What happened to my ad earnings?
If you’re reading this there is a good chance you’re in the first stage of trying to figure out why your ad earnings from Adsense — or any number of different ad networks — have dropped. You’re not the first person to experience this issue, and as you’re probably aware, there are a lot of things to consider when answering the question. Below, we will share with you the most common — and therefore mostly likely — reasons why ad earnings dropping could be occurring on your site.
How to use this information about ad earnings…
As you will see below, in some of the common scenarios for why ad earnings drop, there is a lot of variability from site to site. There are notebooks full of strange one-off stories as to why ad earnings may have dropped for certain sites over the years. However, as a Google Adsense partner and as a testing platform provider to over +20,000 sites worldwide, there seem to be several common themes that can be easily identified as a reason why ad revenue could be in decline.
Some of the items below will require no effort. They may be due to something outside of your control. Others will require careful analysis and minimal action. And some will require a significant amount of effort to recover the former ad earning potential of your site. Let’s begin.
Consult the Ad Revenue Index first
Before reading through all the things you should be observing and all the techniques you can use to combat a slump, you should first consult The Ad Revenue Index. This will tell you how the marketplace is doing overall (perhaps everyone is dropping, not just you).
If your ad earnings drop is only from AdSense ad units (even if you’re using DFP or AdX), you could be affected by the Google Two-Click AdSense penalty. That link will tell you how to identify and fix that problem if it is the root of your cause.
If ad earnings are dropping, why?
Is seasonality the primary cause?
Let’s be honest, this is what you were hoping for when you found this article. This is the best case scenario for publishers. If your ad earnings have dropped it’s possible that it is the net result of common ebb and flows throughout online advertising. While some sites are different from others, there is a common schedule for these fluctuations from our experience.
Consult the seasonality index and learn more about easily measuring yourself against seasonal trends here.
See why ad rates are usually lower at the beginning of the year here.
You can see these fluctuations in the chart below to determine if this is a potential possibility as to why your site earnings have dropped. One of the best ways to do this is to examine your historical Google Analytics or Adsense/Ad Network data to see if these kinds of moves are consistent YoY (if you have a few years worth of relevant data reference points).
Your data will be far more telling than the general data below. But for a number of reasons, your historical data may not be like comparing apples to apples.
Your data will be far more telling than this general data. But, if you’ve made significant changes over the last year (who hasn’t), then it’s possible you may be having trouble putting your finger on the exact root of the issue.
You can also look at traffic variations as a way of looking into this, but as you will read a little later, a drop in traffic could be evidence of a potentially more systemic issue. Verdict: Seasonality could ultimately be a single factor or a contributing factor in the decline of your overall ad earnings.
Could mobility be causing your ad earnings drop?
If you’ve been listening to Google — and the other major search engines — they have repeatedly shared that more and more web traffic is being initiated from mobile devices. This is a well-known fact and it is likely causing some degree of disturbance in your ad earnings; whether you know it or not.
Many publishers may know this already, but mobile ads and ad earnings are typically much less than what is experienced from traditional desktop site ads. If your audience is slowly moving toward experiencing your site on mobile more often than they previously were, it is extremely likely that mobility is influencing why your ad earnings are dropping.
I should warn you now if you experienced a steep and quick decline recently — you know, something that was totally not gradual — mobility is likely not the primary cause. Just like with seasonality, it could be contributing, but a telltale sign of mobile ad revenue drops are that they are typically not quick or dramatic.
Here’s a really good way to briefly look into this as the answer to your question, why are ad earnings dropping? Simply pull a Google Analytics report that looks at a month now and a year ago (or two years ago). Have the report look at the devices people use to access the site. It will show you the YoY percentage change which should help you determine if this is the issue or not.
See directions below…
To draw a report similar to the one above….
- Open Google Analytics
- Select a date range at the top (pick a month where things are consistent)
- In the date range selector at the top, check a box that says compare to: and select previous year from the drop down and click Apply
- Now use the menu on the left to navigate to Audience > Mobile > Overview
- The graph should display the YoY percentage change which should help you consider how much of a factor mobile is in your ad earnings dropping.
Mobility is on the rise and should not be ignored
Regardless of if this is the ultimate culprit of your recent ad earnings drop, mitigating the risks of an increasingly mobile internet experience on your site is important to dig into.
Mary Meeker’s recent internet trends report highlights this to a powerful degree. You can download the full presentation regarding the rise of mobile stats (specifically in the east) here.
Many publishers have made a living off of a largely desktop experience. I’ve also found that this is how most publishers typically view their own site, so it is the experience they are most familiar with. The problem is that as users take to mobile at a steady rate, publishers will often lose touch with just how different a mobile experience can be from a desktop experience.
The best way to ensure you don’t fall behind in this area is to test and evaluate your experiences on mobile. Here are some basic questions to ask yourself.
- Are bounce rates disproportionately high on certain pages?
- Is the time on site dramatically different on mobile?
- If you use SEMrush or Moz (see below for more details), do you rank the same in Google-Mobile as you do Google-Search?
- Is your site mobile friendly?
- Have you tested your ads on mobile to ensure they are optimally sized, placed, and configured? (more on this later…)
It’s your site traffic or page experiences
Unfortunately, this is the one you are probably the most worried about — and the one that is the most difficult to fully pin down. However, the are a number of common indicators that will allow you to quickly distinguish between some of the most common scenarios in which we see ad earnings dropping.
Steep decline in traffic
A massive drop in traffic a lot of times has to do with a misplaced tracking code. See below, the tracking code on this particular website disappeared off the front page and caused a massive drop in traffic; however, this cannot account for the loss in ad earnings. This is always important to check if traffic falls off of a cliff but ad revenue isn’t as dramatic.
Steep decline in revenue but not traffic
If site traffic is doing OK but ad earnings are declining steeply it might be a good time to look closely at the ads running on your site. It’s possible that one — or more — of the ads on your site are causing a bad user experience or causing them to bounce completely from certain pages.
It may be something like an autoplay video above the fold or an ad that cannot be closed properly inside of a mobile viewport. Both of these types of issues could be causing large impacts on ad earnings; especially if they are on a high traffic page. Here’s a simple way to check this using Google Analytics.
Step 1: Login to Google Analytics and find the property that you’d like to look into and select a date range that includes the full width of your ad earnings dip.
Step 2: Using the left-hand menu, navigate to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages
Step 3: Under the Explorer tab, select Bounce Rate from the drop down menu. This will allow you to see any collective variations in bounce rate that have occurred during the time period you selected. If there is a big shift, drill down to determine which pages may be affected the most.
Step 4: Identify pages with a high bounce rate and click those URL’s.
Step 5: One the drill down pages of each URL, under the Explorer tab, select Bounce Rate from the drop down menu.
Step 6: This should allow you to drill into your pages with the highest bounce rate to determine when the bounce rate increased (if it did at all).
This is one of the best ways to quickly identify if there is something on your pages or site that is directly affecting users causing them to bounce.
AD EARNINGS DROPPING DUE TO POOR AD POSITIONS?
If ad revenue is dropping — and traffic is not looking volatile and you can rule out one of the other above challenges — it could be your ad positions. Few people actually realize the dramatic impact that ad position has on their earnings. Numerous ads that are ill-formatted, with poor viewability metrics —and (potentially) from bad advertisers — might be damaging user experience. These are the most common reasons why earnings drop, yet traffic stays the same.
The only way to determine if this is the case is to test different ad positions manually. Most publishers hate this process because testing is hard, cumbersome, and takes lots of time. This is why Ezoic has become so popular, because it automates the testing process and makes all your ad positions dynamic (rather than static), so that they conform to the content and boost UX.
Publishers use Ezoic to test innumerable ad configurations to determine optimal distribution. This allows publishers to not only stop the decline in earnings but the ability to increase UX and revenue at the same time.
Steep decline in both revenue and traffic
If you’ve experienced a quick drop off in traffic and ad revenue, it’s time to work backward. Rarely do these kinds of things happen quickly without any cause that can’t be quickly identified.
If you’ve made any recent changes like launching a new website, changed hosts, implemented a new CMS etc. These should be culprit #1. A lot of times these will cause redirect, indexing, or crawl errors. If you launch a new site and do not set a canonical URL or redirect for the different variations of your URL (i.e. www.yoursite.com vs yoursite.com) these things could be configured to cause a redirect loop or 404 error that may be hurting you badly.
Additionally, if your URL’s have recently changed due to a new site launch — or another reason — it’s really important to look closely at your redirect spreadsheet. If you do not pass on your previous link history to the new ones, Google and other engines will see it as a completely new page.
Also, new CMS systems or site configurations may have accidentally non-indexed your important pages. This is an easy fix. In WordPress, there is usually a function down at the bottom of each page that will let you check this. If your pages are set to non-index they will not be crawled by search engines.
Steady decline in Organic traffic and ad earnings
If you are seeing a steady decline in both ad earnings and traffic over the course of weeks or months, you may have a more systemic issue worth closely considering. You may be losing organic traffic position; which I’m sure is one of your biggest concerns. Here’s how to quickly identify this.
Option 1: Pull a Google Analytics report that looks at overall traffic and organic traffic side by side. Simply pull session data over the timespan you’re considering and select segments “all users” and “organic traffic” at the top beneath the Explorer tab.
A steady decline in organic traffic is not what you are hoping for when you clicked this link. It is not a quick fix; however, it can be improved.
It’s important to focus on the basics; good quality content and strong on-page user experiences. It’s important to realize that these organic factors could be influenced by some of the other traffic issues above too.
A bad redirect, a mobile add that won’t close, etc. could be affecting things like bounce rate and time on site in a way that is negatively impacting SEO as much as it is revenue; making these things double whammies for your bottom line.
The Impact of Page Speed
I like the Google Developer tools because it offers insight as to what is slowing the site down.
Another good tool — but not a free tool — is Pingdom. It allows you to look at changes over time and closely monitor the things affecting your page speed. If this is indeed the culprit of your ad earnings dropping, then it might be worth investing more effort in keeping an eye on this.
If all look good, ensure it’s fast for everyone…
Just because the site is fast for you doesn’t mean its fast for everyone. It may be worth looking into a CDN to ensure that your site is equally as speedy for your distributed visitors.
A CDN (content delivery network) is a network of servers located in different parts of the globe that stores files to be used by your website visitors. By having your files on several servers across a geographical area you can make sure the user is loading files that are near them, not all the way across the country or ocean, which can slow down the site experience considerably.
You can read more here about the nuts and bolts of a CDN, how to set it up, and if you’re actually using it right now.
Wrapping it up
The variables that affect your ad revenue are innumerable; both positively and negatively. There are natural fluctuations in earnings, and publishers tend to overreact to small day to day changes; however it is important to get ahead of steep declines before the issue becomes worse.
If you are experiencing trouble with your traffic and ad revenue, reach out to the Ezoic team today. We’re a certified Google partner and our system helps publishers optimize user experiences and ad revenue every day.
Tyler is an award-winning digital marketer, SEO veteran, successful start-up founder, and well-known publishing industry speaker. Tyler also serves as the host of Pubtelligence, a publishers-only event hosted at Google offices around the globe. Tyler describes his core competency as learning. He has composed content for some of the world’s top publications and has over a decade of experience building businesses in the digital space. Tyler is currently the Head of Marketing at Ezoic and serves as an SEO and marketing expert for start-up competitions across the U.S.