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Google Adsense Interest Based Ads: what’s the problem?

I started recently to investigate a little bit the “Adsense interest based ads” feature. The reasons behind my investigations were two:

  • First of all, I have observed in the last months a drop in my CTR and consequently a drop in my revenues – but I didn’t take it seriously, believing that this i’s only an effect of the crisis.
  • Navigating pretty much on a website that we work on, I observed that the “interest based” ads were very unrelated to the pages’ topic; moreover, the so-called “interest” was wrong: for example I was browsing, few minutes before the visit, on some web hosting related webpages, without any desire to buy something, just to research, and than Google system decided that I would be interested by web hosting ads, which was wrong!

So, I decided to investigate further this problem and I discovered that a lot of people that have targeted, content rich websites, have the some problem: the interest based ads just overpass the contextual ads and this leads to a lower CTR. Interest based advertising seems to work well only on unfocused websites (for example social networks or general discussion forums).

Even on this blog, I observed that the Sciphone related pages were displaying only 10-15% Sciphone or chinese phones related ads and 85-90% unrelated ads, which was totally unacceptable. If I’m browsing now this page, it means that I’m interested now on this topic!

On the other hand it’s true that interest based advertising can display – as Google says in their Adsense Help pages – the highest paying ads. However, this is useless as long as you don’t get clicks. Better fewer bucks and more clicks, than many bucks but no clicks.

So what are the problems that arise with the interest based advertising?

  • The interest itself is contextual: if I’m browsing now some “web hosting” pages and 10 minutes later some “plumbers in calgary” pages, then my interest 10 minutes laters relates to “plumbers in calgary”, not “web hosting”!
  • Google is unable to guess the real interest of the user, and the real scope of an user’s interest: was it to buy? …was it to gather information?… was it to help his old mother to gather some online information?… was it to help his old mother to buy something?… was it the user itself, or a friend using the computer?… etc. This “interest based advertising” it’s just a lottery.

How could Google improve its Adsense technology?

  • First of all Google should let the advertisers decide at a website level where to show interest-based ads and were to show only contextual ads. Now you can opt out from interest based advertising at account level. This is no good, because one can have focused and unfocused websites under the same account. The publisher should be able to choose to activate or de-activate this option for every website.
  • The “interest” based ads should be activated or de-actived even at channel level. One website can have highly focused webpages or unfocused webpages. For example, the homepage of an “yellow pages” website is very unfocused, however the inner pages are very focused. On the homepage the advertiser could open an “interest” based channel, while on inner pages he could open only contextual channels.
  • Google must improve the “interest” calculation algorithm. For example, if one has a single browsing session related to a topic, this is not a clear sign of “interest” for that topic. But if it has 5 browsing sessions, yes, we definitely can say that the user is really interested in that topic. If one browses one single day on a specific topic, this is not a sign of clear interest. But if he browses 3 day out of 10, yes, this is a good indicator.

My 2 cents on this.

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