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AdSense Ad Click Zones – Gmail and Other Large Sites Get a Better Deal

Posted By Darren Rowse 30th of November 2007 Adsense 0 Comments

Gmail-AdSenseAre AdSense truly interested in cutting down mistaken clicks on ads? If so – why do some of the biggest sites on the web (including one of their own) still have most of their ad units clickable while the average publisher does not?

I just had an email from WebbyThoughts who alerted me to a an inconsistency with AdSense’s recent policy to make less of their ad units ‘clickable’.

You might remember on 14th of this month when AdSense reconfigured their ads so that only titles and URLs were clickable on their ad units. This was to cut down on mistaken clicks and to improve the performance of ads for advertisers. It led to many AdSense publishers reporting lower CTR.

WebbyThoughts today published that they’d notice the AdSense ads on their Gmail account were still clickable over the full unit (with the exception of small spaces between individual ads). I’ve highlighted the clickable areas on the ads in my Gmail account (left).

AdSense did only introduce these changes into some ad units (smaller ones still have the background as clickable) but this ad unit is actually quite large (the screen shot above is only part of it – the full unit displays 8 ads) and I would have thought that for consistencies’ sake that they’d move to a similar displaying of ads on their own property as they’ve enforced upon other publishers.

But Wait – there’s more…

When I saw the above examples I began to consider different reasons for why Google would allow this on their own ads but not other publishers.

One of the reasons that I considered is that perhaps they consider themselves to be a premium publisher. AdSense has a category of publishers that they label ‘premium’ that get different privileges and features to the rest of us. Perhaps they consider their own division – Gmail – to be ‘premium’?

I tested this by going to a blog that I know has premium publisher status – Engadget.

What did I see there on their Google ad units? Let me show you (clickable zones highlighted):


Yes – you guessed it – Engadget also have their ads almost completely clickable.

Lets try another one. This time About.com:

How about the AdSense ads on Myspace?

And one more for good measure – another known premium publisher for AdSense is CNN. Here’s how their AdSense ads look:


I can’t be certain that it’s just a premium publisher thing – but it does illustrate that Google isn’t completely consistent with the the clickable zones on their ad units. While I can understand the need to provide value to their advertisers and to give extra features to premium publishers it does leave me with two questions:

1. are Google not worried about readers of these sites mistakenly clicking ads?

2. how do the advertisers whose ads appear on these sites feel about the increased chance of a mistaken click?

Surely if Google want to give their advertisers optimal performance and the most bang for their buck they’d make these changes not only on sites with small numbers of impressions but also on the sites that show the most ads (I can only imaging the millions of impressions a site like CNN has)?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Their reasons for changing the clickable areas did not sound believable. Now we the benefit of your research their reasoning completely lacks credibility. Google want us to behave properly and so I think they need to set an example and also understand that our trust in them is important for their future business.

  2. That’s totally unbelievable. I was already irked a little bit by the “premium” deal some publishers get, where they can customize their Adsense ads to look a lot less like ads. And they get to keep the large click zone, too? At one time, Google stood for the little guy. Not so much anymore.

  3. -Great Post. I think the revamped adsense zones will definetly help blogs. I currently don’t monetize my blog for personal and marketing reasons. I’m also only in the growing zone for my blog on hunting and have a lot to do.

  4. This is very interesting to see and really adds doubt to anything that Google tries to feed the general masses, at least in my opinion. It looks like a case where they want to have their cake and eat it too.

    They restrict the smaller publishers so they can tell the advertisers that they are working hard to reduce mistaken clicks while at the same time giving the big money making publishers the luxury of the larger clickable area.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. That’s very interesting and annoying. Consistency with their stated reasoning would be nice.

    If I had to guess, though, I would say that their logic is somewhere along the line of trusting premium publishers to not place their ads where accidental clicks are likely. But if that’s the case, it shouldn’t make a big difference to the premium publishers if they got the same click areas as the rest of us.

    That said, my clickthrough rate has remained about the same of late.

  6. I suspect that Google 1) anticipated that the reduction of the clickable zones would lead to a loss of income and 2) the drop would be too noticeable to be explained by daily variance on the world’s highest earning AdSense sites.

    To avoid losing some of their biggest clients, they opted to soak up the accidental clicks for Premium members, hoping that the rest wouldn’t notice the change, or if some did decide to drop AdSense in protest, it just wouldn’t hurt them that much.

  7. Thanks for the great read. Those sly deviants hey? It’s a bit of a shame that they’re doing that, but what can you really do about it? Not much I feel.

  8. Damn,

    Thanks for that mate.

    Google seems to be slowly turning into the new Microsoft… and we all how MS has been faring recently.

    I think Google will go down that road soon too.

    Then we will get a new hero…. who we will hope will takes us along the path of success… only to disappoint us in the end.

    I think it all comes down to the bottom dollar. They will do whatever they want as long as they can justify it with pure economics.

    Not sure how financially viable this move is though… especially with all the negative vibes their latest moves have been drawing in the blogosphere…

    Maybe they simply don’t consider the bloggosphere to be an important enough segment of the web.

    In any case, who would you recommend we should switch to for PPC ads Darren?

    Cheers and thanks in advance.


  9. Thanks for the mention Darren.

    That’s funny that the premium people seem to be excused. Nice find.

    I originally thought it was just missed code change somewhere since the Google Search is using the new ad click areas. I figured since it is all google they would have the same rules. But I guess Gmail could be considered a different business entity for serving the ads.

  10. a think border with a contrast color against the background is the best way of stopping accidental clicks.

  11. I have noticed that too. I found Technorati, Taiwan CNET, Gmail and Sina( the biggest portal website of China) still clickable on white space or in ad description.


  12. Google has had a lot of bad press lately. It better get its act together. Google’s adsense program was revolutionary because it allowed ALL publishers to monetize their content.

    The large sites always had ways to get advertisers. Small publishers made Google’s adsense what it is today. Now Google is harming its greatest proponent.

  13. I really want to play devil’s advocate here instead of jumping on the “Google bashing” bandwagon, but I’ve got to be honest, this is a double-standard that doesn’t make sense to me.

    I would like to think this boils down to reducing manipulated or mistaken clicks. Not likely since premium publishers can make their ads look less like ads. Any manipulation on the part of a smaller publisher can easily circumvent the measures implemented by Google.

    Regardless of the justification, I don’t see the benefit to advertisers, like myself, to allowing this double-standard. Generally speaking, I would much rather my ad be displayed on a premium publisher’s site due to the exposure aspects and the implied trust. However, this move by Google has me questioning whether I want to continue advertising through the Content Network.

    If the same restrictions applied to all publishers, I could see the benefit, but this double-standard has me wondering if Google is just doing a token move to quiet advertisers while still keeping their premium publishers happy.

  14. It seems to me from what people around the web have been saying that Google are more and more skimping on their original goals and values of equility, fairness, etc.

    Some of the things they do worry me considering the amount of influence and power they have.

  15. Interesting article. Seems that I have heard of this phenomena in Google-land before; what parents usually call: “do what we say, not what we do.”

  16. Yah, I’ve been getting kind of fed up with Google these days. Overall my Adsense earnings have been steadily declining for a while now.

    I think it’s time for a new program and I’m going to be doing a case study on my work with using new ad programs on my blog.

    Anyway, I can understand how Google would want to offer extra features and perhaps a bigger payout for larger publishers but if they truly are trying to make it better for advertisers to reduce accidental clicks then it is stupid that on the big sites they have the same old clickable area.

  17. Thanks for the post; it has definitely opened my eyes. I guess we knew something was fishy with the whole deal, but now we have some facts to back it up.

    Shawn –

    I too wish that Google still stood for the little guy.

  18. This is an eyeopener. I know that google allows premium publishers to use their own styles to display ads.

    This is definitely unfair to small time publishers I guess many small time publishers have seen a drop in click on ads. But doesn’t that also mean that a click is not more valueable to the advertiser.

    If they are discriminating they should atleast start paying small time publisher a better rate for the clicks.

  19. some guy says: 11/30/2007 at 2:41 pm

    A clarification here.

    Premium publishers are given javascript code to host locally. So Google can’t make this change on their side. If they wanted to redefine the clickable areas on the premium sites (which they may do), they have to have them reimplement their adcode javascripts.

    so I don’t think it’s so much a conscious decision to reward the premium publishers, but perhaps just a logistical hassle to ask all these sites to redeploy new javascript locally.

  20. I agree with Skellie that this move is purely to appease / satisfy advertisers. If they are not careful, they will start losing business to yahoo who is now working with Adobe to provide advertising on PDF documents. Too bad that this feature is only available to American users.

  21. I would say they simply have not got around to updating the clickable zones for the premium publishers yet. Changing the clickable zone for general publishers is easy as they all use the exact same templates. Premium publishers all seem to use different templates. Plus I would expect that premium publishers aren’t paid in exactly the same way and miss-clicks probably aren’t such an issue. About 80% of my adsense income comes from the link units anyway which have not changed.

  22. Ronster says: 11/30/2007 at 3:45 pm

    Yes, yes, I’m happy that somebody is pointing out the double-standard by Google!

    They should’ve made the rules same for everybody and every ad if they were going to implement the new rules.

  23. This came through my mind on my last comment in adsense-make-ad-units-less-clickable. So i see small is not that big.

    But i’d rather think in a positive way. This open up my horizon that referral earnings makes blogger dependable to uncontrollable elements. In the end, it’s a privilege for a few that started early. This way, I must find a better way to buy my coffee. Surely this article helps.

    Thanks Darren.

  24. Once again Google blows it.

  25. Google…what’s going on? I understand I don’t have the most popular websites on the net, but do you have to rub it in my face with this double standard?

    I’m about to drop these guys, I swear. Even the better Adsense months for me don’t really justify feeling like I do right now.

  26. Slowly but surely losing credibility in my books.

    Though, I am still addicted to their drugs (Gmail, Picasa, Reader), so I can’t cut lose from them.

    Sad story for every addicted drug users…

  27. Damn… Even more proof that Adsense sucks… Double standards by Google…

  28. Now Google Adsense has changed the process of generating your code. You can also manage your ads to change the color directly from your account.


  29. Premium publishers have wide latitude on how they can format Google ads; in fact, in many cases they don’t even have to use Google-provided code at all! Instead some premium publishers get to pull the ads directly from Google via XML and format them however they like.

    If Google is serious about this change, then it will eventually require premium publishers to make changes, but since they likely have separate contracts, it may take time to have those contract terms changed.

    P.S. On my own AdSense account, my clickthrough rate is virtually unchanged after the ad units were made less clickable. I simply haven’t noticed a difference.

  30. My guess is that google thinketh that smaller sites are more prone to click fraud than the mammouth one.

  31. it’s the animal farm story: all are equal but some are more equal than others :). Learn to live with it.

  32. Google apparently thinks readers of high profile sites don’t have “accidents”. Sigh.

  33. Typical Google…

  34. Good find Darren !

    Again – Google with it’s double talk.

    I’m sure they’ll come up with a good explanation in the days to come.

    Looking forward to it.


  35. some guy – good clarification and I can understand the logistics and inconvenience of getting publishers to make those changes – however I’m not sure it applies so much with their own service at Gmail….

  36. This is a kill for publishers. The money that you can earn is continously shrinking. To compensate google must inceat CPC rates.

    – Dan

  37. Well, another case of “One rule for them, another for the rest of us”.

    The majority of their revenue from Adsense comes from the “Little Guys” – as shown in Darren’s post about Adsense earnings. Annoy them and their whole business model could go down the toilet.

  38. I noticed it a few days ago, and sincerely I couldn’t believe. Sounds like Google has different rules according to the amount of money a publisher worths. That shouldn’t be true. For me Google is acting like evil.

  39. Google has done quite a bit of things recently to upset the general public. It is as if they feel they own the web and can do with it whatever they want. Both this and the page rank demotions are really upsetting their main users.

  40. This seems really obvious to me. Google reduces area on small publisher ads because the vast amount of fraudulent traffic/clicks come from the small guys. The big guys don’t scheme to defraud Google and its advertisers. They are often public companies, and would never consider such a means to generate revenue.

    However, the biggest risk to Google and its advertisers are the small publishers. If we were to see the stats on click fraud, I would guess that 90%+ of fraudulent clicks happen on small sites. Much of this is done by automated bots. Google must have discovered that click fraud (oh, sorry, I mean ‘accidental clicks’) reduces with a reduced clickable ad area.

  41. I was just reading this article an i noticed that the adsense ads found in my blog were still fully clickable such as the premium advertisers you mentioned.

  42. “it’s the animal farm story: all are equal but some are more equal than others :). Learn to live with it.”

    – exactly. There’s not much we can do anyway..

  43. Im really beginning to hate google. YahOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

  44. Gawd! I absolutely HATEEE double-standards. Life, people, government … now Google too!

  45. This disgusts me. My CTR has gone down tremendously. Not only that, but I have a tracker that shows what people on my site are clicking…in a period of time this tracker shows that there were 60 clicks on my Adsense ads, whereas Adsense only credited me for 20. Has anyone else noticed a similar discrepancy?

  46. Seems like one of these days people will make a living doing Yahoo SEO and totally forget about google

  47. What’s the gripe about changing the clickable area anyway. Were those against the change relying on accidental clicks or something?

    Spend more time working on your sites than chasing around what happening on others and you’ll do ok.

  48. I have never found the Adwords greatly effective. CTR is only about 2% and the ROI is not that good. Organic is certainly the best but like we all know, its slow and takes time to get good serps.

    Is the clickable area really of that much importance? I know you can analyze and assume and calculate, but when it all boils down, are accidental clicks sufficient enough to be concerned about?

  49. marsh says: 12/17/2007 at 7:37 am

    Yes, I read that the larger clickable zones are perks for Premium Publishers of Adsense. They also get more ad units that they can place on their websites, etc.


  50. Those adsense ads looks so old school!

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