Q: Dave, I've been reading your book and am highly motivated by hearing about people who are making more than just a few dollars on Google AdSense! But I've been talking with some folk at different marketing seminars and they tell me about how I should "hide" my AdSense advertisements in my design so that I can trick people into clicking on my ads when they try to move around my site. I dunno, though. Is that a good approach?
I think that there's a huge problem with being unable to differentiate editorial and advertising, actually, but I realize that I might have an unusual perspective on this because I've spent many years in the magazine and publishing world. Let me explain...
When I was senior editor of Advanced Systems magazine (an internationally distributed IDG publication) we had many discussions about the so-called 'editorial wall', the importance of having a barrier between the advertising sales team and the editorial team.
Why? Because without it you end up with a magazine full of advertorials and zero credibility. In the short term you can sell more adverts and presumably make more money as a publication, but for every BRIDE magazine there are a dozen CONSUMER REPORTS wannabes, magazines that are valuable *because* they are able to distance themselves from the myopic, immediate needs of advertisers.
A splendid example is MacAddict, for those Mac heads out there. They will publish bad and quite critical reviews of products, even those from their advertisers (the latest issue pans a new Adesso product, for example). Do the advertisers like that? Of course not. But it gives the reviews - and by extension the entire magazine - great credibility in the marketplace and it is nonetheless worth advertising therein BECAUSE readers know that the editorial content isn't influenced by advertising.
I believe that the very best Web sites are those that manage to retain that editorial / advertising wall too. I'm not against advertising - hardly! - but I do believe that at some level there's an ethical problem with people integrating their revenue generating advertising links into their editorial content so smoothly that the average reader cannot differentiate. To me it's duplicitous and I always speak out strongly against it, just as I believe that it's ethically wrong to put graphical elements adjacent to AdSense ad blocks to draw attention to the ads and improve click-thru rates, whether they're small thumbnail photos, a 10px wide color bar, or whatever.
There's no doubt in my mind that I'm in the minority with this position, and that there are a LOT of members of the Internet Marketing community who believe that just as in love and war, anything goes in the world of advertising and they not only practice these techniques themselves but counsel others to do the same. And more likely than not, they're earning a lot more than I am and are helping others earn a lot too. But that doesn't bother me.
I think it's about a moral compass, actually. I think that when your colleagues suggest that there are basically no constraints or boundaries on what is or isn't acceptable incorporation of advertising into editorial, I think they're wrong. But I'm just one guy and I'm not really that important except in my own sphere of influence. So perhaps he's not wrong at all...
Ultimately I believe that it's the intersection of making money and behaving in a manner that's consistent with our own ideals, morals, ethics and beliefs that lets us become successful both financially and spiritually, if you will. I call this the "you can explain it to your Mom" characteristic of good business: if you can't tell someone who isn't mired in the business what you're doing and how it's helpful and valuable to society, maybe, just maybe, you have some issues you need to think about.
Anyway, hope that's helpful to you. Be careful and good luck!