File Under: Web Services

Get Started With AdWords

With the proliferation of ad-blocking software, and, worse, the widespread anesthesis of the ad neuron in web surfers’ brains, the classic 468×60 banner ad is not the unquestioned moneymaking powerhouse it once was. Advertisers are looking for alternative ways to grab attention.

One inevitably popular approach is to make web ads bigger, flashier, more ubiquitous, and more obtrusive. Flash-based banners, JavaScript popups and popunders, interstitial ad pages, enormous images — these build brand awareness, true, but they are expensive, and risk irritating and possibly alienating potential customers.

There is an alternate approach that’s quickly grown in popularity. Current web darling Google, which is praised for its pin-neat interface (among other things), has long been leading the charge toward small, simple, text-only ads. These ads are set apart in their own table cell off to one side, shaded a different color so they stand out and are easy to notice without being annoying. They are cleanly delineated and out of the way of those who are not interested in them, but easily accessible to those who are. In this way they are presented as a resource, an offer of assistance, rather than a hard, insistent pitch.

Some other sites offering this type of advertising (referred to in some circles as “micro-ads”) simply deal them out from a pool willy-nilly, so that any time a page is viewed it will contain a different ad. Google’s ads, however, are tied into the site’s search engine functionality, synergized or “targeted” if you will, to improve their response rate dramatically.

The AdWords System

On Google, the text ads are made much more effective by precision targeting. Advertisers associate their ads with a couple of key words or phrases, so that a given ad is served only to people who are searching for related topics. The level of relevancy thus achieved is tremendously appealing to advertisers and consumers alike — often the ad is the very thing the searcher wants! This tight targeting leads to a dramatically increased click-through rate.

The other whopping advantage to these text ads is their minimal overhead. Whereas conventional web advertising requires contracts, representatives, deal making, file uploads, and all sorts of shenanigans, these micro-ads are entirely self-serviceable and self-maintaining. Advertisers basically just go to the “Place An Ad” or comparable page on the site in question, type in a couple of lines of copy and a target URL, and the campaign is launched. Ads appear on Google almost instantaneously after they are submitted.

Billing is calculated by the click rather than by the impression, with preferable placement given to ads with higher click-through rates. Since Google is getting your money only when somebody clicks on your ad, they want to maximize clicking. Ads that generate a lot of clicks are moved up in the hierarchy automatically, served more often and higher on the page than ads that are targeted to the same keywords but that generate fewer clicks.

The flipside of this is that the cost per click is calculated according to the keywords used to target the ad. Frequently requested keywords or phrases, like “britney spears”, cost more. Less popular phrases, like, say, “ralph macchio,” go for a few cents per click. This tends to work out relatively fairly:big companies advertising popular products or services can pay out of their deep pockets for popular keywords, whereas an independent special-interest site can attract like-minded folk without breaking the bank at 5 cents a click, that’s 200 new visitors for $10.

Implementing Your Own Text Ads

By now all you web builders are thinking, well, if Google can do it, why can’t we? Quite so. Chances are, text ads won’t prove to be a miraculous solution to the question Whither Advertising? for large, expensive sites. At the going rate, they probably won’t bring in enough revenue to support a web giant. But for independent, low-overhead places, they can be just the ticket. Here are some pointers to get you started serving text ads on your own site.

For a site that serves up dynamic content already, it’s pretty easy, and potentially lucrative, to write a bit of code and add in your own text ads. Because there are no images, server and bandwidth overhead is low, and because you’re already pulling your content from a database (or flat files, or whatever), adding a bit of code to pull in some ad text and display it is more or less trivial. The toughest part is building the mechanism to track ad impressions and clicks, and to bill your advertisers.

Tracking is made much easier if you set a flat rate, without elaborate sliding scales like Google’s. You’ll need a redirection script to track click-throughs:whenever someone clicks on an ad, they go to your script, which logs which ad was clicked, which page the user is coming from, the time and date, and any other data you desire, and then, instantly, invisibly, sends them on to the URL associated with the ad. With that, and another little script to rotate the ads, you’re all set. Those are very simple tasks and can be easily set up in Perl, PHP, or whatever you happen to be comfortable with.

But Let’s Talk Turnkey

If you don’t have the wherewithal for a coding project, even a small one, or if you don’t have a solid, dynamically driven content framework to build on, there are a number of existing turnkey and semi-turnkey solutions you can choose from. TextAds is a terrific open source PHP project that makes it easy to implement text ads on a site you host. Also, Idya offers an alternative system starting at $40.

Text ads are cheap, elegant, and easy to implement and to buy. They are an excellent way to make the web less ugly and pocket a little extra lettuce while you’re at it. What’s more, they’re a trendy design statement! Pretty soon, even sites that don’t feel like serving up real text ads won’t be caught dead without fake ones — pretty little squares off to the side, like windowboxes. Yeah! Everybody type after me: