Testing – Not just for ecommerce websites Ecommerce sites are pros at testing their website’s layout. Take Amazon, for example. Their site looks different than it did a couple of years ago, especially on mobile and tablet. Does it look better now? That’s a personal question. Does it perform better? You can bet your last dollar it does. Ecommerce sites have a single goal: conversion. They will spend millions of dollars and tons of resources to improve their conversion rate – even if it’s testing the simplest thing such as the color of the ‘Confirm Purchase’ button. So how does website testing benefit informational sites? Whereas ecommerce sites strive to improve conversion rates, informational sites are focused on improving user experience metrics (time on site, pageviews per visit, bounce rate) and increasing revenue from advertising. Unfortunately, most independent website owners think that layout testing and improvement is something reserved for ecommerce sites. This is no longer the case. Testing your website’s layout is now necessary if you want to stay modern, Google-friendly, and ahead of the competition. Don’t get us wrong, we love old websites. But as much as we loved the 90’s, if the website still has the original layout then it’s time for an upgrade, especially for mobile and tablet devices. As exemplified by Amazon and other successful websites, testing is the best way to find the layouts that produce the best results, which in our case are improved usability and increased income. firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are a few basic tips/reminders you can try to improve your income from Adsense:
1. Use the most popular Adsense ad sizes, experiment with the new, bigger ad sizes and test their location on the page.
Picking adsizes that are popular with advertisers, you’ll get more competition for your inventory between advertisers and a higher cpc, so always keep plenty of wide ‘stock sizes’ on your site. The most popular ad sizes are popular with advertisers for a reason, they work better. A wide ad is better than a tall ad. This is because visitors read in chunks of a few words at a time and wider ads make more sense to an ad viewer (Adsense calls these word chunks ‘thought units’). Large rectangle 336×280 is the most popular for this, and it’s popular with advertisers, but there are newer ad sizes you should try. And even create your own, but always try them in new positions within your content to test what works best and in conjunction with item 5 below.
2. Quality Content attracts Quality Visitors
Sounds obvious, but it’s still the number one thing you can do to improve your site’s authority score and to earn more from Adsense ads is to add more, high quality, original content. The reason advertisers are buying clicks from users on your site is because your site’s visitors are highly engaged with your content. It’s not that your Roman History site will necessarily be showing ads for sandals - it’s more that the higher the engagement with your audience, the more likely the visitors are to be paying attention enough to see an ad and think about clicking on it. Visitors from organic search and from your email list are the best quality visitors you can get. Get more of them. The targeting of the ad is Google’s business. Your site’s Traffic Quality / Visitor Quality is yours.
3. Don’t kill the Goose that lays the golden eggs! Measure and improve your User Experience (UX) Metrics and keep monetization and UX in balance.
You want your ads to be seen, but you don’t want to spam out your users either. So how do you do that? Having too many ads ‘above the fold’ (the immediately visible portion of a typical screen size) is bad and will damage your site. So how many is too many? Google’s advice on this is to keep your ad density from overpowering your user’s attention away from your content.
Here’s how we do it at Ezoic – monitor and improve your bounce rate, page views per visit, or average session time by testing new layouts and ad positions at the same time. If you balance your ad income metrics (income per thousand visits is what we use at Ezoic) against your UX scores for your site, then you can keep your site from being too ‘ad heavy’. If the UX metrics are improving and your income is also up – you know you’re striking the right balance. This of course also applies to Mobile as well as desktop.
4. Keep up to date with Adsense best practice and keep it clean!
As my Grandmother used to say ‘Honesty is the best policy’. Don’t do anything to kill the quality of your advertisers’ clicks (or kill your content quality).
Avoid any ad implementations that could lead to accidental clicks and ALWAYS keep within the Adsense guidelines. Keep your content family friendly, always attribute any quotes or content that isn’t original, don’t click on your own ads and never, ever be tempted to try anything that could dilute your traffic quality. You can be sure Google’s seen it all before and with the data they have access to – they will catch you.
5. Methodically Test your Fonts, Colors, Borders.
Bigger font sizes work best, Google’s default palette is a good one to use, but test, test, test your fonts, colors and borders. It’s not the case that one method works for all sites. The quality of your upstream traffic (whether most of your users are coming from Google, Bing etc or if they are arriving on your site from Facebook) affects how the page should be laid out and what the ads should look like.
Summary: Test, test, test!
In our experience if you keep testing layout and ad position placements on desktop mobile and tablet, you can generate 50-250% more income from exactly the same content (whilst improving UX). All you need is the data, time, patience and tools.
- Write great content – update regularly
Content is King – a bit of a cliché maybe, but it is still absolutely true. Your content is the reason people come to your site and quality/quantity of content is also among the main factors in search engine ranking. Visitors don’t come because they like the look of the site, or because you have some fancy transitions for images etc. It’s all about the content. Adding new content and ensuring existing content is updated so it remains relevant is extremely important for influencing search engine rankings and gaining traffic . Quality, relevant content establishes your site as an authority in your subject area. Visitors will learn to appreciate the content and its credibility — so will the major search engines and you will be rewarded with search traffic. So build great quality content, keep it up to date and add new content regularly. If you build it (and maintain it) they will come!
- Test different layouts – position of advertisements, menus, social media etc.
Layout has a real, measurable impact on user experience and on how your users engage with your advertisers. A menu placed at the top, or to the left rather than to the right of a page can make a big difference to the ease of navigation through your pages. Same with positions of ads – placing a MPU advert directly above the start of your content can be much more effective than, say, a large skyscraper over on the right. But beware, each site is different, what works for one site and its users may not be as effective on another.
Impact of testing change of advert position
Many publishers are concerned that advert positions may have an impact on user experience – they are right! But a prominent advert is not necessarily detrimental to user experience. To determine what works best you really need to run some tests, either A/B, or multivariate tests. Some of the results are entirely counter-intuitive too. What might seem like an intrusive advert may actually result in improved user experience metrics. Again, not always, and to make sure testing is the only way to be sure. Either way, spend some time determining the aim of your site – i.e. what is it you are trying to improve? Then design, set-up the test, wait for the results and analyze what they mean for your site. A/B testing, where you test response to one layout versus another can be extremely effective, but there is always the risk that one metric improves while another gets worse, so it can be difficult to isolate the causes of changes in metrics. Another way to test is to run a multivariate test – here many elements on several different layouts are being tested simultaneously. This does need higher levels of traffic than A/B testing and again it may be difficult to determine causality but this way you know which of several layouts best suit your visitors’ preferences while matching your aims for the site. Testing can be hard, but it really is essential if you want to strike the correct balance between content, layout, user experience and revenue.
- Get mobile
The growth of mobile browsing shows no sign of slowing down. This year, more browsing will take place on mobile devices than on laptops/desktop computers. Sadly, many mobile sites are simply miniaturized versions of the desktop site. Text is so small that it can’t be read without expanding the text, so you lose where you are on a site. Links are so narrow and close together that it’s virtually impossible to click on the link you want (‘fat thumb’ syndrome!) Also you often have to click through many pages before reaching the content you want.
A modern mobile site will have a drop down, expanding menu with legible text and thumb friendly links and buttons. Users can navigate within the site straight from the home page without downloading content they are not looking for, saving them time and megabytes on their download plan. As you can see from this example, you can navigate into the 4th level without leaving the homepage.
New Mobile Menu Sequence
Furthermore, modern mobile sites needs to more than resize for mobile. It needs to be responsive, or adapt, to the screen size it is being browsed on. Navigation, adverts, content, images, data tables etc. all need to be configured for each user dependent on screen size and device.
- Pay attention to download speeds
Download speed is always important, but even more so on mobile sites. Information is being requested often via narrow bandwidth carriers and assembled by slower processors than in a high-spec laptop or desktop using high speed broadband or wifi. Innovative techniques can be employed to speed up mobile downloads. These include cloud serving and CDNs, eliminating unnecessary rendering code, loading popular pages first (known as lazy loading and so on. To deliver a great user experience on mobile minimizing download speeds is vital.
- Promote via social networks
Sharing is caring! How often have you read that on a site? Making sharing on social networks is the name of the game. Your users are on them, and sharing sites via social networks, often from mobile to mobile. Make sure your mobile site encourages sharing and makes it easy for users on mobile to comment and like you site Be more social! Get linked-in, like Facebook, show interest in Pinterest and don’t be afraid to twitter on about your subject. The internet audience is fragmented more than ever, so to reach your audience you need to be accessible on all the channels they use to access the internet. The easier it is for users to interact with your mobile site, the more mobile users you will attract.
Which website to launch next?
Looking for a new website idea? Interested in making some good money from your website?
There is no secret formula to be successful online, but we think if you follow these guidelines you are more likely to succeed! Here’s a few tips - take it or leave it! Your call
1. You have to be passionate about the topic.
We think this is by far the most important factor to consider. Building a site is a big commitment, similar to a marriage! You need to like the topic of the content (a lot!) and feel comfortable with it, as you are going to be spending a ton of time both writing content and answering questions about the subject.
2. Is your topic #trending?
Are you choosing a subject that is growing in popularity or steadily declining in terms of the number of requests in search engines? There are many ways to check, but Google Trends is a good one.
You can also get an idea of the interest from users by using Google Keyword. If you don’t already have a Google Adwords account, you’ll need to open one to check the interest level of your keywords.
Google Adwords includes a ‘Search popularity’ feature, which shows the number of searches for a keyword that meet your criteria. Use it to get an idea of how much monthly traffic you can expect on average from a keyword if you add it to a campaign. Remember, you will get most of your traffic from SEO (I guess) but looking at the number of requests is a good trick to get a flavor of the demand from Google visitors.
3. What is your earning potential?
There are many factors that affect how much your site will earn from advertising, however you can get a general idea of what the going rate is for your space.
To get an idea, take a look at the CPC range for your keywords/space. Here is an example of categories where advertisers are paying high CPC. Remember, there are many other factors that determine how much you can earn (competition for the keyword, time of year, amount of traffic, click thru rate, etc.), but looking at the CPC will give you an idea of your potential earnings.
4. Look at the competition from a publisher’s perspective.
Type your main keywords into Google and look at the number of answers that come up for this request. This will give you an idea of the competition for that topic. Browse through the results from the first page of Google. Keep in mind that BIG content publishers (e.g about.com, ehow.com, yahoo.com, etc) will be a challenge to compete with, as these companies have lot of tools and big teams to produce content (and they dominate SEO tactics).
To make sure you don’t miss any good keywords for your topic when you run this quick analysis/benchmark, you can use websites like SEM Rush
5. We think a good niche site starts with a good URL!
Make sure to find a URL that has a few relevant keywords in it. Although this isn’t as important nowadays as it has been in the past for SEO, it may still carry some weight in major search engine algorithms. So, if you can, secure a relevant, keyword-friendly URL.
Free information on tap
We are truly lucky to live the digital age, where access to information on just about any subject imaginable is available at the click of a mouse, jab of a finger, or wave of a hand! And this information is – for the most part -free. Whether you’re looking for information about brain chemistry, gardening advice or to find that single elusive ‘fact’, you’ll most likely use Google or another major search engine and get an answer almost instantaneously.
We are now able to sidestep hours spent at the library. Thanks to the internet, we have free access to unprecedented amounts of information – anywhere and anytime. But generating that information is not free – most of it is created by an army of dedicated experts and enthusiasts writing content, curating information and maintaining millions of excellent, authoritative and credible informational sites.
Free ain’t actually free!
Yup– free content isn’t actually free. Creating that information involves costs: someone, somewhere, invested time, effort, brain power, computer resources etc. to share their information with the world.
There are millions of informational sites out there with tens, even hundreds of thousands of professors, experts and communities who regularly add to the massive body of knowledge on the web. As a fair trade for this ‘free’ information, adverts are found on most pages of the internet, and if you click on an advert or two while visiting those sites, you’re supporting someone who is providing the world with a ‘free’ resource.
Advertising is not a dirty word!
Advertising can sometimes attract bad press from publishers and visitors alike. Yet the relationship between all stakeholders is symbiotic – publishers gain revenue, advertisers sell their products and services, and users enjoy free access to the content of the site. Quite often, advertisements actually enhance the user experience. Let me explain – There are broadly two types of online advertising classifications: contextual and re-targeting.
Contextual ads: On some sites, adverts are related to the content of the site – so adverts can help to focus the site, elevate its purpose and reinforce the value of the content in that niche. For example, take a website, say on nursing techniques. It’s likely that the adverts may well be for medical equipment, pharmaceuticals or nursing schools – all of which have direct relevance to the site’s content and are likely to be of interest to the majority of visitors.
Re-targeting ads: Online adverts are increasingly being tailored to the individual reader based on his or her browsing preferences. Say for example you keep meaning to buy flowers for your Mom (or Mum) for Mother’s day. You took a look at a flower delivery site but got distracted and didn’t buy the bouquet. Mother’s day approaches, you still haven’t bought, but the increasingly urgent adverts that follow you as you browse finally motivate you to order the flowers in the nick of time to be delivered on the day. So adverts can even help to manage your life – and keep you in your Mom’s good books!
The quality of adverts is becoming very high, to the point where some enhance the on-site experience. Think of visiting a car enthusiasts’ site – your visitors you get great information on cars, engines, specifications etc. – but some of the extra enjoyment can come from a video of a car they might really like, or for a racing event or recently released movie – these professionally produced fillips can be a real pleasure to watch (think of the superb videos produced for the annual Superbowl!) – I’m not suggesting the adverts subvert the importance of the content, merely that they can support the delivery of information of interest on the site’s subject matter.
Many visitors, if being honest, will admit they’ve clicked on an advert that has helped them obtain some goods and services – who hasn’t? I’ll be willing to bet they’ve often done so at the last minute possible too. I’m guessing they have even smiled at some of the creativity behind some of the adverts, and enjoyed your site all the more for them. So carefully selected and positioned adverts can, and often do, enhance user experience while generating a valuable revenue stream for the owner.
Free Content is Fair!
So as you can see, advertising is part of a symbiotic relationship between website owners, advertisers and visitors. Visitors understand the reason for, and benefit of, placing adverts on websites and accept this as a price to pay for free access to information. As a website owner, you should be rewarded for providing exceptional content for free – advertising does that and can incentivize and motivate you to create more great quality, authoritative, information that your visitors want. It’s a win-win for everyone – so relax – it’s OK to place and enjoy adverts!
Content – publishers – advertising – visitors: it’s all part of this great informational ecosystem called the web. Aren’t we lucky to be living in this fantastic digital age!
For many of us, our best ideas don’t come to us when we are in a boardroom or sitting at a desk — they tend to come to us when nothing else is occupying our minds. For me, the problem with this reality is that it is a rare occasion when work or the kids isn’t consuming the vast majority of my mindshare – so the only time that I seem to “free” from distractions is when I’m sleeping (or supposed to be).
What this means is that my best ideas ,and ultimately my best work ,come to me suddenly, without notice, in the middle of the night. When I was younger, I used to fight it and roll around for hours on end while my mind fought to get it’s ideas across over and over and over again. As I grew older, I picked up on a trick that usually enables me to have my cake and eat it too — notes! When I now have my “idea” nights, I’ll quickly jot down (ok, actually in my phone), the ideas and any important details thereof and.. presto… my mind stops worrying that I’ll forget and lets me get some sleep. It’s been highly effective for me and I highly recommended it to other’s when you have that idea or are worrying about things that you need to do, may have forget, etc.
Of course, it doesn’t always work, as it didn’t last night when I woke up at 2am. But, for those nights, I go to my fallback — a Venti Pike Place.
Ever wondered about the differences between Ad Networks and Ad Exchanges? Here’s a quick overview.
Unlike TV or radio (broadcast) adverts that will be seen by lots of people viewing or listening to the same channel or station, internet audiences are spread across an incredibly diverse and large number of websites, large and small. While broadcast advertisers can predict the popularity and ranking of the shows fairly accurately, and know exactly what time their adverts will be transmitted, internet viewing happens around the clock so it is hard to predict when a person will browse a certain site, or how many might be on a particular site at any given time. Media analysts refer to this as a ‘fragmented audience.’
Ad networks were set up in the late 1990s to address the problem of getting adverts to be seen by large numbers of people viewing on wide spectrum of sites. Advertisers wishing to reach lots of people could not easily do a deal with hundreds of website owners that have millions of viewers, or reserve advertising space on many different websites.
Advertising networks ‘aggregate’ the inventory (the space in a site where adverts are shown) from many websites and offer that space to advertisers. Often this is done by working with an advertiser to offer a certain amount of views on websites in their network (cpm). The advertisers determine how much they wanted to pay for how many views and the networks place the adverts. The adverts are often known as a creative, and the amount, price and preferred placement of ads is called a campaign.
The key thing here is that the ad network has to forecast the amount of space (or inventory) that will be available and negotiate rates in advance of when the adverts will be shown. The companies have to agree to a certain amount of inventory at a given price for a set period.
Ad networks are now less likely to be used exclusively, as the inefficiencies of pre-selling (shortfalls/surpluses) make it a fast outmoded method of selling advertising.
Ad networks can be placed, broadly, into one of 3 categories:
- Representative – the ad networks buy all the inventory from a select group of publishers e.g Glam, Federated Media, Gorilla Nation.
- Vertical – ad networks that specialize in buying/selling inventory in a narrow interest field (e.g. healthcare, fashion, pets etc.) e.g. Gourmet Ads, Fidelity Media, Dogtime Media.
- Targeted – lets advertisers buy inventory by audience type (demographic, interest, context) or by transaction type (clicks vs views etc.) e.g. Adsense, Conversant, Casale Media.
Some networks operate across the categories, particularly to sell un-reserved or un-sold inventory.
In summary, an advertising network is a way of placing adverts, in advance, on single or multiple websites in a networked arrangement.
Due to the number of potential intermediaries (and reselling of unused inventory cheaply), the ad network methodology is fading away — it’s inherently inefficient. Ad exchanges are now gaining ground because they minimize losses caused by these value chain inefficiencies. They do this by auctioning the inventory and making it available to advertisers in real time. The transaction takes place in an instant , while the page on which the advert will show is loading, and goes to the highest bidder every time in a fraction of a second. This process is know as ‘real-time bidding’ (or RTB.) When a visitor to a site loads a page, the ad exchange runs an auction between all advertisers competing for the inventory available on that page.
Ad exchanges reduces the number of parties in the ‘value chain’ to a single point of contact between the publisher and those buying the space. It also provides data that allows advertisers to compare the ‘quality’ of the inventory, allowing the best price to be paid for the best spots, on websites that do well for a particular type of advert. So the publisher gets the best price while the advertiser gets the prime spots on the best performing websites. Because this process happens in real time, it allows advertisers to measure how effective their strategies and campaigns are, and react quickly to alter their bids to improve results.
Examples of Ad Exchanges are Google’s Double Click Ad Exchange, Yahoo Ad Exchange, Turn, MediaMath, Criteo, Trade Desk, Rubicon, Rocketfuel and OpenXMarket.
So – what is the difference?
In an ad network inventory tends to be offered in advance, with numbers of impressions decided along with the price, and requires a good deal of planning involving many intermediaries and partners. Unused inventory is often resold at a low price. An ad exchange, on the other hand, offers space for sale on a competitive, real time basis and the prices paid are more reflective of the market value of the inventory. This results in more realistic prices and less unsold inventory.
So, the main difference is the way advertising inventory is offered for sale. In a network there is a manual process of negotiation, while in an exchange, an online, automated, real-time auction takes place.
Which one is right for me?
Ad Exchanges operate a much more efficient marketplace, especially now that buyers are using better software to find better quality ads. They will usually sell your ads for a better rate, but they operate within quite complicated systems with lots of publishers’ ads for advertisers to choose from. Ad networks are more straightforward and manual, but are slowly losing market share to ad exchanges (in fact most vertical ad networks are now moving towards becoming private ad exchanges).
Pick your partners carefully; you need to make sure your site’s ads get offered to the most bidders, whether those are fixed prices, or bids. So if you use an ad network exclusively (for selling all your ads), try to chose one that will list your unsold inventory on an exchange for you after they fill your premium slots. Your ad rates ultimately depend upon the profile of your site’s visitors and their propensity to buy things online (your overall ‘traffic quality’) — but that’s something for another blog!
“What is user experience?”
It’s one of those questions where everyone you ask seems to have a different answer.
Put simply it’s ‘the experience your visitor has when they browse your website or use your product’.
There’s countless other explanations out there, that try and complicate this as much as possible but ‘the experience your visitors has when they browse your website or use your product’ is always at the core of them.
User experience is such a broad term, that it can pretty much apply to anything. So…
What is good user experience for an informational website?
If you have an information website then you most likely started it because you want to share information around something you’re knowledgeable and passionate about.
So you want to make your website is as simple and easy as possible to use, so your visitors end up reading more of the information you share with them.
What does that look like?
Let’s compare two versions of your website. One with poor user experience and one with good user experience.
Scenario 1) A visitor lands on your website. It’s a horrible color. Navigation is hidden or non existent. Finding the information they want is like hacking a path through a rainforest.
This visitor is not having a great experience browsing your website = Bad user experience.
Scenario 2) A visitor lands on your website. It’s a simple, clean cut design with obvious navigation. It’s easy to browse and find the information you’ve shared. The path through the rainforest has been cleared for them.
They are having a great experience browsing your website = Good user experience.
It’s not uncommon for website owners to find themselves in a conversation around ‘improving their user experience’. The problem starts when they’ve heard ‘user experience’ mentioned so many times, it feels familiar but they don’t have a crystal clear understanding of what it actually means.
Hopefully this has helped turn ‘user experience’ from another piece of jargon, into something you have a better understanding of and see as useful.
Opinion polls are an essential tool in policy determination, workers’ councils and 360 degree assessments steer working practices and focus groups inform design and function. But often the voice of the masses is counter-intuitive to current industry opinion.
One famous example, quoted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’, is Herman Miller’s Aeron chair. At a time when powerful executives had huge mahogany desks and opulent leather chairs this bare-bones, almost alien, design was set to fail, according to industry experts. Now it and its imitators are to be found in almost every office.
Why has it become so successful, despite initial expert industry opinion? Simply because it is loved by its users!
Website owners and developers traditionally make huge efforts with design to attract visitors to their site and to make accessing their content a pleasurable experience. But consider how a user finds a site, and why they are looking for it in the first place. When visitors search for content, the designs are not shown on search engine results, relevant search content is. So site design is simply not a factor in attracting visitors to a site.
Some believe that the look of the site will generate return visits. Measured data from over 20 Million unique users per month to Ezoic improved sites (which is also compared with control data from the original sites) shows this is not the case. Visitors ‘vote’ for the Ezoic variant they like best by their behavior on the site (time on site, page views per visit, bounce rates.) The data proves that access to relevant content and ease of navigation trumps an ‘aesthetically pleasing’ design every time.
It can be difficult for a site owner or designer, particularly an experienced one, to admit that an automatic layout technology platform can generate better performing layouts than they can, but in doing so the site owner respects the expressed desires of the visitors. It is the ease of navigation and overall experience that will bring a visitor back again rather than any one particular look. Remember Ezoic measures and compares performance of many variants simultaneously, something that cannot be achieved manually. Every time a visitor lands on an Ezoic site, they immediately give real-time, measurable feedback on what they like (and don’t like) about the site. No need for surveys, comments forms etc.
So much like Herman Miller’s chair, the initial idea may be counter-intuitive to those in the industry, i.e. site owners, but the visitors are showing clearly that they prefer Ezoic optimized layouts. Customers know what they like – we should listen to them – like Herman Miller did!