Presenting Content

Content is king. Content is certainly king if your business model is to publish content on the Web and make money from advertising with traffic drawn by the content. Your first rule should be: don’t “dis” the king. In other words, don’t do anything to distract from the content, make it harder for surfers to find content they need, or make the graphics that frame the content too jazzy. In particular, if the graphics seem too important, they will distract from the content.


A particularly annoying sin on content-based websites is the use of an animated splash page (such as Flash) to open the site. If you do use an animation to open your site, users should easily be able to bypass it if they desire. At the same time, you should work to keep unnecessary navigation down. In other words, don’t make people click an extra link to get to a destination (unless the extra click is a well-thought-out part of the user experience).

Page and Site Design

These rules of content presentation can be positive (rather than negative):

It should be obvious that the purpose of the site is to clearly present content

Choose a name for the site, and titles and headers for the pages, that make it abundantly clear that the purpose of the site is to present content, and (as a general matter) what that content is.

The design of the site should serve the purpose of presenting content

Site design should be intended to facilitate navigation and frame the content—nothing more and nothing less.

Specific content items and subject areas should be easy to find

Provide multiple mechanisms for finding things: index pages, search boxes, site maps, subject areas, and so on.

Type should be legible

Be careful to choose a readable font, in a large enough size, and background and foreground color combinations that are easy on the eyes. It’s hard to go wrong with black type on a white background. The reverse—white on black—is hard on the eyes, and some combinations (for example, dark blue on lighter blue) are essentially unreadable.

Keep graphics simple

For example, avoid animations and other splashy images.

As it happens, following the rules of content presentation I’ve outlined will serve you well with search engine placement (see Chapter 4). But that’s not the point of these suggestions here. The point is usefulness and transparency to site users. If viable content is presented in an accessible fashion, then indeed “they will come.”

If you are targeting your content specifically for Google’s AdSense program (or a competitive contextual engine), you should also bear in mind the following:

  • AdSense can’t interpret images (except using captions, the value of alt attributed in the <img> tag, the name of the image file, and surrounding text), so keep images to a minimum.

  • You are likely to get more relevant ads if you keep each page to a single subject (and move tangential subject matters to different pages).

  • Key concepts, words, and phrases should be clear by glancing at a page. (See Chapter 3 for information about how to use these keywords and phrases to optimize your pages for AdSense, Google, and other search engines.)

Page Size

How much content should go on each site page? Like Goldilocks and the three bears, the answer is not too much and not too little—just the right amount of content.

It’s in the interest of the site publisher to keep pages short, because the same amount of content spread over shorter pages makes for more pages. And more pages on a site means more places for advertising, which in theory might mean more revenue.

In addition, more pages may mean more page views, implying better metrics to advertisers who don’t look too carefully.

However, if you break an article up into many short pages that a user has to click through, users will find it irritating—and vote with their time by frequenting the site less often.


For an example of a site that has chosen to maximize pages it can place ads on at the cost of potentially alienating readers by dividing articles up into many small pages that must be clicked through, see

The happy medium is to be natural about page length. The natural length for a content page is the content that will reasonably fit into a maximized browser window without having to scroll.

Obviously this is a rough, rather than a precise, guideline, as different browsers on different systems will show different size pages.

Don’t gratuitously break an article into multiple pages unless the article really is longer than a few browser-sized pages. Also, don’t break an article (even if it is long) unless there are natural breaks in the content. Anytime there is a new Level 1 header in an article, it’s a good sign that you could break to a new content page without the break feeling forced.

A related issue is to be careful about the width of your content pages. People will be looking at your web pages using a variety of hardware, operating systems, and browsers—the most important variable being the monitor size. You don’t want your readers to have to scroll to the right because part of a content web page is off the screen. This is very bad form and may also obscure content advertising if it is positioned along the right border of the page.

The answer is to design pages for lowest common denominator displays. In practice, content pages should be no wider than 800 pixels. Pages 800 pixels wide (or less) should display without scrolling on most (although not all) computers—some displays are still only 640 pixels wide. (For more on this, see Positioning Ads.) In other parts of the world, and depending on the display devices used by your target audience, you may want to consider going even smaller than these sizes.

Images, Video, and Podcasting

As previously noted, visual (and audio) content cannot be as readily indexed by search engines as straight text. That said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s no arguing with the popularity of podcasts and video sites like YouTube. So, it’s a trade-off. Content-based websites need some content in media that is splashier than plain text, like the aforementioned images, video, and podcasting. On the other hand, this kind of content doesn’t necessarily help search rankings, and may not provide a hosting environment for advertisement within the media that is available to any but the largest content providers.

Keeping Content Fresh

Have you ever tried to keep fresh-caught fish fresh? It isn’t easy. Neither is keeping site content fresh. But sites, and their content, need to stay fresh. It’s not a big deal to change the overall look of a site by changing the graphic used as a navigation bar every month or so—that is, if you’ve set the site up with server-side includes, so that editing one file changes the site globally. But keeping content fresh is a trickier issue.

Since search engines appreciate new content, some sites go to great lengths to provide content that appears new—for example, by displaying syndication feeds on the site’s home page. This may help with search engines (I have more to say on this point in Chapter 3), but it doesn’t do much at all for your primary audience—real people.

Quality content sites need to strike a balance. You need to have a core of worthwhile reference material that doesn’t change much. You also need to keep content sites fresh. As you plan your successful site, you should consider what strategy you will use to keep people coming back for the latest and greatest. For example, do you plan to keep up with the latest events in a technology niche, such as a programming language? Will you feature articles about current cultural events (which are constantly changing by definition)? Or will your site present interesting blogs with frequently added entries?

Positioning Ads

Studies have shown that ad positioning is crucial to content revenue generation. Positioning means the physical position of an ad on a web page, the size of the ad, and also which page(s) on a site carry an ad.

As I explain in Chapter 8, when using a program like Google’s AdSense, you’ll want to use AdSense to generate code that displays ads sized to your site, and also in colors that work with your site.

Although there are some general guidelines for what works best with advertising positioning, it is far more art than science. You should expect to spend a fair amount of time tweaking ad position to see what works best—another good reason for having a site mechanism in place that allows you to change ad settings globally by editing one include file.

Tweaking ads is good for another reason: you don’t want ad fatigue to set in. Ad fatigue is a term used by webmasters to describe the phenomenon in which visitors to your site are so used to the ad display on your site that they ignore it. Experimenting with new ad positioning (and colors) is a good way to combat that “same old, same old” feeling—and avoid ad fatigue.

Most studies show that ads positioned above the fold do better than ads lower on a page. Above the fold means visible without scrolling. The smaller the monitor, and the lower its resolution, the less screen real estate there is above the fold. In other words, a monitor running at 640×480 pixels screen resolution has a lot less available real estate above the fold than a monitor running at 800×600, which in turn has much less area above the fold than a monitor running at higher resolution.

If you want the maximum eyeballs—and you should, because more eyeballs means more advertising revenue—you should try to place ads so that they will be above the fold on lower resolution monitors. It certainly makes sense to target 800×600 monitor resolution, because this is widely in use. Don’t finalize your ad positioning (and website and page design) without checking it out on an 800×600 monitor.

Some research has shown that vertical ad blocks—the kind Google calls skyscrapers—work better than horizontal ads. However, from the viewpoint of basic geometry, it is easier to fit a horizontal ad block above the fold than a vertical skyscraper—the lower part of the skyscraper is likely to be below the fold. If you decide to go with vertical ad blocks, make sure they are positioned as high as possible, and that at least one ad (assuming the skyscraper contains multiple contextual ads) is positioned above the fold.

One other major positioning issue is context. From the viewpoint of a content publisher, you’d like to position ads so that they are not only contextually relevant, but also so that they lead to a high click-through rate.


With programs like Google’s AdSense, context is important because you want a high click-through rate. With affiliate advertising, context is even more important because you don’t make any money without a conversion, which means turning someone into a customer. You may, perhaps, care less about context when you are paid by the impression—in that case, all you really care about is that the ad gets seen on your site.

Google’s AdSense attempts to place only contextually relevant ads. With some notable lapses, AdSense is pretty successful at this. In any case, you can’t exercise a great deal of control over the ads that AdSense displays on your site—you have to trust that Google gets this right.


You can forbid your competitor’s ads from appearing on your site by using the AdSense option that allows you to ban specific IP addresses. The ability to ban IP addresses can be used to a limited degree to also keep out advertisers you find offensive. For example, an animal rights information site might want to ban ads from prominent furriers.

There are some important aspects of context that you can control, although there is no reliable analytic research about what works best. Some sites use graphics and positioning to make contextual ads blend in with the site and appear almost part of the editorial content. Other sites feel that keeping the appearance of editorial integrity is vitally important, and use color and position to instantly indicate that the ads are separate from the body of the content.

Overloading pages with ads generally does not work because viewers tend to ignore pages that have too many ads. If you’re working with multiple ad programs and kinds of ads to generate a revenue stream, you can make an important contribution to ad context by deciding what kinds of ads should go with what content. For example, it might make sense to advertise books on Amazon on a page of book reviews.

There’s also a school of thought that believes ads should only be placed on boring pages—for example, registration pages, login pages, resource pages, and exit pages. (An exit page is a page designed to launch a visitor onward following a visit—for example, an order confirmation.) One reason for placing click-through ads on resource and exit pages is that visitors will be leaving your site from these pages anyhow. You won’t be losing traffic by providing click-through opportunities.

The more general logic for placing ads only on boring pages is that it gives the rest of your site a clean, inviting, ad-free look—and that visitors are more likely to click on ads in the context of boredom than in the context of exciting content.

Whatever strategy you decide to try, if you will be varying ad programs depending on context, you should attempt to implement this programmatically rather than by manually adding and deleting advertising code from individual HTML pages.

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