Staying organized is one of my personal daily goals. From handling email to my schedule, I try to stay on top of things pretty tightly. This allows me to free up my thinking for the big ideas and get normal tasks done faster. Plus, I have access to information in an organized manner — great for determining if a new venture is worth it or pulling up an old message.
The same is true with AdSense. In this article I will review ad units, URL channels, custom channels and reports. All play an important role in keeping your account organized. Once you have things setup correctly, it becomes clear how powerful AdSense reporting and tracking really is.
For the scope of this article I will be using the new AdSense interface. It’s the default for most folks, has a better layout, and simply looks a lot better than the old interface. Switching back and forth can be done from the top right hand corner of your account.
When we first started out, Justin and I did not even add ad units to our account. We simply took the theme we were working with and changed the publisher ID. While this works and we received revenue from our sites, its makes it difficult to track performance (unless you use URL channels, see below) and, more importantly, could prevent some advertisers from seeing your ads.
After meeting with an AdSense rep in April, I realized ad units are the basic building block of all reporting and tracking features. It’s critical that you have these in your account and have them targeted to specific sites either by theme, niche or even the when the site was created. Plus you can control specific items like color and fonts to better match your site, which is critical for getting a high CTR.
New ad units can easily be created by clicking on the “My ads” tab in your account then click the “+ New ad unit” button on top, right under the tabs. You will then be presented with a page full of options, which I will walk you through.
The “Name” field is first. Most people overlook this this and just use anything. Naming your ad units logically is the first step in properly thinking through the segmentation of your sites, basically how everything will be organized.
I usually name our AdSense blocks by size and what we will use them for. For instance, for a group of sites I am testing out CTR Theme on, I named one Ad Unit “Medium Rectangle CTR Theme”. You might also want to name your units after what niche you using them in as in “Leaderboard Curtain Sites”. This will allow you to test specific niches against one another. Finally, if you run out of URL channels, grouping ad units into custom channels may be the only way to effectively track individual sites. In that case I group by theme, niche, and time using a name like “August 2011 Pet Sites with CTR Theme”. It’s a mouthful, but will help you identify things later.
A basic criteria for ad units is their size, so you will need to know what sizes work best on your site before getting started. Most WordPress themes, like CTR Theme, will tell you what sizes are compatible with their layout. However, the most popular sizes for advertisers, and therefore the ones you want to use, should be the ones recommended by AdSense: Medium and Large Rectangles, Leaderboard, and Wide Skyscraper.
For most ad units, you will want to display both text & image/rich media ads. This will ensure you get the maximum number of advertisers and the highest bidders as not all advertisers create image ads. However, the Leaderboard and Skyscraper units can sometime be used in “Image/rich media ads only” mode if it fits your site better. Just be sure to test by creating different ad units and comparing the results.
For backup ads you will normally want to set this to “show blank space”. It is unlikely there will be zero advertisers in your niche if you have done your keyword research correctly. If all the advertisers do go away, Google should still show ads based on search history and usage patterns. Selecting the “Show ads from another URL” option can lead to a lot of 5 cent clicks, so it’s best to avoid it.
The ad style section should be used to match your site. The colors codes can be easily ripped from you current sites, but you can also use a color wheel tool if need be. Sometimes matching the font style and size can be difficult. I found using the default values of 14 pt Verdana and simply made my sites match this. You might need to do a little CSS work to get it right, but it’s worth it.
Finally, you can go a bit overboard with ad units. Try not to create too many. We have literally hundreds of sites covering more than 90 niches. So we segment our account by month by creating new ad unit every month and applying them to sites built during that time period. We then use URL channels to drill down on statistics. This works if you create a large amount of sites frequently and don’t want to be creating new codes for every site. Still, if you are new or only have a handful of sites, I recommend drilling down as much as possible, which might mean making category based ad units.
Editor’s note: While the new sites report might make URL channels irrelevant in the future, the lack of search capability makes the methods described below more effective for drilling down on particulars.
URLs channels are extremely important to track the performance of individual sites. This means gathering reports on earnings, CTR, CPC, clicks, pageviews, and RPM on a site by site basis. Unless you want to create an individual ad unit for every site (or more likely group of ad units) and use custom channels, you are going to need to use URL channels. They are extremely easy to setup, though the option may elude some AdSense newbies.
After logging in click on the “Performance reports” tab at the top then click “URL channels” down the left hand side. If you have any URL channels in your account, you may be presented with the option to choose URL channels. If so, simply select “All URL channels” and press the “Get report” button. In the middle of the page slightly to the left there will be an “+ Add URLs to track” button. Press it and you will be able to add your URLs in bulk through copy and past. Be sure to use only the domain name, one per line. Do not include www or http://.
It is important to note that historical data is not saved by AdSense. So, if you add a URL channel for a site you had an ad unit on, it won’t show any income even though you did receive that revenue. The same is true if you remove a URL channel — individual statistics are gone forever. So if you intend on flipping one of your sites, be sure the add the URL channel at least a few months before the auction. This way you can present a full report on the site to prospective buyers.
Unfortunately, you can only add 200 URL channels be default. You can contact Google through your AdSense account and request a one time upgrade to 500 channels, but this can take time. After that, you will have to use a combination of ad units and custom channels to track. There is only one feature you will ever need in the old interface that is not available in the interface — deleting URL channels. So if you hit your ceiling of allowed URLs, you made need to switch back to the old interface and delete any sites you no longer need so that you can make room for more.
Custom channels are used to group ad units for tracking. This can be useful if you want to track different layouts/themes, statistics by niche, or have simply run out of individual URL channels. It’s important to note that custom channels cannot pull up historical data for a collection of ad units, just like the limitation with URL channels. So, again, be sure to create your channels from the beginning for anything specific you might want to track.
Although you can create custom channels during ad unit creation, it’s probably best create them from the “My ads” tab after creating all related ad units. Within the “My ads” tab, you will find a “Custom channels” link on the right hand side. Click that and look for the “+ New Custom channel” button. You will then be presented with a dialog box asking for the name of your channel and which ad units you wish to track. If you named your ad units something meaningful, it should be easy to find the one you want.
Make sure the ad units are in some way related — they all use the same theme, are on the same site, or go on sites in the same niche. Try not to include ad units in multiple channels if possible. This will throw your overall reports off.
Finally the targeting feature of custom channels is a big plus. If you have a site that attracts a good deal of traffic or you segment your ad units by niche, you can make these channels available to advertisers. Premium advertisers tend to use channels to find where they want their ads to go, so using this feature could result in high CPCs. I would not recommend sharing internal channels that you use for tracking, where ad units are grouped by date or by theme. Advertisers would be confused by this and less likely to use your channels.
Ok, here is where your AdSense account organization is really going to come in handy. If you have not taken the time to layout the above clearly, it will be difficult, if not impossible to get the data you need on your sites. I can’t stress more strongly how frustrating it is to not know why something broken. You have probably experienced this too — a drop in earnings that you can’t seem to isolate. Good reports can help you track down your leak, shore up your sites, and get earnings back on track.
The first reporting features you should use is the preset reports of entire account by day, week and month. Click on the “Performance reports” tab (or “View full reports”) and look for the links on the left. You can set the date range of these reports on the upper right hand corner. We notice revenue drops on the weekends and holidays, mostly due to an overall drop in search volume. However, if you do see other statistics trending downward (like CTR or CPC) you may want to look more closely for the culprit.
Basic ad unit comparison can be also useful. Among them, you will see one called “Ad units”. This gives you a quick run down of how you ad units are performing so you can compare on to the other. This is why naming was so critical — if you can’t remember which ad unit is associated with which site/sites, this report will be meaningless. Early on in your AdSense experience, this will be useful for fidning what ad unit types work best for your websites. Feel free to experiment. I find the other ad oriented reports including Ad sizes, Ad types, targeting types and Bid types, to be less valuable, but if you want to compare this type of data, it is set up for you.
If you have grouped your ad units into custom channels, you will find the “Custom channels” report quite helpful. This will allow you to easily compare different themes, layouts or niches. You might decide to expand on certain sites or apply design changes to those that are under performing. Look for warning signs like significant differences in CTR, but be sure your sample size is big enough. At least a few hundred pageviews is required to establish a base line. This might take some time to acquire if your traffic is particularly low.
Probably the most valuable report is URL channels. Clicking on “URL channels” along the right hand side of the “Performance reports” tab will allow to select each site in your account individually. You can then refine the date range and even add a dimension to further segment your report. This is useful if you want to compare two sites over a specific time period but have it broken out by week or month.
Finally at anytime you can save reports by clicking the “Save report” button in AdSense. I have created a number of reports using a group of URL channels that are easily brought up again without having to pick through a long list of sites. Something you might want to look at if you are creating complex reports. You can’t edit saved reports or rename them, so make sure you get it right the first time!
Well, folks, it was quite a long post, but I think I’ve covered most of the important parts in AdSense account organization. Do you have any tips you would like to share?