With only six more weeks left to use Project Wonderful, I figured I’d better start learning how to use some alternatives.

(Haven’t retired all my PW ads yet, though — so if you see more ad boxes than usual around the site, it’s because of the experimenting. Bear with me.)

Here’s what I’ve learned about Google AdSense so far.

Signing Up

This part was easy. Submitted the comic URL, it was approved less than 2 days later. And once the first one gets approved, you can start putting ads on others immediately.

I’ve heard of webcomic sites getting rejected by AdSense because they didn’t have enough text, which means not enough analyzable content to make Google’s algorithms happy.

This wasn’t a problem for either BICP or Leif & Thorn, because all the pages have transcripts. (See, accessibility benefits everyone in the long run!)

Replacing your Ad Boxes

AdSense calls them “ad units” instead, but the general idea is the same. They have all the familiar PW sizes — banners, leaderboards, squares, skyscrapers, and so on. (Okay, they are missing the 88×31 buttons. But I never made money from those anyway.)

If you don’t want to think about this too hard, you can just create exact replacements for all the PW boxes currently on your site, slap the new code in the same place, and call it a day.

Note: there’s no one-step way to make “3 half banners in a row” type ads. You’d have to replace a 3×1 PW ad box with 3 individual AdSense units.

Screencap showing a range of ad sizes and a sample of text color schemes, including the custom ones for BICP and Leif & Thorn.

Or you could experiment with whole new sizes! Google has a wider stock, with exotic names like “billboard” and “portrait” and “small square.” Maybe some of those will fit your layout even better.

You can set them to be filled with display ads (images), text ads, or both. Make sure you set up a custom color scheme for the text ads so they won’t clash with your layout.

Customizable & Automated Options

There are some even fancier possibilities:

1) Make an AdSense unit at your own completely customized width and height. Obviously most advertisers won’t have prepared graphics that fit your 184×459 ad slot, so those are going to end up filled with text ads instead.

2) Make a responsive ad unit. It just detects how big a space it’s in when the page loads, and picks one of Google’s pre-set sizes accordingly.

In the one I tested on BICP, it’s pretty good at guessing. Here’s a sample of a page loaded at regular browser size:

If I shrink the window, you can see how the fluid layout has changed — thinner sidebar, more compact WordPress admin toolbar. I haven’t reloaded, so it’s still the same ad:

But if you reload the page at those dimensions, it gets replaced with a much thinner ad:


3) Let Google automate the whole thing. You just put some code in the header of your page, and Google puts your ad in the layout wherever it think it would look nice.

I haven’t tried this one, because frankly I do not trust anything that automatic, but the option is there. Just so you know.

Making These Ads Less of a Headache for Readers

These ads are, by default, waaaaay more code-intrusive than PW.

They’re not just an image, they’re a whole iframe inserted into your page. Often with its own Flash and Javascript and user tracking and all kinds of mess.

Sidenote: Webcomic readers who use Adblock, if you haven’t already, please be kind to artists and disable it for our domains! And, if necessary, for the Google-related domains that are trying to serve you extra scripts.

Artists, we do at least have the power to make the ads less overbearing. Under “Allow & Block Ads – Content – All my sites”:

I have it set to allow use of your Google-collected data (for now), considering that any given user can review/limit/delete your Google data here.

Blocked the use of data collected by anybody else, so that privacy-concerned readers don’t have to fight off more than one information-gathering network.

I switched off “performance-enhancing features”, which sounds like a synonym for “features that get your attention by annoying you,” and “expandable ads”, because ewwww. Does anyone like ads that expand when your mouse moves over them and cover up the content you were actually trying to read? No. No, they do not.

“Animated ads” includes both gif animations and Flash animations. I wish Google had a way to approve those separately, because I would love to allow gifs but block Flash.

As-is, I’ve left them both on…for now.

If there is no ad to display…

On PW, when nobody’s bid on an ad box yet, you can set it to run one of your own ads as a placeholder. Very easy setup — just give it a URL, upload an image, and you’re done.

AdSense has a couple of options:

1) Make the ad box disappear completely. This is pleasant for users! But it might do weird things to the position of other elements in your layout.

2) Display a block of [layout-coordinating color of your choice]. This means nothing will change position. Instead, you’ll have a big slab of blank space, which might look weird in its own right.

3) Display your own custom page. Instead of giving AdSense the image + a URL to link to, you have to build a whole separate HTML page with that information, which will load as an iframe within the ad space.

This is the cool one.

Display your own custom page!

I gotta admit, this took some figuring out. But once I had the hang of it, the possibilities opened up.

Here’s the default page for the Leif & Thorn “above the comments” banner. Screenshot of it in action:

Three images in a row! Of different sizes! Linking different things! Including TWC’s entire “displays your comic’s current ranking” code!

Aaaaaand here’s the default page for the But I’m A Cat Person sidebar skyscraper. How it looks on the website:

If you load the frame in its own window, you’ll see two columns. To the left, a block of Javascript that rotates between a series of banners. That way, even if none of Google’s advertisers want the space, readers get to see some variety.

And if a reader has Javascript blocked in their browser, the column on the left will collapse entirely — leaving the column on the right, which is an ordinary mild-mannered img tag. (With my highest-performing banner. At least, according to PW stats.)

Cool, huh?

Okay, that’s enough to get you started.

…but wait! There’s more!

Once you’ve got the reader-facing part up and running, there are still a bunch of under-the-hood options you can tinker with.

Most of them I haven’t even touched yet. Most of them aren’t useful yet. All the graphs and statistics in the world won’t get you anywhere meaningful when you only have 3 days of data.

I do want to talk about ad filtering, though, because that’s good to know.

Talking About Ad Filtering

Project Wonderful let you limit the ads displayed on your site, based on a general rating — “child-friendly only”, “anything but NSFW”, or “everything including NSFW.” And you could block ads on an individual basis.

Google, being Google, gives you about zillion more options.

Here’s a sampling:

So if, say, Autos & Vehicles ads is taking up a ton of your ad impressions but making absolutely no money — because your comics aren’t targeted at readers with a big interest in cars — you could block the whole category, and free up those pageviews for something more profitable.

There’s a whole separate page for “sensitive” categories. I blocked a couple of those pre-emptively. Like “Get Rich Quick”, because scammers, and “Weight Loss”, because “making you feel bad about your body” is not consistent with My Brand(TM).

And That’s As Far As I’ve Gotten.

There might be more posts later if I turn up anything particularly cool while digging through the other options. And after I have more than 3 days of data to look at.

(I’ve made a whole 10 cents so far.)

In the meantime, most of my PW ads will keep running for the next 6 weeks.

And I’ll try to cram in as many “pit these 4-6 ads against each other and see which one(s) get the most clicks” tests as possible, because they’re so fast and easy to do with PW. If I’m going to send my own banners out into the big bad world of Google’s networks, I’d rather have them proven on familiar ground first.