06am

FWIW, anybody with problems about this blog post and topic is just that -- a person with problems. It's not the post that has any problems -- it's you and your maturity level.

Get over your misplaced feelings of how anything to do with I.Q. should be politically correct. Differences in I.Q. and how it affects a person's performance is a fact of life.

I for one am VERY thankful Mr. Wall has shared this. Why are we all here?

For a lot of us, it's to pick up info and tips that we can use to make money with. And it sure is nice to learn from someone else who has proven experience and a lot of competence like Mr. Wall, WHO IS WILLING TO SHARE AT NO CHARGE ON HIS PUBLIC BLOG, rather than having to learn everything oneself over a long period of time -- and maybe not ever on one's own -- ever.

Heck, some of us have full time jobs and need all the help we can get, since we don't have as much time to learn SEO/SEM as someone who does it full time -- and is willing to share as Mr. Wall does.

Let's get real here. It's almost universally accepted that blending ads with content helps to get more clicks. Not too many people get bent out of shape over blending adsense ads -- instead they just try and figure out how to do it in such a way as to maximize clicks.

And we all know why blending adsense ads with content increases clicks, don't we? Let's be honest.
It's because some people confuse ads with content. Maybe it's I.Q., maybe it's web savy; depends on the person and doesn't matter -- or at least doesn't stop most of us from trying to blend ads now, does it?

FWIW, my I.Q. is in the top 1% of the population. And I NEVER look down on anybody else who wasn't gifted with a high I.Q. Heck, I used to spend my free time tutoring others having problems for free back in school. So I'm not an I.Q. snob -- but I don't pretend it doesn't make a difference, etiher. Because it does.

Looking down on somebody because they didn't fare as well as yourself in some aspect of life's genetic lottery would be stupid and indicate a serious lack of maturity in anyone who is an adult.

To me, a person's character and deeds is what matters most. That said, having the mental horsepower does make a difference in WHAT a person can do in a given amount of time with a given amount of mental effort -- but it does NOT have much to do with the WORTH of that person as a human being, friend or family member.

So let's get off the "you gave my ego a boo boo -- how dare you mention anything that brings to mind that I'm not the smartest person on the planet!! (or anything else that's not politically correct)" garbage. What a waste of time and verbal pukefest that is! Yuk.

Get over it and get back to what we are all here for -- to learn and to DO for increased profit -- wherever and however it may be found within the bounds of our own individual values of what we will and won't do in life.

And btw, my spelling is poor too. It's due to the fact that I both learned to read via an experimental program called ITA (that was noted as leading to spelling problems) rather than the way most folks do and because I've never taken the time to get good at spelling, since there always seemed something more important to do. So anybody who finds either a spelling error or a typo in my post and gloats about it or says I must therefore not have a top 1% I.Q. is somebody who is giving evidence THEY have a problem focusing on what's most important and worth taking up public bandwidth for -- and need to find something else more worth their time than the spelling of someone they don't even know.

Thanks again, Mr. Wall! I very much appreciate your sharing as you do. And btw, I just printed out your latest edition of your seobook that I bought -- all the better to study it in detail so as to LEARN how to make more money. Not sure why some others are here....

Thanks again and take care,


May 22, 2006 - 7:28am

Aaron whether it's a lack of intelligence or a lack of web savy you got it right. So much of the advice on how to improve click throughs seems to center on blending the ads into your site to the point that they become somewhat indistinguishable to casual web surfers.

Why do ads on the left side of the page or across the top work? Perhaps it's because that's where the navigation usually is. I've often suspected that many people, though certainly not all, clicking on those ads are thinking they're just clicking on a link in your site and some remain completely unaware they ever clicked on an ad.

It would also help explain many MFA sites which offer no useful content whatsoever yet may generate clicks from the less savy.

I do think it's more a lack of web savy than a lack of intelligence, but the point is catering to that lack of savy still seems to be a good strategy for increasing revenue.

May 22, 2006 - 10:20am

Blended ads and disabled outgoing links have always been effective click traps for caveman clickers. I see how the entire setup would be unfair to advertisers, but that's the cost for not doing your PPC advertising homework.


May 22, 2006 - 10:48am

Maybe rather than "stupid" you should have used "ignorant" throughout since some people *points up* seem to take offence to it.

I'm pretty sure there's some pretty "dumb" people out there who know more about the web than some "smart" people.

Your post was brilliant though and had a "let me smack you in the head you overthinking idiot" common sense approach.

Those of us who have been doing this for awhile totally overlook the obvious the longer we do it.

July 10, 2007 - 2:27pm

Although I did find this information extremely helpful and insightful, I think you could avoid a lot of heat and/or hurt feelings by referring to people as "unsophisticated" rather than "stupid."

Thanks for the insights!

May 23, 2006 - 4:42pm

I have some "smart" sites with adsense on them and my articles directory point traffic to accurately displayed adsense ads. In other words, I have developed the perfect relationship with my users and adsense at the same time.

Why take advantage of "stupid" or "sick" people (*cough: depression blog*)? Don't you think that it kind of lame?

So there you go, you asked for a little flame and you got it, how did I do? :)

May 23, 2006 - 8:05pm

Why take advantage of "stupid" or "sick" people (*cough: depression blog*)? Don't you think that it kind of lame?

That was not the site I was referencing. And it doesn't have ads on it right now.

If you think that site is any less honest or useful than other information on the average site about depression you really need to refocus on what the purpose of that site is, or what your view of a quality site is.

The purpose of depression blog it is not be to 'take advantage of "stupid" or "sick" people' ... the site tries aims to make it harder for certain people and companies to do exactly that. Keep in mind that I was suicidally depressed from years and am interested in the topic of depression.

I put ads on it for like a month or two a while ago, but I took them off because the site started getting less feedback and I didn't want people thinking I made the site for the wrong reasons.

As an FYI, I have been offered many thousands of dollars for that domain and chose not to sell it.

While you think your ads and adsense balance might be perfect that is only your opinion, and the whole definition of perfect really depends on your goals, doesn't it?

May 24, 2006 - 4:00am

Ah yes and I have a very good idea for that depression blog if you care to listen some time, it has to do with SEO image repair, a kind of contest with a positive twist.

I am sure every SEO has a few sites like that, they do not do much (and yes there are drug companies who would eat them up) this is why they should be made into the #1 resource for what the are about, in this case "depression" starting to follow me here. ;)

May 24, 2006 - 4:44am

Well that field is too diverse and my knowledge is too limited in scope to pretend that I could make that site the absolute #1 resource in that field at this point in time.

Plus given as much success as I have had I think I should spend a bit more time living offline instead of online (I am not as happy as I should be and am not physically or socially active enough).

Further the goal of that site was to collect feedback so I could learn about the subject and so people can share their experiences with one another. I think it does a good job allowing people to show human experiences that are not generally shared much if you get my drift.

May 24, 2006 - 6:06pm

You said:

"I am not as happy as I should be and am not physically or socially active enough"

This is exactly my point, that site needs some buzz and the missing human element. All it takes is finding some people who suffer from depression to help you out to make it more useful. Inteview some experts, start a charity, launch some news, build a forum, blah blah blah.

Yes a big task but sometimes just asking for help can get it done...will let you know about my idea in a few weeks if I get a chance to build on it.

(I gained weight this winter in front of the computer and feel like sh*t, exersize bike while watching TV 30 minutes a day will remove the weight and increase the blood flow to the brain, it's a win win my friend.

My wife also suffers from depression and biking is really taking care of the physical and mental thing at the same time, try it!)

Mitchell Harper
April 10, 2007 - 6:09am

Just tried to comment but I think it stuffed up? If not my apologies for the double-up. Just wanted to say I agree with you Aaron and posted my thoughts here:


Aoleon The Mart...
April 10, 2007 - 8:17am

Hey Aaron,

Great things to think about here. I am struggeling with many of these issues, and I found your post to be very helpful not to mention your great SEO Book.


Aoleon The Martain Gril aka. Brent

February 10, 2007 - 6:39am

Just wondering, i found a niche that gets around 9000 searches a month and the pages at the very top of google and yahoo are all page rank 2 and 3 and almost no relation to the search, is this worth doing a site that runs on ad sense?

February 10, 2007 - 8:03pm

Don't forget to factor in cost per click, age of competing sites, your appeal for the topic, expected CTR, and if those PageRank 2-3 pages are subpages on authoritative domains.

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