AdSense and Borders

By Deane Barker on April 1, 2005

If you have Google Adsense on your site, here is the best piece of advice I can give you: don’t put borders around your ads. I had a border around my skyscraper banner on the right here, so it sat in its own little box.

A friend told me to take the border off. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try it, so I made the border white, so it just fades into the background. Nothing else was changed. I did it in the middle of the month, so the first half was with the border, the second half without.

The result in terms of clickthrough rate? A seventy percent increase.

What Links Here


  1. IMHO, it’s probably because it mimics your left nav. I currently have a border on my Google Ads, but it’s extremely faint. They too mimic my left nav, which I believe contributes to higher click-through rates. In fact, my click-through rates are much higher than yours, but that may simply be because our websites are set up differently, and have different content. Here are some examples from my website:

  2. I really am surprised at you.

    The reason that taking the borders away increased your clickthrough rate is that people were misled into believing the AdSense advertisements were regular non-biased links from your site.

    These people thought those links were worth something because they appeared on your site, but they were’nt worth anything much – they were just paid for ads.

    If I were you I’d bring the borders back – just to be honest with my visitors.

    Best Regards, Uri from Israel

  3. Strange thing is I’ve seen loads of advice and my experience is I do better if the ads are a different colour to the rest of the page and stand out!

  4. Is this seriously what everyone thinks? That I’m trying to trick people to click on ads? That never crossed my mind for a split second. Here was my theory on it (until I read these comments, anyway…) —

    By having the ads in a little box, they were subconciously out of everyone’s mind. People didn’t notice them because they were visually separated. Now that there’s no border, visitors notice them more and they click on something that interests them.

    I’m not trying to trick anyone. The ads are what they are — if someone sees an link for “Free Download: RSS Reader” and they decide to click on it, maybe it’s because that intrigued them and they wanted to find out more about it? (This strikes me as the very core of the entire concept of advertising.)

    I’m really irritated by this — these implications that I’m not being honest or that I’m trying to trick people. I invite comments from readers: is this the perception? That I’m trying to trick you into clicking on an ad? Seriously?

  5. I think with the borders, newcomers visually filter the ads as “background noise” but without the borders, they might actually glance at them and see something of interest. If so, they’ll click the links.

    That said, If you can’t tell the difference between Google ads and Gadgetopia content, you’ve got bigger issues glares at Uri and Brian and you need to know that those foreign lotteries are fake, you’re not really pre-approved for a $300,000 loan at 3.5%, and that’s not a dating service site you just went to, it’s porno, man.

  6. little fella says “adds by google”. You just cant feel like you’re tricking someone like that. Hell, I’ve been to web sites that say something like, “support us, click the adds to the right”. sometimes these are google, sometimes individual adds. If I decide I like the site after a while, I’ll be sure to click the adds once a visit. Simple, you provide a service to me (giving me something to read), I return the favor. Some people.

  7. I saw the piece at Google Blogoscoped. I have to join the “not trickery” crowd. It says “Ads by Goooooogle”, for crying out loud! How much notice do you need?!? :-)

    Plus, it just makes for a better reading experience if the page is united thematically.

  8. No creo que sea trampear a nadie sino tecnicas de integracion de adsense… El truco aqui seria integrar lo mas posible los bloques y que estos sean mas visibles en el website…

    Ahora bien, todo se puede hacer siempre y cuando adsense lo impida, acaso adsense impide el quitar los marcos???

  9. That’s insanity!

    The whole point of placing ads on your site is to provide RELATED content to your visitors that they may find interesting and visit once they choose to leave your site (and yes, they all leave).

    Sites like this that provide great information survivie on support received from Ads. I can think of no more “honest” type of ad than Google’s AdSense. Especially since they are plainly marked “Ads by Gooooogle”.

    More power to the webmaster for doing what He’s SUPPOSED to do and testing to get a higher conversion rate. His visitors obviously noticed the ads more easily and thus clicked through more. On my site it’s the oppositie, my left nav has borders, so borders on my Google ads match my left nav. So what? Am I now “disguising” my ads or trying to deceive my visitors?

    I suppose that we could all take ads OFF our sites, go broke, not be able to support the content that you enjoy reading for free and then you can whine and cry about no free sites anymore.

    Get a life!

  10. agreed that it’s not trickery. the people who think so clearly don’t understand the market and that believe it or not, you are running a business.

    without borders or with them, the user makes the choice to click….not you.

  11. Trickery? That’s silly! They are CLEARLY labled ‘Ads by Gooooogle’….now, if my mother strolled across this site she may not realize the difference, but for seasoned vets (which I assume is what a site like this receives most of) they clearly know that these are not links to other Gadgetopia pages. Deane, keep the ads there, without a border, get the Adsense checks in the mail and then use it to pay for your server and/or bandwidth so we can all keep enjoying this great site!

  12. you’ve just stumbled on one of the best tips around for Adsense – now if you really want to improve your CTR try putting the ads into the content with no borders :-)

  13. oh – the other piece of advice I’d give – don’t reveal your CTR – its against google’s rules. I’d probably remove the exact figures above and just say I substantially increased my CTR….

  14. I agree with the author of the original post. This is NOT trickery. If you’re being tricked by something that clearly says at the top of it “Ads by Goooooogle” then you need something more than just a border around the ads to help you out.

    I do disagree with the comment made by Ian. I don’t think it’s right to put the adsense advertisements into the actual content. There is a fine line there that we are dealing with. I guess the guideline I would go with is…. “What Would Google Do?” Since Google has never integrated their ads into the stream of search… I don’t think their ads should be mixed into the stream of content.

  15. Let be clear about it. The very fact that you put Google Ads is that you want to make money. There is no harm whichever way it makes users click it. Border or no border, if you get a higher CTR by your unique style, you are a success with Adsense.

  16. Seriously… You are all fooling yourselves. Google adsense is a business model designed to fool, mislead and decieve. The very fact that Google has clickable “whitespace” on adsense and not on their own site says it all.

  17. I don’t know where anyone got the inane idea that ‘related’ ads help you. They don’t. They’re advertising, but with this interesting twist. It’s like seeing a kid be glad that the commercials during the cartoons are about neat things like toys, and not boring things that would interest, say, a woman between the ages of 25 and 35.

    “Oh, but he’s such a success, his clicks went up because, by removing the border, more people saw that ever so interesting [crap that’s being advertised]”. BuIIshit, you greedy slobs. The clicks go up because people now have trouble seperating site content from advertising content, and the ones among us with less to do went and clicked.

    I’ve learned to ignore normal ads quite easily, and you know what I’m learning to do right now? How to ignore anything that looks like that little sidebar – so this site, and any other site that thinks bypassing people’s ability to filter garbage is a good idea.

  18. Definitely trickery – You can’t seriously be thinking that people are suddenly finding the advertised links 70% more interesting. If it’s not you should try an experiment with some other layout changes that make the distinction clear instead of unclear. If making the ads more distinct decreases revenue you have your answer.

    I find the ease with which people are taking the money and shifting their focus to taking the money disheartening.

  19. I think there are two things at work here:

    (1) Maybe people are being tricked. Maybe they think they’re clicking on an internal link. I would hope not, and it wasn’t my intention, so it wasn’t trickery by definition — this possibility never crossed my mind before I decided to remove the border.

    (2) But maybe people just didn’t notice the ads before. Since they were “sequestered” from the content by a border, people just put them out of their minds. Now they see them more, and see things they’re interested in. I don’t think the ads are “more interesting,” I just think they they were mentally “removed” from the page before.

    As for the guy that “reported” me to Google, I have an email into them for their opinion on this mess.

  20. What shaded areas? I didn’t “cook” anything. What’s there is pure, AdSense-supplied code. View the source, if you like.

  21. quoting “badboy” I don’t know where anyone got the inane idea that ‘related’ ads help you. They don’t. They’re advertising, but with this interesting twist. It’s like seeing a kid be glad that the commercials during the cartoons are about neat things like toys, and not boring things that would interest, say, a woman between the ages of 25 and 35.

    “Oh, but he’s such a success, his clicks went up because, by removing the border, more people saw that ever so interesting [crap that’s being advertised]”. BuIIshit, you greedy slobs. The clicks go up because people now have trouble seperating site content from advertising content, and the ones among us with less to do went and clicked.

    I’ve learned to ignore normal ads quite easily, and you know what I’m learning to do right now? How to ignore anything that looks like that little sidebar – so this site, and any other site that thinks bypassing people’s ability to filter garbage is a good idea.

    end of quote.

    Okay, good point. Initially, you were interested and you clicked some links. You didn’t like what you clicked. )I think that has more to do with advertisers not targeting their content more than anything else. ) Anyway, you made a decision. A decision NOT to click anymore.

    The point is … you have freewill and you make a decision based on experience.

    Every user should have that same option. Uninteresting? Maybe. But, based on the stats and REPEAT clickers, I’d have to say that they’re finding something interesting. Trickery? Not.

    And as for the person with the trigger happy finger. Think about what your actions caused today. One …. you reported someone who is upfront and honest. If he wanted to trick anyone or deceive anyone, this discussion wouldn’t be happening. Shoot, it would have been much easier for him to delete this entire thread and none of us would have known any difference.

    But nope … he was honest and posted about it and … despite being flamed and reported, he …. up to this day … leaves this post and comments here.

    Now … what exactly was it you reported him for?

    Dean … thanks for this site and don’t trip … ain’t nothin’ but a learning experience. Some people are just so miserable they try to infect it on others. ;o)

  22. WHOOPS!

    Forgot to mention it in my last post …. for those of you wondeiring why it takes so long to get replies from Companies when you email them …. this is a good example. Man hours go into investigating stuff that needen’t be.

  23. The fact that the ads are made to look like the rest of your page – white background, no border, same colour link text, etc is a little deceptive. Is that acceptable? I guess that’s up to you.

    It’s a lot like when newspapers or magazines have “special advertising sections” that look and feel just like the rest of the paper. Same format, same typeface. They defend it by the tiny writing at the top that says “special advertising section” and some people notice that. But many people don’t. So a lot more people read those advertisements because they think they’re journalism, not product shilling.

    So , yeah, the more the ads look like your content, the more response you’ll get. But you have to decide if you are comfortable with this deception. Obviously it gets results.

  24. as i can tell, the ads are clearly separated at RHS of this screen. everyone can tell it is an Ad, with or without a border.

    I am struggling to boost my gooads revenue over at my site.

  25. I am struggling to boost my gooads revenue over at my site.

    I’d like to think that the best way to get good revenue is to have good content. But apparently the way to do it is to TRICK PEOPLE. According to some, I’m really good at that.

  26. I don’t think that you are tricking people. It is really apparent that they are ads, and not other content on your site. Even the URL that you are going to be sent to is listed in the ad. How dumb can people be if they think that a link that clearly has the URL “” might take you to more content on

  27. Well, Google doesn’t hate me, at least —

    “I have reviewed the page you sent to us and can confirm that it currently complies with our policies.

    Please note that our system would automatically reject any combination of colors that didn’t provide sufficient contrast between the ad text color and the ad background color, and not having a border around the ads is not a violation of our policies. Therefore, as long as the ad code is unmodified, you don’t need to worry about selecting color choices that would violate our policies.”

  28. Whoa! Didn’t expect this to be such a hot topic.

    Deane, I would just like to make it perfectly clear that I did not and do not think that you are deliberately tricking people into clicking ads. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you for Gadgetopia. It’s been my homepage for quite some months now and I love it.

    The thing about borderless AdSense is that it feels just like those newspaper ads that masquerade as articles and get away with it by mentioning “Commercial Advertisment” somewhere at the top. I’m sure you hate those just like anybody else.

    You see, I and others are used to ads being destinguishable from content. This used to be the status quo. You’ve unpurposely broken that metaphore.

    I, personally, don’t see it as a paradigm shift allowing me to look at customized commercial content with fresh eyes. I see it as annoying advertisements :)

  29. The point that everyone is missing is that the fraud is being perpetrated by Google.

    The “background space” of adsense code is clickable. This one fact alone is responsible for most of the fruadulent clicks no matter what colors they are.

    The fact that google allows “complete” customization is the invitation for the end user to participate with them in this fraud by more clompletely disguising the ads as content.

    This reallity is clear and discussion moot.

  30. It’s not trickery or dishonest. The ads are clearly labeled. If the person clicking doesn’t see the Ads by Gooooogle label, then they really need to learn to be more observant. As for the whitespace being clickable….so what. It’s a moot point and totally useless for argument. It seems like good business practice to me. Only a conspiracy theorist would see fraud there.

    Besides, without the borders it just plain looks better.

  31. Without the borders, as the user scrolls down the page, the “Ads by Goooooogle” becomes hidden on top, so the ads actually appear to be part of the content, which IMHO can be tricky to some people. As long as “Ads by Goooooogle” can be seen with every ad no matter how the page has been scrolled, only then would I be okay with seeing no borders.

  32. Man I missed a good discussion. There were only two comments when I first read the post. As a regular reader, here are my thoughts (better late, than never):

    • To a normal user, they aren’t deceptive. If you can’t tell a Google ad (or any other ad that uses a similar format) with a mere glance by now, no one can help you. And no matter how much separation you put between content and ad, you’ll still have confused people (remember those that replied to Gates, Clinton and Bush posts here?).
    • After experimenting with AdSense myself and seeing how much an actual click goes for, I now click ads on my regular sites every now and then just to send a little something their way. Consider it a round-about solution to the micropayment scheme that everyone has been talking about for years.
    • As far as the separation goes, I believe that there was a subconscious effort to just block out the ads when there was separation. Removing the separation is a good move. Another site I visit frequently ( has ads that are completely separated. I never notice them because they just fade into the background.

    Don’t cave to the ad-haters – it’s your site. Yes, in a perfect world we wouldn’t have any. But Google ads are so much better than the Flash, animated gifs, pop-unders/overs, etc.

  33. Just a brief side note, regarding a few of the above comments. Too lazy at the moment to go back and cite them:

    An interesting side effect of the whole burgeoning Open Source movement, of which (movement, not so much the side effect) I am a strong proponent mind you, is that folks are beginning to complain when compensation enters into the picture. Or rather, A picture. Any picture.

    I agree that, boy it rocks when someone gives us something for free. But see, thing is, it’s also ok when they don’t. And even when they do, it’s still ok for ’em to ask for tips.

    Effort is put into Gadgetopia. It’s not magic. We’re not entitled. Deane, et al, have no obligation to continue providing the thing.

    Those couple or three folks above who imply nefarious behavior in the simple pursuit of what is likely a pittance for their time should take step back, breathe, and relax. Asking for money is not inherently evil.

    And trickery? Oh, c’mon. Really not deserving this level of discussion. It’s just not.

    And I’m pretty sure Darren (not Ian) was joking about putting the Ads in the content, mickeyKnox. Or, if it were Ian, Darren. Unless THAT was Mickey. Oh, lordy, the Comment poster references are confusing. What’s the deal, Deane? Is it the poster above or below the comment?

    Trying to trick us or something?

    Oh, and the first person to comment on how I’m tricking you with this comment wins, well, nothing really.

  34. Whatever happened to vistor responsibility? Any REASONABLE person should be able to distinguish between the ads and regular content on this site. We can’t hold everyone by the F’ng hand. I know, I know, people automatically assume this will lead to even more “trickery.” Perhaps, but I’m making my assertions in the context of this site and its adds.

  35. They’re just adverts, geez. You’re not going to die if you click one.
    If you’re not a newbie to the internet, you’ll have seen these ads before. And if you are a newbie, you’ll probably be phoning up the numbers on “you’ve won a trip to dinseyland!” popups.
    Nobody’s going to lose a limb if they click one frickin link.
    Saying that you need Ads by gooooogle next to every advert is silly. It’s like saying you MUST see the word Comments next to every comment made, because if you don’t you’ll get so confused you jump off the nearest building.
    Maybe one day the mouse of everyone who complained will sudddenly zoom to an ad without a border, click it and let you suffer the TERRIBLE fate you are all groaning over. Or a bird could just shit on your head. I’d be happy both ways.

    Kudos to people who express opinions and don’t just assume every click of that 70% was a “misled” one or whatever the new theory is.

  36. Hi Deane,

    The objective of Google Adsense Ads is that it should provide contextul ads in relation with the theme of your topic. The reason why Google provides customization is that you are free to change or experiment with the colours with borders or borderless as long as it is interesting to the visitor. Only thing is that we should not violate the Google TOS. Now a days, almost everyone on the earth can easily identitfy Google Adsense Ads.



  37. I agree. Visitors click on the ads because they found it might be useful. If visitors click and in the end the site has only junks, the loss is on advertiser. They pay for the clicks.
    Check this for more adsense tips

  38. I followed your opinion in one night my cpc soar little bit but not bad.. I may do it correct now.. hope sooner it will more bucks..

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