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How to A/B test AdSense revenue using custom channels

Revenue from Google AdSense can be increased in two ways: either increasing total traffic on your page to have more ad impressions available OR optimizing click-through-ratio (CTR) on ads. There are a ton of variables that can affect CTR (and thus the performance of AdSense): number of ads on page, location of ad units, unit type, unit size, color scheme, etc. Because of such a large number of variables, optimizing ad revenue becomes a difficult task.

A/B testing different configurations of AdSense using Visual Website Optimizer is a great way to increase revenue. By testing different aspects of your ad units, you get to know which ones make impact on your revenue. However, split testing AdSense presents some unique challenges:

  • The goal is to not just increase number of clicks, rather an increase in revenue. Google doesn’t provide an API for this, so it is difficult to get this data into a 3rd party app such as Visual Website Optimizer
  • Google AdSense Terms of Services has various caveats (such as not modifying it to track clicks, not more than 3 units per page) which make working it a bit difficult

Recently, one of our customers, Nick Taylor from BrightHub setup a split URL test for AdSense and told us how he did it so that others can benefit from his approach. In his own words:

Right – I understand that it’s not possible to track clicks within an IFRAME. So my work around is to create custom adsense channels/tags that only run against specific tests. VWO won’t be able to tell us the adsense click/revenue data however once I log-in to our adsense dashboard and I run a filtered report specific to the adsense channel tag I was running in my test. I can then collect all that data and tie it back to my test (using a report I’m putting together in excel). The key is that you have to setup AdSense tags specific to each test variant and ensure that when that test variant gets served to the user that you are also showing the user the correct adsense channel specific tag. Because I’m doing simple url split testing and I’m not getting crazy with multi-variant tests we’re able to accomplish this fairly easy. It does take a couple extra steps but it does give me the ability to track AdSense data for each VWO test variant.

In fact, Google itself advocates using custom channels for A/B testing. Here is the AdSense support page: What is A/B testing and how do I do it?

Nick provided with a (fake) screenshot of how channel reports look like while doing A/B testing:

As an example, here are three different templates of articles that BrightHub will be testing using Visual Website Optimizer:

If you are a publisher, you can either test only a specific page on your website and then adopt winning layout site-wide. Or, you can generate different layouts from your backend (depending on URL parameter, e.g. ?version=b), you can use Visual Website Optimizer’s site-wide testing feature to do split URL test across many different pages at a time. Then all you have to do is to look at your channel reports to determine the winning layout.

We wish BrightHub success for their A/B testing their AdSense revenue. If you have any ideas or experience of split testing AdSense revenue, please let us know. We are always eager to know (and write about) how people optimize their ad revenue!

Founder and CEO of Wingify.

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