Trent Lucier writes "Google depends on new content constantly being added to the web. No Google initiative has done a better job at encouraging new content than the AdSense/AdWords programs. Google Advertising Tools by Harold Davis is a book that teaches you to use these tools effectively." Read the rest of Trent's review.
For those wondering how Google made $6 billion last year without every charging you so much as a penny for all your searching, AdWords and AdSense are a big part of the answer. AdSense is the program that lets webmasters post targeted advertisements on their websites. When a visitor clicks the ad, both the webmaster and Google get some money. AdWords is the other side of the equation. It is the program by which merchants submit their ads and bid on ad rates. Google tries - and generally succeeds - at matching ads with the most relevant websites (that's the "target" in "targeted ads").
I have sympathy for anyone who has to write technical literature. Sometimes, the process can be like living in an M.C. Escher painting where you don't know which part of the stairs should come first. Davis must have felt this way too, since he provides a lot of background information before getting to the goods on Google. Before one can discuss AdSense, search engine optimization should be learned...but before that, driving traffic to a website is useful...but before that, you have to understand what makes riveting content. Perhaps this is why the chapters on AdWords and AdSense don't begin until page 141.
My interest is primarily in AdSense, and this book has some great tips for improving the relevancy of the ads that run on your site.
For example, META keywords always seemed useless to me, tossed into the dustbin of irrelevance by spammers. Davis, however, argues that keywords are worth using if your site doesn't contain a lot of text content. He provides an example of a site that is mostly made of images, and shows how the META keywords appear as the page's description in Google search results. This is good stuff if you run a tool-based site with little text-content and are having trouble teaching Google what your site is about.
Davis spends a lot of time explaining the AdSense and AdWords statistics and screens (the book does get a little pedantic with screenshot after screenshot). The almighty CTR (Click-Through Rate) is one of the most important statistics, representing what proportion of your visitors clicked on ads. I previously had no idea what was a good or bad CTR. Davis says that a good rate is 0.5% to 2% (with the latter being a homerun). "If your CTR is consistently below 0.5%...your traffic is going to waste."
That's a good tip, and it gives readers a concrete way to measure progress.
Webalizer and other tools are also briefly explained in terms of how the information they provide can be used with AdSense. For example, it is important to know the top exit pages for your site, because if users are ready to leave, they are more likely to click an ad.
Click-fraud gets half a page, but I would have liked more information. The section ends with the eyebrow-raising statement: "A recent study shows that less than 6% of all advertisers regard [click fraud] as a problem."
Really? What study was that? I also wondered how click-fraud is usually committed. Davis says that detecting it is primarily a statistical matter.
Non-Google advertising also takes up a large part of the book. In fact, the first 140 pages are almost Google-free. Search engine optimization, driving traffic to your site, affiliate programs... all are discussed at length. The affiliate program section is quite good, although it did have one questionable piece of advice: "You should test that each affiliate link on your site works by buying something and making sure the sales commission shows up when you check the tracking software."
He must be working with some really nice merchants, because this violates practically every terms-of-service agreement that I've seen.
Right before you get to the Google section, Davis devotes an entire chapter to adult sites.
In truth, the adult sites section is informative and practical. If you ever wondered how to privately create an adult site and profit from it, Davis pretty much gives you all the info you need to get started. He even provides links to some real adult sites and tools for hosting content. (One of his tips on obtaining adult content: "Create content yourself." Uh, no thanks.)
But the chapter on adult content leads to the biggest "Huh?" moment in the book: "Although Google will not accept adult-content sites into its AdSense content network, it will accept ads into the AdWords program that direct traffic to adult sites."
Let me get this straight: Google refuses to run ads on adult sites, but it has no problem driving traffic to adult sites via ads? Does this strike anyone else as backwards? Sadly, the book has no further explanation of what the quoted sentence means, or how to use AdSense/AdWords if you are providing borderline adult-content.
The last part of the book describes how to use the AdWords API. For advertisers whose needs are too massive to create individual ads through the AdWords GUI, the API can be used to programmatically interact with the AdWords servers. Examples using C# and PHP are provided.
The book was published in January of 2006, and I found it to be as timely as can be expected from a computer/internet book. A few of the screens look a little different (the AdSense color-scheme chooser has changed), but none of the info seems to be harmfully wrong. Perhaps the biggest sins are those of omission. The AdSense API is not mentioned, and the AdSense Calendar did not make the cut, either. However, as I write this review, these new features are only a few weeks old, so Davis can hardly be blamed.
Overall, Google Advertising Tools is a good book to get if you are an AdSense or AdWords user. There is a little bit of fluff, but keep your eyes open and you'll find some gems. Whether your ads are currently making money or not, this book might pay for itself in short order if you use it wisely.
Trent Lucier is a software engineer. His latest pet project is ChessUp.
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