Findory recently launched a new version of our personalized advertising engine. This new version is based on Amazon Associates rather than Google AdSense.
Like the old engine, the new engine targets based on the content of the page and each reader's clickstream history on Findory. Unlike the old engine, it shows a targeted selection of books from Amazon rather than text ads from Google AdSense.
Why did Findory switch?
AdSense is an intelligent, self-optimizing, ad targeting system. It is a stubborn beast, convinced it knows what is right.
When Findory layered its own intelligent ad targeting system on top of AdSense, the two fought like crazed monkeys.
Findory would tell AdSense, "This page has articles about Google, Yahoo, search, engines, and technology," and then ask Google to target ads. Given that description, what do you think would be reasonable? Probably ads for web search engines and things related to web search engines?
Instead, Google sometimes would respond with ads for aircraft or automobile engines, blindly fixating on the word "engine" and apparently ignoring the rest of the information. It is hard to work with that.
We even tried test cases where we sent them nothing but a single keyword. For example, we said, "This page is about 'Google'." AdSense sometimes responded with ads for get-rich-quick schemes and penny stocks. That may be amusingly ironic. It even may be lucrative. But, it is not relevant.
After a year of experiments and optimizations to improve our targeting on top of AdSense, it became clear that we were not going to be able to bend it to our will. AdSense wants to target by itself. Any attempt to push it in one direction or another seems doomed to failure.
We decided to switch to a system where we would have more control. When we advertise books, Findory is completely responsible for the targeting. We analyze the Findory page and a reader's history, then our ad system picks specific books at Amazon based on that data.
Going back to that "Google" keyword test case, if I tell Findory's new advertising engine to target to the keyword "Google" (and nothing else), Findory responds with ads for four books: "The AdSense Code", "The Google Story", O'Reilly's "Google Advertising Tools", and "Google Maps Hacks". Ah, much better.
The new book ads target to any page on Findory in real-time as the content changes. Check out the targeting for Wired Magazine, ScienceDaily, Gizmodo, and Google Blogoscoped. And, of course, don't miss the targeting on your personalized Findory front page and how the ads change as you click on new articles.
The performance of the new ad system is roughly the same as the old Google AdSense system. Clickthroughs are much higher than what they were before but, because Amazon Associates has a much lower effective payment per click (about $.05), the incoming revenue is a little lower.
I like the new system much better. The ads are relevant and useful. We have complete control. And, I like helping people discover new books.
Update: Four months later, the results of this experiment are not looking as positive as I had hoped. Amazon Associates effective payment per click is closer to $.02 ($20 average price of a book * 6% associates share * 2% clickthrough-to-sale rate = $.024). AdSense generates $.10 or more per click, so our targeting of Amazon books would have to be x5 more effective or better just to make up for the difference in compensation, probably more like x10 to really be worthwhile. x5-10 improvement in targeting is a high bar, and we have not been able to get anywhere close to that yet.
Update: Eight months later, Findory switches back to Google ads. Unfortunately, the Amazon ads could not be made competitive given the effective payment per click.