Welcome to the 1st edition of Monetization Makover. In this series, Iâ€™m going to review the monetization of different blogs, in terms of both strategy and ad placement, and make suggestions for improving profits.
Todayâ€™s lucky blog: PSP Fanboy, freshly launched by Weblogs, Inc.. Letâ€™s begin by ripping it apart, shall we?
Actually, before we even rip it apart, I want everyone to take a long, hard look at the Adsense heat map. The heat map shows which ad placements receive the highest CTR, from dark orange (highest) to white (lowest).
Again: take a long, hard look. This heat map is your best friend if youâ€™re trying to make money off of ads on your blog.
After reviewing the heat map, we know what works well: anything on the left sidebar, anything immediately below the top-level navigation bar, anything within the content/middle, and anything below the content/above the footer. We also know what doesnâ€™t work well: anything on the right sidebar, anything above the top-level navigation bar, and anything below the footer. With that in mind, letâ€™s take a look at PSP Fanboy.
PSP Fanboy: How They Did It
PSP Fanboy was recently launched by Weblogs, Inc.. The blog covers the PlayStation Portable gaming system, which obviously has a huge audience. Since the site covers such a high-interest topic, and is part of a high-traffic, high-profile, highly-linked network, Iâ€™m sure the site received gobs of traffic since day one.
PSP Fanboyâ€™s layout is in the normal WIN style: content on the left with two sidebars on the right, and a leaderboard on top. Juxtapose this layout with the Adsense heat map you just looked at. Do you see anything wrong?
As you can tell from my red markings, Iâ€™m not convinced that the blog is very well monetized.
- Critique #1: The Leaderboard OK, Iâ€™m just gonna say it. Leaderboards suck. It really is that simple. Iâ€™ve never seen a leaderboard perform well on a site, relative to alternative units that could be used (exception: when itâ€™s above the footer). Furthermore, a la the heat map, banner units above the horizontal navigation (NEWS/REVIEWS/CHEATS/WALKTHROUGHS) are doomed to low CTR (blame banner blindness).
- Critique #2: Skyscraper in right sidebar Again, we know from the heat map that the right sidebar is not the place to put ad units (unless, of course, youâ€™re selling ads on a CPM basis and donâ€™t mind shafting your advertisers). One caveat here: this placement isnâ€™t as bad as a â€œstandardâ€ right sidebar placement, where the skyscraper is by itself â€“ the fact that the sky is wedged in between the content and the menu will draw some extra eyeballs and clicks. Still, skyscrapers will almost always perform best on the left sidebar (again, blame banner blindness; people are just to used to seeing it on the right).
- Critique #3: Video game boxart not an affiliate link Aside: Iâ€™ve heard various people sound off about how affiliate links in blog posts are â€œiffyâ€, or that you should always disclose that something is an affiliate link. Iâ€™ll say this once: RUBBISH. Anyone who cares about that sort of thing is smart enough to know that itâ€™s an affiliate link anyway. (Of course, a different matter is, if you give falsely positive reviews to products to get more affiliate sales â€“ but thatâ€™s a content issue. If you give out false info, smart readers will quit reading. Back to my point: affiliate links in blog posts are here to stay, get used to it.) Anyway, I donâ€™t know about you guys, but when I see boxart for a movie, I expect it to be linked to that movieâ€™s page on either IMDB.com or Amazon.com. In fact, if it does not link to either of those, I even get annoyed (itâ€™s just an extra step I have to go to, Control+C the movie title, Control+V into the search box, then Enterâ€¦ câ€™mon, I donâ€™t have time for this!) Well the same thing applies to video games. Theyâ€™re talking about Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Storiesâ€“ what if I want to find out more about it, read reviews, or God forbid even buy this game theyâ€™re blogging about? Give me a link to the Amazon.com page, dag nabbit! And while youâ€™re improving the postâ€™s usability, if you have a noggin, insert your affiliate id, too! Bonus: Monetization via affiliate links means that Adsense doesnâ€™t have you completely by theâ€¦ you know. Using affiliate links diversifies your revenue stream, which is always a good thing.
- Other critiques A few non-intrusive ad unit additions would have been an ad unit in the content (between, say, the 2nd and 3rd posts), as well as a unit above the footer (when users scroll to the bottom of the page, itâ€™s sort of link theyâ€™re thinking, OK, Iâ€™ve read the page, what now? And at that point they tend to be click-happy, so why not have them click on something that pays you?) Neither of those units would ruin the user experience or look of the site, and they would each get a decent CTR in and of themselves.
PSP Fanboy: How Iâ€™d do it
Based on my criticisms, Iâ€™ve made a mockup of how I would do things differently (yes, I know, you donâ€™t have to tell me, my Photoshop skills are just sick).
N.B., my suggestions are starting points. Every blog is different, and will have a specific configuration that performs best for it. To reach that point, itâ€™s often best to start with what you think should work, and keep revising (testing, testing, testing for each ad configuration). But a good starting point is often the Adsense heat map, and I stand by my recommendations: they may not be the optimal configuration, but Iâ€™d wager theyâ€™re pretty darn good.
- Skyscraper on left sidebar The olâ€™ sky on left sidebar is, by far, my favorite Adsense placement. It usually has extremely high CTR, and you donâ€™t have to annoy users with Adsense inside the posts, either. (Note that the CTR on this thing could go much higher still if we gave the unit a white background and blended the colors into the content a bit more â€“ but with the black background, it looks pretty sharp, and at some point we have to remember to make a site look good!)
- Ad unit between posts This unit must be blended with no border (i.e., white background). Since I am lazy and didnâ€™t bother to merge two screenshots to show whatâ€™s below the fold, I had to insert this between the first and second post, but it would also work well between the second and third post.
- Boxart becomes affiliate link This oneâ€™s self-explanatory. I might also put a text link at the end of posts which discuss specific games, that says something like â€œClick here to get more info on this game at Amazon.comâ€ (example: like what I do at my VoIP phones blog , except a bit more understated).
- Not pictured: leaderboard ABOVE footer I know I said leaderboards suck (and I meant it), but one place where they generally rock is ABOVE the footer. Non-obtrusive, decent CTR (see the heat map), way below the fold so it doesnâ€™t ruin your design, etc.
If these guys ever redesign their templates and reposition their ad units, they’d do well to ask themselves WWAHD (What Would Andy Hagans Do?)
That wraps up Monetization Makeover, Part 1. I welcome your comments.