A while back, I wrote that my site has started to accept advertisements through the Google AdSense program. Before I go any further, let me share some information from the Google AdSense program. The Program Policies contain the following clause:
Web pages may not include incentives of any kind for users to click on ads. This includes encouraging users to click on the ads or to visit the advertisers’ sites as well as drawing any undue attention to the ads. This activity is strictly prohibited in order to avoid potential inflation of advertiser costs. For example, your site cannot contain phrases such as “click here,” “support us,” “visit these links,” or other similar language that could apply to any ad, regardless of content.
The Terms and Conditions of the Google AdSense program contain the following clause:
7. Confidentiality. You agree not to disclose Google Confidential Information without Google’s prior written consent. “Google Confidential Information” includes without limitation: […] (b) click-through rates or other statistics relating to Site performance in the Program provided to You by Google; […]
So what does this mean to you, my dear reader? Simply put, please do not consider anything I am writing to be an exhortation to click on advertisements on my site. Nor will I reveal what I am make from the AdSense program or what advertisers are paying to be a member of the AdSense program.
I’ve been thinking a bit about the AdSense program and whether I want to continue to participate. Having advertisements is a nice way to generate income, but I’m not sure I have been happy with all of the advertisements that have been delivered by Google. For example, I wrote about bathroom equipment in Italy; astute readers may remember the ads that got placed. Frankly, these were not the most aesthetically pleasing advertisements I could have gotten. Today, I saw that Google placed an advertisement for political paraphernalia on my blog from an organization with whom I disagree. While I find it a bit ironic that this advertisement may cost the political organization money, I am not thrilled to accept money indirectly from the political organization.
I have a very easy choice: I can accept Google’s advertising placement or not. (I can also blacklist sites one by one, but the process is so difficult that it is impractical.) The advertisements I have seen so far do not bother me so much. Would I feel the same way if there were an anti-abortion advertisement on my web site? What about a bigoted advertisement? More importantly, how would I know such an advertisement had been placed? Google does not provide auditing facilities that show me what advertisements have been displayed on my site, and I do not visit my site very frequently.
The story becomes more interesting when you consider the advertiser’s point of view. Do you want to advertise on a web site when the web site is portraying your product in a negative light? Do you want to advertise on a web site if it portrays your competitors in a relatively positive light? For example, I felt Rossini Restaurant in Florence was a terrible restaurant. The food was merely adequate, but the experience as a whole was horrible and overpriced. Now imagine that I am one of the owners of Rossini and I wanted to place an advertisement. I would never want my advertisement to appear on this web page. People may click through my advertisement just for spite!
At Sports Illustrated, where I work, we are very concerned about advertising positioning. Most of what we do with regards to positioning is common in the publishing world. Advertisers can make sure that they are the first advertisement for their line of products in the magazine. For example, a car company may pay a premium to be the first automotive advertisement. Advertisers can also specific certain demographic or geographic splits. That is, in one part of the country, an advertiser may place one advertisement; they may place another advertisement in another part of the country. There are many other different variables, and the magazines at Time Inc. are very good at positioning advertising.
At the same time, many publishers, including Time Inc., strive to make sure that their advertising and editorial content do not conflict. This can cut both ways. I can cite two examples from my time at The Tartan, the student newspaper of Carnegie Mellon University. One time, our features section ran an article on contraception; it also briefly discussed masturbation. It was a fairly well written, serious article, and no one though two minutes about it. After our issue was printed, an advertiser from one of the local religious institutions stopped by. He was not concerned that we had run an article on this kind of topic; in fact, I believe that he would have felt foolish complaining about such an article in a college newspaper. However, he was a little disappointed with the positioning of his advertisement. Unfortunately, his advertisement for religious services was right next to the article on contraception and masturbation. Since his institution felt that both contraception and masturbation were, shall we say, less than ideal, he would have preferred a different location in the newspaper for his advertisement.
In a way, a publisher has an advantage over an advertiser–the publisher can always see the advertising content at any point in the publishing process; the advertiser cannot always see the editorial content before publication. While I was at The Tartan, an anti-abortion group asked to place an insert into the paper. The Tartan was a weekly broadsheet newspaper; the insert was a full-color tabloid size insert. Like most anti-abortion material, it was highly inflammatory and prejudicial. Personally, I was against running the insert in our paper. The group could distribute the insert on campus by themselves, and I didn’t feel we had any obligation to carry the advertising. I was outvoted, and the insert was distributed with the next issue of the paper. I wonder sometimes if I should have left the paper after this decision was made.
I wish Google AdSense were a bit more sophisticated in how it placed advertising. I can’t say a better algorithm exists, but I don’t want to give money to causes and organizations that I find objectionable. I’m not sure that Google can make this sort of guarantee. I think I will consider the issue for another month or so, but right now I am leaning towards dropping out of the program.
Do you have opinions on the topic? Send them my way.
Finally, here is a quick disclaimer: not only do friends and family work at Google, friends of mine work at Google’s competitors. And I also use many Google products myself, both in my personal and professional life. My disagreements with the Google AdSense program will probably not dissuade me from using their other fine services.