I decided to run AdSense ads on “my” USGS site for two reasons. The first is an Internet classic, “Defray the Cost of Hosting”. The second was getting to know AdSense, since it’s the defacto standard when it comes to ad networks these days.
I’ve now run up against one of the ethical dilemmas that crop up whenever you start dealing with advertising. I recently added a strip of thumbnail images to the front page of the site. Prior to these being here, it would take a user two additional clicks to begin seeing images. So, for the users, these images are a “good thing”.
However, since I added the image strip, the click-through on my ads are down. At first click through was way down. I had placed the image strip above the ads, which pushed the ads “below the fold” on monitors with a resolution of 800 by 600. I changed this so the ads appear above the strip, and the click-through rates recovered a little, but not to their previous levels.
Screen captures at 800 by 600, ads highlighted in yellow
I think what’s happening is this. Prior to the image strip being there, unsophisticated users would come to the home page, not see the promised images, and start looking for links to the promised images. Since the Google ads are context sensitive, the user (being unsophisticated), believes the ads might lead them to the promised images, so they click them. When I added the image strip, those four thumbnails became a very obvious way to get at the promised images, more so than the ads.
So, this places me in a weird spot. I’m forced to choose between taking the strip out and reducing the usability of my site, or leaving the strip in there and reducing my ad revenue.