Google launches Machine Learning for AdSense

Google AdSense has been around for more than a decade and a half now, this along with DoubleClick for Publishers allows website owners to monetize their traffic.

One of the key challenges in this was to figure out the optimum ad placements without impacting readability and user experience of the site. This trade-off that the publisher had to do was to decide on the different ad slots to create on the web page, and then balance that with the Revenue Per Thousand Impressions (RPM) metric that the digital advertising industry is so familiar with.

In order to help publishers out, AdSense had experiments where you could test different ad layouts and figure out the best layout to monetize the site.

So what has changed now?

Machine Learning.

This is the applications of artificial intelligence which gives programs the ability to discover new rules and learn from experience without additional programming. So that means, for newbie publishers instead of having to figure out by themselves what ad formats work and what ad placements work for them, you can apply machine learning and let the platform learn on its own.

What that means, is that the publisher is now free to focus on content, and let the AdSense platform figure out the best way to monetize that content on the ad network.

Caveat Emptor

With every new feature, comes a series of disclaimers. Machine Learning requires a lot of data to get things right. If you are a small site such as this blog, then it will take a long time for AdSense to optimally figure out the right ad formats and the proper ad placements.

Having said that, here’s a very simple way using which you can get started with Auto Ads in AdSense.

Setting up Auto Ads

Auto Ads in AdSense
Auto Ads in AdSense

In your AdSense console, in the Ads section you will now find a Auto ads menu item. Click on this, and get started with the setup wizard that’s present there. If you want to know how to embed the Auto ads code in your site, Google also has a helpful support article here.

That’s it! Once the code is setup in your website, you choose the formats you want to add (I chose everything) and let it run.

So far, the results haven’t been that great. However, time will tell if applying machine learning gives great benefits for the publisher.

What benefits should one look at?

Ultimately, it boils down to increasing the aggregate Revenues per thousand impressions metric (RPM). That’s what I’d look at, I would also look at the Click through Rates (CTRs) to go up.

A month without Ad Block

As a person who literally lives off the internet, one of the first things I do when I get a new machine is install Chromium or Chrome and then go and install the Ad Block Plus plug-in. Fortunately, I am well past Windows, so I do not have to go to the trouble of removing IE!

Having said that, I thought, it would be interesting to see the world from the eyes of a non-power user and see the internet with it’s full glory … yes without an Ad Blocker!

How to Get Ad Blockers

For those of you who are new to this term РAd Blockers, these are small plug-ins within your browser that stop Ads from displaying on any of the sites you visit. Those elements are not rendered at all! I strongly recommend Ad Block for this purpose.

Just follow the simple instructions on the link provided, and voila! No Ads … you can thank me later .. the web will be a different place for you. But enough of that, this is about seeing those Ads.

A World with Ads

As someone who runs Ads on his blog, I still do not bother to see Ads .. why? Because a lot of these Ads are poorly made … very few Ads these days are awesome enough to catch your eye or even better make you click! Why do we require Ads? Well to pay for all this cost of content creation of course!

Mainstream Media does it all the time! Why cannot the Internet follow suit? Put up Ads, write content, generate traffic … the simplest formula in the series of crazy get rich schemes :-)

What Prompted me to do this?

Sheer curiosity of checking how the Media agencies of the world are creating Ads was one. Some of the clients I was working with wanted to run Ads and I wanted to see how the Ads are going with the design of the site was another.

The third reason was the most important. I believe that users (yes, that’s you and me!) develop a certain immunity towards unpleasant experiences over time. Ads are generally ignored .. users learn to ignore them as time goes by, click through rates (CTRs) drop … that’s why it’s so important to keep changing your creatives!

The month starts!

I did this experiment in the month of February and ran it through till the middle of March. A little over 40 days. What did I observe? Well there are beautiful ads (naah, not Cilory ;-)), and the blockers are removing a bit more of the mark-up. Quite a lot of times an otherwise empty page suddenly looks fuller due to these display ads.

For e.g the Facebook layout looks marginally better with Ads. However, with Ads such as these, I’d still start running the blocker.

Ads on Facebook
I do not see how this creative is adding to building a list of leads!

Social Media networks were fine, the worst places I experienced without an Ad Blocker were surprisingly not Pr0n sites, but gaming sites! The sheer amount of wtf-ery in Ads that I saw on gaming sites was outstanding.

What took the cake was an Ad by Gurudas Kamat on my own blog asking for support in elections. Ughhh … one quick shift to Adsense and I blocked the entire category out. That Ad shook me :-) … I prompty turned out the Ad Blocker.

Conclusion

Before I experienced the internet without an Ad Blocker, I was happily running multiple Ads on my own site. After those 40 days, I trimmed down the number of Ads (I believe there are two simple Ads in the sidebar and thats that).

Setting up advertising to bear the cost of content creation is good, but if it is destroying the user experience (HBR are you listening?), is a no-no.