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Hot on the Web

Google AdSense gets some competition

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 13, 2007
(Issue 2515, Online Headhunters: Working to Find Work)

In past editions of this column, we've visited Google's AdSense program – exploring how it allows small-time webmasters (such as yours truly) to generate advertising income from their sites without having to sell ads themselves.

But as we've also illustrated, Google has taken its solitary position in the small-site advertising sphere for granted – to the point that it has shrouded its operations in secrecy, and provided rather poor customer service for those web hosts who sign up to place AdSense ads on their sites.

While Yahoo has been beta-testing a similar program (, it's not made much headway that I've seen. That may change when they finish the beta program and roll it out nationally.

In the meantime, however, is beta testing a content-relevant linking program for its merchant partners (again, including yours truly) that promises to give Google a run for its money.

How they work

The Google and Yahoo programs both place text ads on your page with code you are given after you sign up and are approved. (Both programs seem to want to avoid anything to do with porn, fringe politics or piracy.) You can choose from vertical or horizontal layouts, and can place the ads pretty much anywhere on your page you want. (My Google ads all run across the bottom of my pages, to make them as unobtrusive as possible.)

Both are also content-driven – meaning that if you have a page about your favorite baseball team, the ads on that page will be baseball-related.

At least, that's the plan.

The content relations are determined by software that looks for key words on your page, and then selects ads from the database that also have that key word.

But it's not perfect.

During the recent election, which contained a ballot measure to require abortion clinics to notify the parents of teenage girls before performing an abortion, my pro-life feminism page ended up with ads from pro-choice groups opposing the measure!

Not Google's fault, nor that of the groups in question. It was just one of those imperfections that happens with the current state of artificial intelligence.

Fortunately, Googles's AdSense program allowed me to block ads that direct people to any domain or domains – and so I was able to get those ads off of that page in short order.

Amazon's program

Where the Google and Yahoo programs are both advertising packages – you get paid whenever someone clicks on one of the ads on your site – the program is a links program: you only get paid if someone goes ahead and makes a purchase off of one of your links.

Still, depending on the content of your site, that can be just as or even more lucrative than the advertising programs.

I tend to make more money off of my affiliate program participation than I do off Google AdSense. Of course, I have a reading library with links to each book I've read (and those I'm currently reading) on my site, as well as an archive of more than 1,100 CD reviews – again, nearly all of them linked to

What's interesting is that when I get my quarterly sales reports from (or log in more frequently to check on sales) I often find I'm credited with sales for items I don't have linked to directly from my site.

But the referral program works so that anytime someone goes to from one of your links (and I have generic graphical links to's home page as well as to specific books and CDs) and buys anything, you still get the referral fee.

Upgrading Amazon

The new "Context Links" program from is a Javascript that looks for key words on your pages and then turns them into hyperlinks to product pages.

It's not the same as the Google or Yahoo text ads, nor even the same as the small display ads provides its affiliate members.

On pages like my Science Links page or San Diego Links page, which are nothing more than link collections, the Context Links could generate more confusion than income.

On the other hand, on my CD reviews, where I'm often comparing one artist to another (presumably better known to most of my readers), the Context Links could be a real boon.

I'll be adding the Context Link to some of my pages in the coming weeks, and in a few months will report back on whether they've bumped up my income or not.