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January 18, 2007

Changes to AdSense Give Publishers Headaches

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Jennifer Slegg comments at JenSense and Search Engine Land that Google is swaying a little farther on the evil meter this morning (my words, not hers) with announced changes to its AdSense policy. The term changes make it a violation of AdSense’s TOS to run any kind of ad, contextual or otherwise, using the same layout and colors as Google’s ads.

The new Competitive Ads and Services policy says in part:

"In order to prevent user confusion, we do not permit Google ads or search boxes to be published on websites that also contain other ads or services formatted to use the same layout and colors as the Google ads or search boxes on that site. Although you may sell ads directly on your site, it is your responsibility to ensure these ads cannot be confused with Google ads."

Prior to the policy revision, it was already a violation to put competing contextual ads on the same page as AdSense ads, but this new change in policy steps that up a notch. Where publishers once just had to carefully rotate AdSense and Yahoo Publisher Networks ads so they were never on the same page at the same time, now, because ads have to be easily distinguishable, they virtually have to change the entire layout of their site with each rotation. Or they run ads that clash with the scheme of their site, their call.

Jennifer also notes:

"This policy applies to the entire site, not just the page and actual page view that the ad is appearing on. This change could affect a significant number of publishers, especially those who do A/B testing (like myself) as well as those who have anything else anywhere on the site that resembles AdSense."

Way to make life more complicated.

Obviously, it’s Google’s right to do whatever they want with their product and it’s up to publishers to decide to either abide by their rules or go play somewhere else. But it’s difficult to support a system that’s constantly changing. Each time Google revamps their AdSense policy sites have to jump through higher hoops to meet the new requirements.

In December Google Officially Disallowed Images Near AdSense Ads and now they’re telling publishers if they’re using AdSense with competitor ad networks, all ads need to be re-customized with different color palettes and formatting to make sure they’re easily distinguishable. Why doesn’t Google just create a flashing marquee for publishers to put over their ads that reads, "GOOGLE AD, GOOGLE AD, GOOGLE AD"? [Because that would be annoying and Evil. Give it a few years.- Susan]

I get that this is some kind of defensive move on Google’s part and that because their dominance with AdSense is so overpowering publishers will roll over and make the needed changes, but does that make it right?
I don’t think so.

Google’s motives behind these new policy changes are curious. They say they are doing it to prevent "user confusion", but as a user, do you care if the ads you’re looking at come from Google or Yahoo? Do you know anybody who notices? I don’t. Granted, I don’t spent a lot of time clicking on contextual advertising anyway, but even if I did, I surely wouldn’t care what advertising network the ad is coming from. I care about the ad.

Like I said, its Google’s right to do what they wish with their product, but maybe it’s our right to demand something better. What publishers need is a system that gives them more freedom than AdSense currently does.

Unfortunately, right now, there isn’t one. Yahoo is a little less strict, they haven’t banned using similar color schemes with your ads (yet), but you can’t run competitor ads on the same page as YPN ads. I think most publishers are okay with that, though. It’ll be interesting to see how publishers react to Google’s new policy changes (and when the policy changes go into affect). Will they change their sites to meet Google’s new demands or will they start looking elsewhere? Who’s going to be the savvy PPC service to offer publishers freedom to show ads the way they see fit? Now would be a good time to come out, don’t you think?

Annoyances aside, the new policy changes to AdSense do have one interesting addition. The Copyrighted Material section reads:

"Website publishers may not display Google ads on web pages with content protected by copyright law unless they have the necessary legal rights to display that content. Please see our DMCA policy for more information."

Sorry, plague-on-my-life, AdSense-running scraper sites. We’ll see how good Google actually is about enforcing this.

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