Will AdSense for Mobile change the advertising industry?

published Sep 18, 2007, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Hours ago, Google announced the launch of AdSense for Mobile, an advertising service in its own class, targeted to mobile users -- and it could very well change the Web advertising landscape.

The old: It's regular AdSense, for the mobile format

Until now, AdSense affiliates have had little choice and control over how ads are displayed on mobile devices. We all know that the Foleo was dead on arrival, but Palm's CEO did recognize the need for a large-screen environment. And no one knows that best than Web advertising firms...

...or so we thought. Most high-hitting AdSense ad formats are simply too large for mobile screens. I myself, as a (quite disgruntled, may I comment) Palm T|X owner, have had to endure long page load times and Web pages that are practically unusable, in no small portion because regular AdSense ads are practically unusable on said device, and a terrible hindrance because of layout problems generated by the regular ad flavors.

I'd post a screen capture of my Palm doing a terrible job rendering my own AdSense ads, but I'm afraid I dumped my cameraphone on the toilet. By accident. You know, when you leave the phone too close to the toilet, someone rings you, the device vibrates and (in a matter of seconds)... you get the idea.

Another problem with regular AdSense: it uses JavaScript. On a desktop computer, the associated performance impact when rendering a page is absolutely negligible (rests on the order of 20 milliseconds or so), but on a mobile device (comparatively puny in terms of performance) execution of an interpreted script causes a much bigger impact in page rendering times.

And let's not forget that JavaScript implementations in mobile browsers leave much to be desired... hmmm, actually, I meant to say they suck.

Out with the old (unusable and unmonetizable) ad formats. In with the new mobile ones.

So that's the problem in a nutshell: how are you going to monetize your ads, if your visitors not only cannot use them effectively, but actively abhor them because they are much more obtrusive and inconvenient than on regular-sized displays?

I think Google has a nice set of plans for us Web site operators:

  1. The new AdSense ads obviously target small screens and compact form factors. Given the new ad formats, the small screen issue gets simplified out of the equation.
  2. Although I couldn't verify this (no availability of AdSense for Mobile in my country), it's very likely (can someone please confirm?) that the JavaScript bugs in mobile devices have been duly taken care of.

Hopefully, integration with your site (based on conditionals, in all likelihood) won't be an issue. Heck, you're gonna make more money, so make it work!

Localization and personalization

How about banner ads that detect your location and display, say, Starbucks ads when close to a Starbucks coffee shop?

You do not need to worry about that for now. IP-based geolocation technology is definitely nowhere near mature enough to actually power this kind of usage scenario. I predict that context-based advertising will continue to be king -- therefore letting Google reuse its technology.

I'm sure there are a few challenges to overcome and algorithms to tune yet, given that there's less context on a screen with fewer words, but geolocation is out for a good while. Until Starbucks, of course, starts reading your mobile device's Bluetooth identifier with long-range scanners or some other type of sci-fi tech... which may be around the corner?

The impulse factor

It's a known fact that most purchases and expenditured made on the Web are driven by impulse. How will mobile devices affect conversion rates? More importantly, can AdSense for Mobile command the same conversion rate than regular old AdSense?

There's a definite roadblock with the mobile Web experience -- data entry. Mobile devices are slim enough to fit in your pocket, but not large enough to manipulate quickly. If you just landed on a Web store with the intention of making a purchase, you are definitely going to jump through hoops to input your information prior to the purchase. Users are going to take more time to fill your forms out, and that's a fact as relatively large as the tip of your thumbs.

This can and must be offset by online advertisers using a streamlined and low-latency shopping process, tailored for mobile devices. Information and other types of services (not requiring shopping carts) that advertisers peddle on AdSense won't have this drawback, naturally.

Nevertheless, I think conversion might stand a fair chance. Read on to find out why.

AdBlock for Mobile?

I'm a big proponent of AdBlock. In fact, I have AdBlock installed on my Web browser of choice (Konqueror, for those of you who care about knowing).

But I confess not to have a need for it. I've developed banner blindness with continued Web browsing for over ten years, and I just don't notice them. You bet this happens to you as well, because everyone becomes eventually trained to spot for relevant information while glossing over what you don't care or trust.

OK, let's get the banner blindness issue nailed. As the market for mobile Web users grows, you can expect the lack of banner blindness in mobile devices to provide you with a minor boost in income -- at least until banner blindness to the new ad formats sets in again.

Returning to the ad block situation on mobile phones: The issue with ad blockers is that, just as with any other pluggable technology, they require a rather open environment/ecosystem and a browser amiable to adaptation and plugins. No Web browser for mobile devices in the current market supplies that (apart from what sadly constitutes a minority experience for those of us who either use or aspire to use open source, open philosophy devices).

So I guess any type of ad blocking technology will just have to wait, possibly forever.


I think the conclusions speak for themselves. Google isn't a newcomer in the space, and the following points make it attractive enough for its current user base:

  1. A new revenue stream for Web site operators.
  2. Reduced banner blindness effect (at least during the first months) that might drive up conversion.
  3. No ad blockers for this new revenue stream.
  4. Context-based ad serving, just like good old AdSense.
  5. A practical way to cater to your readers' needs.
  6. Finally, all this targeted to a new market whose growth shows no signs of slowing down.

It may very well be a winner.