Why you need the Adsense Competitive Ad Filter

While it didn’t invent search-triggered ads, Google figured out a far more efficient way of turning web-users into buyers. Rather than doling out premium space to the highest bidder, as its competitors did, Google used another algorithm to work out how relevant the ad text was to a given query and the odds someone would actually click on it. This meant ads were targeted at the users most likely to respond to them. The result was that Google’s ‘click through’ rate (the number of times users click on ads) was twice as high as its nearest competitor’s.

(Sunday Times)

You signed up for Google Adsense, verified your home address, typed in the secret code they sent you and now you have adverts on your website. Are you earning the most you can from them? Probably not. Read the quote above again. I’ll wait.

Done? Many advertisers already know this and exploit how Google pick their adverts so their low-paid adverts show in preference to higher paid ads. A whole industry has sprung up around this to create “Made For Adsense” or MFA sites. MFA sites make money because the link clicked to get to them costs them less than the money they make from the adverts your visitors click on their sites. Google took action earlier in the year and disabled many MFA accounts but it’s easy enough to get an Adsense account and they’re coming back. Here are the Alexa graphs for a couple of MFA sites who were stopped in their tracks in June:


And here’s an inappropriate site I don’t want advertising on my site.


Unfortunately despite the culling of MFA sites in June there are still plenty of low-paid adverts in the Adsense inventory. That’s where the Competitive Ad Filter comes in useful. At least once a week, or maybe more often I browse through the most popular posts on my sites looking at the adverts. If a URL looks particularly suspect I manually type it into a new browser window (don’t ever click on your own ads!). If the page that loads looks like an MFA site it gets added to my ad filter.

Criteria for MFA Sites:

  • Content free. The site will have very little content, or the content will be ripped from elsewhere. Sometimes this is easy to pick up on.
  • Lots of adverts compared to content.
  • Directory site. The front page is a list of unrelated subjects.
  • Front page lists link directly to product affiliate links.

Basically, spammy behaviour.

How do I know if cheap adverts are being served? Log in to Adsense and check the “Page eCPM” column on the Reports Overview page. Is it lower than $5? You could probably do much better! eCPM stands for “Effective Cost Per Thousand Impressions”. From the Adsense help page:

From a publisher’s perspective, the effective cost-per-thousand impressions (eCPM) is a useful way to compare revenue across different channels and advertising programmes. It is calculated by dividing total earnings by the number of impressions in thousands. For example, if a publisher earned $180 from 45,000 impressions, the eCPM would equal $180/45 or $4.00. However, please keep in mind that eCPM is a reporting feature that does not represent the actual amount paid to a publisher.

I document changes to my Competitive ad filter on notspam.org. The sites listed in those posts suit my sites, but if you don’t use the ad filter in Adsense it’s a good starting point. Hopefully you can increase the eCPM of your Adsense account above US$5 with only a few small changes.

17 thoughts on “Why you need the Adsense Competitive Ad Filter

  1. Interesting post. I run Adsense out of interest more than anything but I have now downloaded the Adsense Preview tool and started adding sites to my own competitive Ad filte to try to increase my CPM which is, err, shall we just say, currently somewhat less than $5 🙂

  2. Justin – you’re welcome, the eCPM depends on your content too, but getting rid of the MFA sites who try to target common blog words like “trackback”, “comments”, “post” and others will help.

  3. Hmm I’m going to give this a try on my website, thanks for the information. Basically the higher the eCPM, the higher my commision will be then?

  4. Fabian – it’s more an indication of how expensive the ads are on your pages. The higher the amount, the more money you’ll get. The percentage commission stays the same I presume (which Google never reveal, how much of the cost of each click are we the publishers getting?) but yes, your commission rises too.

  5. I run many adsense websites and I find the key to better monetization is to introduce other revenue streams such as targeted affiliate programs. Basically not relying only on adsense revenue. Also, make sure your title tags etc (yawn, yawn – I know – but they are still very important_. Of course, original content is best but having some duplicate content doesn’t do any serious harm to rankings.


  6. another way to increase eCPM is to remove the adds from your website for a day and when put back your ecpm will go back to 1,500.00
    mine has never once gone below 150.00
    the reasons of the default state of the eCPM
    is that people visit the site so the page impressions go up but nobody see any adds (as you’ve removed them)so the 100% ctr stays the same and doing so in ration wise it maxes out the eCPM to its default state to (for me) is 1,500.00 which equals $1.50 a click aslong as everone from the site clicks through otherwise my % would go down

  7. Hi,

    Just noticed you have not updated your filter for quite some time. Did you stop updating your list on notspam.org?

  8. Steve – unfortunately I find I have less and less time to devote to all my blogs these days, and even less to optimizing my ads. I will find time for it soon, I hope!

  9. I haven’t been getting a low payout. I think everything is fine. MFA sites are practically dead in my opinion.

  10. I Using Adsence since April and i get very few Impressions Google has me in the sandbox . but if i do get impressions they have ranged for most of the time eCPM 0.02 to 1.15
    Although once i had it as high as $ 33.15 .After Taking Your Advice with just one Filter i seen my eCPM go up 20 cents in just a few minutes.

  11. The competitive filter idea sounds good, but in practice I am not so sure – I have tried this several times only to find ecpm and income drop like a stone – sometimes the ads that are displayed after filtering out the “spammy” ones pay even less per click or there are no ads at all.

    Other times I have noted that income and ecpm does go up for a day or two but then it returns back to where it was, but I am left with an even smaller pool of potential advertisers.

    On one website after filtering out all the totally irrelevant advertisers my web site was left without any ads at all and with $00.00 income…

    Use the competitive filter with caution… you could end up earning less – or nothing at all.

  12. Wow, I never knew this before. I have always been utilizing competitive filter in my Google Adsense account but never realized that it can increase your eCPM. Many times I myself see unrelated ads pop one too many times. So, over the years, I have actually added over 10 websites in my filter. In the beginning, I used to get a lots of 1 cents to 10 cents pay, but now I only get 50cents to 2 dollar clicks. I always wondered why and now I know.

    You always learn something new everyday online.


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