In June 2006, Stefan Zwanzger (Affiliate.de, currently living in Dubai) and André Moritz visited the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, in California. Two years after our first interview with Google AdSense there were a lot of new things to discuss, for example:
- will Google AdSense replace all the classic affiliate programs?
- will there be a Google AdSense for newsletters?
- will there be a Google AdSense for domains?
- click fraud and how AdSense deals with "bad" webmasters
- many many more questions, read our interview!
Affiliate.de: Who invented Google AdSense?
Google's beautiful campus from a mountain's view.
Michelle: I think it was not only one person. We already had ads that we were showing on search results. If you watch the pages out there one the web, you’ll recognize that only a relatively small number of those are search result pages. The question is: when you consider all the other pages out there on the web, how do you start showing ads on these pages too? More importantly, how do you show ads that are relevant and interesting for the user. This is one of the things we are very passionate about: whatever you do, it should be a good user experience. As we started thinking about how to serve relevant ads to the user, we put on a team to start working on some ideas, to create some prototypes, to start testing it out. This was how the idea came up and it was strongly backed by Larry and Sergej.
Affiliate.de: So they actually invented it?
Michelle: They were certainly a big part of the idea generators and then they put together a team.
Stefan Zwanzger entering the one&only legendary Google campus
Affiliate.de: We have now the third year of Google AdSense and you’ll confirm: it’s growing year by year, month by month...
Kim: It’s remarkable. [smiling]
Affiliate.de: Alright, the second question is always a hard one: How much of the AdWords revenue goes to the…
Kim: … you mean the revenue share? Oh no, that’s the wrong question. The right question is: which contextually targeted advertising system can help you monetize your website the best? You want the most money, not the biggest percentage, right? And we are pretty confident that Google gives you the most money.
Affiliate.de: Okay that’s your answer?
Kim: That’s the question and that’s the answer. In all seriousness: the combination of the size of our advertiser network and the sophistication of our targeting technology is really unmatched.
Michelle: It’s also an area where we have developed more expertise over time and it’s an iterative process. A part of our goal is to continue to improve of how we target and how we monetize to deliver a better experience for everybody.
Once you have several years of experience and a large base of publishers and advertisers to work with you can learn over time. That’s a big piece of what we’ve been doing so far. So the idea is: it gets better over time!
Our interview partners for Google AdSense:
Head of AdSense
Affiliate.de: Do you know how affiliate networks and affiliate programs think about Google AdSense? Do you have any communication with them? Do you have any experience whether Google AdSense works better or worse than affiliate programs?
Kim: Obviously, a lot of our publishers use both and find that one is a very good complement to the other. The two forms of advertising are different with one providing contextually relevant ads where advertisers pay on a CPC or CPM basis. In the case of affiliate ads, the advertiser pays based a cost per acquisition. Depending on the type of page on which you are serving the ads, you may prefer to serve one or the other - or both!
Affiliate.de: We have experienced more and more webmasters deleting affiliate banners and using Google AdSense instead.
Michelle: Even some of our publishers, who have been with us since the very beginning use affiliate programs to complement and balance the revenue they get from their sites. So it’s definitely not – or at least we haven’t seen – that one excludes the other.
Affiliate.de: For a few months now you can define different click prices in Google AdWords for ads in the search network and for ads in the AdSense network. How did this affect Google AdSense? Did the average click revenue for the AdSense publishers decreased? We experienced many advertisers bidding less for the content network (AdSense) than for sponsored search listings, because the conversion rate is so different.
Kim: The results an advertiser will see in our content network vs. our search network will vary based on the types of words that they are using and the type of business that they have. In some cases one may perform better than the other, but you can’t say broadly across the board that this is the universal truth. In general it averages out, so from a publisher’s perspective you might see changes and experience different increases or decreases over time. But it’s very hard to say this at a broad level, you have to go down to a much more granular level. There are in fact some advertisers that bid higher in the AdSense network. For a large percentage of the ad groups content (AdSense) actually performs better than search. So it’s not always going to move in just one direction. It moves in both directions. We have a very large system and the more flexibility you provide to it, the better off everybody is and the better the whole system performs.
Affiliate.de: Some publishers told us they recognized that the first ad on their website performs best, that they earn the most with it. Is it true?
Michelle: What do you mean exactly?
Affiliate.de: If you have three Google AdSense ad units on your website, is it true that the first ad unit in the source code brings the highest click revenue?
Kim + Michelle: Oh no, actually that’s not true at all.
Affiliate.de: It’s not true?!
Kim: No. I think the best thing to do is to look at our optimization tipps page. Every publisher is different, but we have a heat map, showing which ad units perform the best on which pages. However, your experience will vary, so it’s very important for publishers to experiment. For example publishers who have articles on a given topic often find the ad unit at the end of the article doing very very well. But in general you are better off with ads visible without scrolling down. It’s important to do A/B testing with your site.
Impressions of the Google Campus.
Affiliate.de: Well, is it better to put more than just one Google ad unit per web page?
Michelle: The best thing to do for people is really to try it out and test it. It depends so much on how much content they have on their site. If we’d tell them to put three ads on it and they already have ten other ads on their page, then it would probably not perform very well. It is just going to vary. One person might have only one ad, but that ad might generate more revenue for him or her than for another person who has a similar type of site with three ads and other things on it.
Affiliate.de: But it doesn’t affect the average click revenue, if you put more than one ad unit on a page?
Kim: No no no, we give them all equal opportunities. No discrimination in the ad units! [laughs]
Affiliate.de: Other users were asking us about Google AdSense and domain parking. Owners of generic domains want to use AdSense without creating additional content. Are you preparing something in this direction?
Kim: Well, AdSense for content is AdSense for content.
Affiliate.de: AdSense for domain parking is not available?
Kim: We do offer a separate product, "AdSense for domains".
Affiliate.de: But it’s not available to everybody?
Affiliate.de: So the domain owners have to ask first?
Kim: They have to develop a relationship with the sales force.
Affiliate.de: So the best thing is to write emails and emails and emails?!
Michelle: Probably not, because the sales force is going to focus on and work with companies out there who are established businesses. It’s not really something that’s designed for mass use.
Affiliate.de: However, it is in the system and you don’t have it (yet) ready for the mass user.
Kim: There is not an online self serve model for AdSense for domains.
Affiliate.de: Will it happen?
Kim: We are always happy to hear feedback and I am happy to communicate it to our team. We try to make sure that we don’t create “clutter”. Once we feel we can do it scalably in a way that benefits users, advertisers and publishers then we will open it up. In all decisions that we make we find it important to take care of the whole environment, the whole ecosystem. We want to make sure to make decisions which are good for users as well as advertisers and publishers.
Affiliate.de: Concerning the system, let’s talk about click fraud. It’s a really big topic for advertisers. What do you estimate, how high is the click fraud within the AdSense system?
Kim: This is an issue that we are well ahead of. We have the best technology and we dedicate considerable resources to ensuring that invalid clicks get thrown out and that advertisers are never charged for those kinds of clicks. I feel really confident that we’ve got and will always have it under control.
Google AdSense: "What publishers want is more money. They want us spend our resources on figuring out on how to make them earning more money. The combination of the size of our advertiser network and the sophistication of our targeting technology is really unmatched."
Affiliate.de: It’s very easy to click on your own ad unit from different computers…
Kim: It’s also very easy to identify when this is happening [Kim + Michelle laughing]. We have some very sophisticated automated systems that identify some sort of unnatural patterns.
Affiliate.de: Is it possible for publishers thrown out of the system to get into it again?
Kim: [both women laughing] Again we’ve a very sophisticated system that prevents people from getting back into it. People will always try new things and there may be a brief period in time in which somebody is able to sneak in, but we always find them and close that loophole. This is something we are continuously improving upon and we’ll never rest and say we have solved that problem; it gets managed and not solved once for all. I’m 100% confident in our ability to stay well ahead of invalid click activity. We have the best engineers and an awful lot of resources to handle it. I think it’s very hard to imagine that we won’t be able to keep it under control.
Affiliate.de: We were talking about bad guys who are turning into good guys and say: “Google, please, I’m better now, I won’t click on my own ad units anymore, give me another chance!” Is there any way to get in again?
Kim: Well, it’s very difficult to get back in.
Michelle: It’s better not to get out… [laughing]
Kim: Don’t become a bad guy.
Affiliate.de: But is there a possibility to get in again?
Affiliate.de: Please leave the door open. Prisoners need some opportunity for rehabilitation!
Kim: I am very sorry, but it’s not possible to get back in once you’ve been terminated for invalid click activity. Then you’re out.
Affiliate.de: That means that you have a big blacklist of bad boy webmasters. Do you publish it somewhere? [laughing]
Kim: We wouldn’t call it that either. We wouldn’t even say that word. But we do have in all seriousness a very rigorous appeals process. If publishers are terminated for invalid click activity they can actually appeal to my team, which is some sort of advocat for the publishers. We will take that case to the invalid click team and have the fight. Obviously we want as much revenue as possible, so it’s in our interest to make sure that we never terminate incorrectly. We take this topic very seriously.
Michelle: It doesn’t happen very often.
Affiliate.de: That means if somebody is terminated incorrectly, he has a chance to get back.
Kim: There is an appeals process…
Michelle: It doesn’t happen very often that a publisher is terminated incorrectly.
Kim: It happens very often that they appeal and we take every appeal seriously. But generally the invalid click team is right.
Affiliate.de: Do you plan to install a telephone hotline for AdSense publishers?
Michelle: We actually asked people what they want and they didn’t want to have that.
Kim: What publishers want is more money. They much rather want us spend our resources on figuring out on how to make them earning more money. We actually communicate by email, which is a much much more efficient communication medium. We are able to get the questions answered very quickly. We find that our publishers are very satisfied, we have a quite high customer satisfaction with our service. They also like the speed with which we get back to them and the quality of the answers. There is no reason to think that it would be better over the phone than by email.
Affiliate.de: The speed maybe. What’s the return speed for emails?
Kim: We don’t have a set number, but generally people get an answer within 24 hours.
Affiliate.de: How many millionaires did you create in the last three years?
Kim: We don’t disclose that, but quite a large number from diversed geographies and diversed walks of life. It’s very exciting and I’d like to say that Google AdSense funds human creativity.
Affiliate.de: To which places do you send the biggest AdSense cheques? Russia, Germany, India or Trinidad & Tobago?
Michelle: I think this is probably not the right question. They don’t necessarily go to specific countries. It depends a lot on the type of business, it depends a lot on the type of content that a person creates. Those are more the kind of drivers than the country.
Kim: The biggest cheques go to the people who create the best content, however. The biggest cheques go to publishers, to which users come back to over and over again.
Affiliate.de: Where do the people live who create the best content? In Russia, Germany, India or Trinidad & Tobago?
Michelle: That sounds to me like the same question [laughing].
Kim: There is an awful lot of great content producers right here in the United States.
Affiliate.de: So are the USA the #1 country for Google AdSense?
Michelle: ;;We don’t disclose that.
Affiliate.de: Okay. I know.
Michelle: It’s worth asking [laughs].
Hmmm, who of those three Google guys knows the algorithm?
Affiliate.de: There are some AdSense publishers who are generating arbitrage revenue with Google; they buy cheap AdWords clicks and forward them to AdSense clicks generating higher revenue. Do you like them or do you hate them?
Kim: The fundamental precept of business is “buy low, sell high”, so it’s very hard for me to say that one shouldn’t try to buy low and sell high. But it’s important for us that the site is of high quality for users they’re driving traffic to.
Affiliate.de: What about websites, which lack that high quality? Like domain parking websites, Just consisting of keywords and ads.
Michelle: In general one of the things Google believes in - and this is something you can see when you look at our site and at all the products we launch - is to produce quality content and quality products. So do we like it, when we see a low quality website out there? No, of course not. And we think nobody does. However, we are not in the business of judging people’s sites. That’s an editorial decision, and that’s not part of what we are doing.
Affiliate.de: Anybody will be punished if they make these arbitrage calculations?
Kim: They won’t be punished for arbitrage per se, however there is a policy which prohibits producing websites only for AdSense. As Michelle said, we don’t make a subjective decision but there are a number of signals from users and user behaviour about whether these sites are useful or not useful. And if sites are deemed by users as not useful they will be penalized.
Affiliate.de: Will it be possible to change font sizes in the ad units?
Kim: So that the fonts on the ads match the fonts on the website? Is that the idea?
Affiliate.de: That’s the idea.
Michelle: It is healthy for us to get that kind of feedback. We always get a lot of requests and sometimes it’s hard to say which one is more important than the other, but if large numbers of users are asking for one thing then we are trying to do that.
Affiliate.de: Great, here’s the next idea: “AdSense for newsletters”. It’s still not possible to put AdSense into newsletters, but I’m sure it would work. Google might provide a newsletter service with AdSense already implemented. Contextually targeted newsletter ads would be amazing. Is it in the works or are we the first to tell you that?
Kim: We had that feedback before and it’s good to have it again. If we get enough feedback and if we are certain that we can avoid the perception of spam… you know it’s an interesting idea, it’s an absolutely interesting idea.
Affiliate.de: Users asked us, why the websites behind the ad links can’t be opened in a new browser window…
Kim: The problem is that – again from the user’s point of view – as you’re surfing on the web and clicking around, you finally end up with 30 or 40 windows open and then the performance is really slowed down. We find that this is a bad user experience, if new windows open. This is the reason for it.
Affiliate.de: So this will never happen, the possibility to let AdSense ads being opened in a new browser window?
Kim: I would never say never. For instance if everyone in the world had extremely highspeed internet access, then maybe this would not be a bad user experience anymore. But by now we find that users don’t like that.
Affiliate.de: There is some AdSense policy saying that no “direct” competitors are allowed on the page web of the publisher. What do you mean with that?
Kim: The reason why we have a limit of three ad units per page is because – again – we find it a bad user experience if there is too many ads on a page. The reason why we don’t allow other contextually targeted advertising programs to be on the same page is that then there could be six or twelve or thirty ad units on a page. You can rotate other contextually targetet advertising programs on your site but not on the same pages at the same time. We don’t demand exclusivity, but we are also trying to protect again the interests of the users.
Affiliate.de: What do you think about people who are writing texts like “I am a private detective, I like insurances of all kind and very expensive yachts.” They get ads with high click revenue.
Kim: We find that those sites don’t perform well.
Affiliate.de: Are you sure?
Affiliate.de: We heard about some sites performing amazingly…
Kim: There may be short term blips but in the fullness of time those sites do not perform well.
Affiliate.de: When will we have the option to see Euro amounts instead of Dollar amounts in the AdSense statistics?
Kim: It’s shameful that you don’t have it already and hopefully you have it soon!
Affiliate.de: We see Dollars and get Euros – it’s confusing.
Kim: I know and I apologize. We are working on fixing that. Feel free to tell anybody that they sent us an email and complain about it.
From left to right: Stefan Zwanzger (Affiliate.de),
Kim Malone (Google AdSense), André Moritz (Axodo GmbH), Michelle Vidano (Google AdSense)
Affiliate.de: Last question: is there any big surprise in the near future?
Michelle: Well, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you. [all laughing]
Kim: We work continually to surprise and delight our publishers, so send us emails, let us know what our next surprise ought to be and we will be endeavoured to build it for you.
Affiliate.de: Thanks a lot for the interview and the free food from the Google canteen. This is really the best food we ever ate in America.