Last updated: July 7th 2016
However you spin it, AdSense is still the biggest ad network out there. If you’re using it on your website, but still not making enough money? There are ways to change that. Raising your CPCs is one of them.
Google AdSense is in many ways like the stereotype of an angry girlfriend. They WANT you to make more money from their ads on your website. Of course they do – they get almost a third of what advertisers pay them for every click. But much like the stereotypical angry girlfriend, they are not about to tell you you what you’re doing wrong. Or how to fix it. No, they want you to figure it out yourself.
You already know the basics of the equation for a mutually beneficial relationship with Google AdSense. AdSense earnings rise when your audience and website traffic grow in size. Then you maximize revenue from each visitor by increasing your CTR. But why do CPCs stay low, or drop over time? If you already know why, scroll down to the tips on how to raise them.
Why is my AdSense CPC low?
- Geography –
The prices of mobile phones vary around the world. So do the prices of clicks. If your blog targets an audience in a country where clicks are cheap, your costs-per-click will suffer accordingly.
- Niche –
Sometimes your audience just doesn’t convert. Or click. Or see the ads at all because they use ad-blockers religiously. Also, some niches have lower average CPCs that others. While real-estate blogs might enjoy relatively high CPCs, gaming blogs tend to suffer more from low CPCs.
- Programmatic media buys –
Programmatic buying is a lucrative opportunity for advertisers. So some big fish are swimming away from Google AdWords. To top that, algorithm-based RTB lets brands get more bang for their buck, which leaves more lower-paying ads for you.
- Mobile –
I don’t need to tell you how much traffic comes from mobile. Odds are, you are reading this on a mobile device. Or you got here through a notification on your mobile device. If your website isn’t mobile friendly enough? Google will make you pay in CPC values, not just SERPs.
- Video –
Video ads are all the rage, but they are a double-edged sword when it comes to your CPC. Even if you never displayed one. According to Google, TrueView YouTube ads have caused a significant drop in CPCs all across the board. The lucrative placement of video ads is now accessible to all advertisers. By putting them on YouTube rather than your website, Google just gets to keep more of the money advertisers pay.
- Poor targeting –
Not all advertisers know what they are doing. Actually, some of them are pretty clueless. They might think it’s the best idea to target vegan blogs with an ad for a steak-house. We both know this kind of carpet-bombing targeting will just lead to sad-looking CTRs and CPCs for publishers. But many advertisers just want more clicks for less cash. And you end up losing.
- Blocked advertisers –
You obviously don’t want your competitors (or premium sponsors) advertising on your website through AdSense. So you add them to the blocked advertisers list in your AdSense account. But of course there’s a catch: Google AdSense penalizes you for it. Blocking even one advertiser can lower competition over your whole inventory.
- It’s the economy, stupid –
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed that world economy is not doing that great. Between the US deficit and the fun in Greece – Google still has to show profits. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that Google AdSense revenue sharing dropped by 50 percent in the past decade.
- Seasonality –
Your cost-per-click can fluctuate wildly during holiday or election seasons. When advertiser budgets change, so does your CPC. Sometimes advertisers just want to show their client as many clicks as they can. Even if they’re low quality. They throw money at cheap clicks and since Google wants all their budget – they’ll shove those ads anywhere.
- Publisher Coalitions are gobbling up premium ads –
Large publishers in some countries are forming coalitions, sharing data and revenues. And this trend is just growing. These coalitions attract brands and advertisers who simply don’t trust Google to keep their brand protected from bad placement. These coalitions put the squeeze on Google, which leaves you with lower quality ads to display.
- Size and quantity of ads –
Some ads pay better than others. Not using the best converting sizes or having too many or too few ad units can lower your CPC.
- Improper ad placement –
As much as Google wants your users to click ads, they also want to prevent publishers from tricking users into clicking. AdSense ad placement policies are there to prevent fraud, but it’s too easy to accidentally break a rule and lose revenue over it.
- Smart Pricing –
If the clicks on the ads placed on your blog or newsletter don’t convert into business transactions? Google “smart prices” pretty much your whole account. And your CPCs can drop drastically as a result.
How Can I Increase Google AdSense CPC?
- Target high paying keywords –
Much of Google’s advertising still relies on keywords for ad serving. This is great for you as a publisher because this allows you to target higher paying keywords regardless of your audience and niche. You should already be optimizing your AdSense keyword performance like a stockbroker. Another thing you might want to do is include high paying keywords in content you create. Some keywords can bring hundreds of dollars per click, and you don’t have to bend over backwards to include them in your content. For example, any blog post related to any kind of lawsuit might trigger ads from one of the most lucrative keyword categories in the US – legal ads. Other lucrative keyword categories are loans, mortgages, insurance and rehab. To me, none of these are particularly cheerful or fascinating subjects, but I’ll throw in a lawyer joke for potentially higher CPCs. Wouldn’t you? But seriously, always keep in mind, it’s one thing to have a high paying ad appear on your website, it’s another thing to get clicks. For that, it’s not enough to simply throw in a few keywords. The page and website have to provide relevant and quality content otherwise you will get hit with Smart Pricing algorithms (more on Smart Pricing further down).
- Target long tail keywords –
Lawyer jokes will only get you so far. If you want to be especially effective at targeting high paying keywords, you need to research. You can use tools like SEMrush or LongTailPro to do it. Find the highest paying phrases that are relevant to your audience, and include them in your content. But be careful there – don’t sacrifice content quality in favor of higher CPCs.
- Promote high-revenue content –
You might notice that some content brings more revenue on AdSense and higher CTRs and CPCs than other content. Investing some of that revenue in bringing more traffic to those pages or promoting them on your homepage will raise them for your entire inventory. In addition, it’s always a smart idea to keep digging where you find gold. If you find that articles on a specific topic or types of content bring in higher CPCs? Make more of those.
- Smart Pricing –
Paying for clicks is so very last decade. Today, smart advertisers want high ROI – actual clients of value. To make this happen, Google estimates the likelihood of conversion for the advertiser when it picks an ad to serve and a place to serve it. The CPC value is based on that likelihood. Many publishers fear that being “Smart Priced” by Google will hurt their earnings. But you can make it work to your advantage. How? By bringing quality traffic to your quality content and displaying relevant ads. The more clicks turn into clients – the more AdSense will pay you for each click.
- Use the best performing ad sizes –
Many experts claim to know just which sizes and placements give the highest CPC. Even Google tell you which ad sizes (supposedly) work best. In my experience, this differs not only between layouts and languages, but also platforms (mobile, tablet and desktop). The best way to figure out which ad sizes give you the highest CPC is to play around with the various options.
- Use the AdSense Ad Review Center –
We’ve already established that some advertisers are clueless. So they design awful-looking ads with bad copy that no one wants to click on. Unless you’re a huge fan of 1990s style blinking animation banner ads – you can just block them. This will give you control of what products and brands are promoted alongside your content. Choose to display only ads from high paying advertisers.
(Yes, that was awkward)
- Use the Competitive Ad Filter –
Much like the Ad Review Center, the Competitive Ad Filter is aimed at filtering out unwanted ads. In this case, those of your competitors. You can block specific domains or whole AdSense accounts. This doesn’t just increase your CPC, but prevents your audience from ending up on competitors’ websites.
- Mobile friendly setup –
Not only is this critical for SEO, but if you want to capitalize on the mobile ad bonanza? You need to monetize for mobile. Some advertisers pay more for mobile clicks, and others advertise exclusively on mobile (like mobile app install ads and local businesses targeting a geographic area). Dynamic ads are one way to be mobile-friendly. Another is to create separate ad units for mobile, more suited to your content layout on the little screens.
- Target high paying regions –
Multilingual diversification is wonderful if you want to aim for an international market. Do that if you can, and aim for high CPC regions like Norway, Sweden, Netherlands and Japan. You will need to purchase local domain addresses and create localized content, but it might be worth the investment. In addition, you can segment your existing audience by location like city or state, not just country or language. Some advertisers (like small businesses) aim at potential clients in their vicinity. And some neighbouring cities can have vast differences in average CPCs.
- Display relevant ads –
Google is Google, so AdSense optimization is in many ways similar to SEO. You want to make your website as crawlable as possible for Google’s bots to allow AdSense to serve the most relevant ads. This means all the boring technical sides of SEO – headings, formatting, meta tags and such. In addition, if your website has a members only section, you should give Google AdSense access to scanning the content of those pages. Doing this ensures your audience gets the best performing ads on pages normally hidden from search engines. Another thing to try is turning off interest based-ads (remarketing ads) to try and serve more contextual ads. This can increase your CPC, depending on your niche.
- Make content matching easy –
Although Google still reserves this feature for larger publishers only, if you can get Matched Content units in your Adsense – do it. By replacing your existing article recommendation engine with Google’s, you’re letting Google promote relevant and revenue-generating content to your visitors. And Google knows more about your visitors than you do. In addition, it stands to reason that Google will at some point turn this unit into a content recommendation service to compete with Taboola and Outbrain. Which may become another source of AdSense revenue for you.
- Enable placement targeting –
An advertiser will pay more for quality placement. It’s why you like to keep your premium inventory close to the chest. Google wants to make it easier for advertisers to target specific areas of your website (like the sports or the fashion section) or specific formats (like video ads only). You can do this by grouping ads into Custom Channels – you can have up to 500 of them. You can even let advertisers target up to 500 specific URLs, giving them easier access to relevant content for their ads.
- Link your Analytics and AdSense accounts –
AdSense shows your neat reports and gives you plenty of information. However, Analytics gives you much more. You can see “hot spots” on your pages where visitors click more. And you can see where your high CPC traffic is coming from and where it’s located. If you haven’t connected your Google Analytics and AdSense accounts – do so.
- Get more Googley –
Linking Analytics isn’t enough. Google likes dedication and prioritizes “loyal” publishers over others accordingly. Don’t have Google Webmaster Tools yet? You should. Local business? Create a Google Business account. Don’t have a YouTube channel yet? That’s a whole revenue source you’re missing out on! The more you snuggle up to Google, the more AdSense will “trust” you with their higher-paying advertisers.
- Mix and Match –
Google AdSense encourages you to try new things with your ads. It’s a feature called “Experiments” that lets you A/B tests different versions of ad formats, advertisers and ad networks. You’d be surprised how much subtle changes like background color or font type can change the CPC of the same link unit. We too encourage testing and optimization adventures. Move the ad units around. Change sizes. Change color schemes. Block some ad categories. Keep what works and try something else with what doesn’t work. If you feel that AdSense experiments aren’t easy to create and don’t provide enough of a lift in your earnings try AdNgin experiments that use bandit testing to increase AdSense earnings.
When all else fails try a different approach. The above suggestions are mostly designed to increase demand for your ad inventory by making it more desirable to more and higher paying advertisers. But, if all else fails, instead of trying to increase demand you can reduce supply by reducing the number of ads on your domain. That’s right! Reducing the number of ad units offered to advertisers on your website can increase CPC. It’s a simple case of supply and demand.
Making the most of every click
AdSense optimization is a combination of science and art. On the science side – numbers and charts and experiments. But the art is the creativity in combining strategies and diversifying them to maximize revenues and keep traffic flowing. An equation in the depths of Google AdSense servers decides how much you’ll earn. CPC is just one of the components in that mysterious equation, but with your quality content and the tips above? You can steer your relationship with Google AdSense to be more profitable for everyone involved.
The complete guide to UX for AdSense publishers
- Why should AdSense publishers care about UX?
- How to improve UX and increase ad revenue
- How to improve CTR by using less ads