Google “Related Links” looks to be the poor man’s version of Google Adsense (meaning you don’t get money for publishing it, ha ha). Let’s take a quick first look at the way they compare (an in-depth comparison will take some time, especially since Adsense is known to adapt in the period of a few days to a week, Related-Links might do the same).
How well does it work compared to Adsense? How fast does it show any content? Is the content shown relevant to the page? How does it check the displayed content? Does it respect your robots-exclusion settings?
Some technicalities regarding the following tests first:
The domain names used for these tests have no history at all, they were set up for testing, the DNS correctly set but not activated on the web server (eg all previous robot accesses could not access any content). The domain names themselves are about one month old. Each test was done on a separate domain name with the same content on the page.
The test site was quite short, displaying one simple H1-header with “Google Adsense Money” (original, huh?) and two p-blocks with some pseudo-sentences with a similar collection of keywords. The idea was to take a topic that had enough content in Googles databases to be able to fill up three Related Links and Adsense blocks (both 300x250 pixel).
Which robot is used to extract information for “Related Links”?
I tracked the following robot accesses across all test sites:
2006-04-04 10:52:04 18.104.22.168 (…) GET /robots.txt (…) HTTP/1.1 (…) Mediapartners-Google/2.1
2006-04-04 10:52:07 22.214.171.124 (…) GET /(pagename) (…) HTTP/1.1 (…) Mediapartners-Google/2.1
Apparently it uses the same bot as Adsense does. In fact - it is the Adsense bot: On the test sites with both Adsense and Related Links there was only one bot access (for robots.txt and for the page itself). It looks like Adsense and Related Links share the same dataset.
Do Related Links respect your robots.txt?
Since Related Links and Adsense use the same robot, they both respect the robots.txt file similarly: With all robots blocked in the robots.txt file (User-agent: * | Disallow: /) the robot did not make any tries at accessing the content at all.
Adsense then tries to match its blocks to the URL (as much as possible, you can help it by using additional query-string parameters) - Related Links does not even try to display anything in this case, instead just showing an empty block with a search box.
In cases where the Google-Mediapartners-Bot is blocked, Adsense will still display something whereas Related Links seems to display nothing. It would be interesting to test this on a site with existing content, disallowing just the page with Related Links / Adsense.
How fast is the content shown in Related Links?
On existing pages that already use Adsense the content is shown instantly, no refreshes are needed. That makes sense, seeing that the two services share the same robots and probably the same data sources.
On new domains the content is shown very quickly. On a test site with the first Google access ever, the Google Mediapartners-Bot came to visit 6 seconds after the initial access, reading both the robots.txt and the page itself within the same second. Just 8 seconds later the Related Links blocks already showed relevant content (the content did not vary from then on).
The Adsense blocks however, took a bit longer - they showed no content (just two general items in the first block, nothing in the other two blocks) when Related Links was already showing data. Adsense took 1 minute 45 seconds to display the first relevant content (that time frame is of course irrelevant for any normal website).
Using multiple Related Links blocks on the same page
When using multiple blocks on the same page, Adsense will try to fill as many as possible. [It is interesting to watch Adsense: on my test site the first block showed one ad, the second block two ads, the third block showed four ads. I assume this is systematic, since it did not change over the test run.]
Google Related Links instead displays the same content in all three blocks. That makes it a bit of a joke - even though you can place up to three blocks on a page, it will display the same content in all of them? The chosen keywords on the page give us over 44 million links in Googles search, so it can’t be that. Google doesn’t know anything more to show.
Google displayed the same content in all three categories: Searches, Web pages and news.
Relevance in Adsense vs. Related Links
Letting the test sites sit for an hour (yes, Google Adsense will take a week or so to really adapt to the content, but this is a quick test :-)), I took a look at the content displayed.
Here’s what the Adsense blocks displayed:
Here’s what the Related Links blocks displayed (note: all three blocks displayed the same content - this is just opening the three tabs on one block to display the sections):
Personally, I feel the relevancy of the Adsense blocks is better (for this site and test-run). Suggesting misspelled searches (“Search Engins”) is not really something you want to show visitors - if you want your site to be taken seriously at all. I don’t know where Google gets this information from, but it really looks like it does not get any manual reviews before being put online (on other peoples sites). I imagine if you were to write a page about what a “miserable failure” some product is, you might get a suggestion to search for the Whitehouse (in other words: just another way to misuse Google to display content elsewhere).
With Adsense you can at least add a competitive filter to filter out sites that you do not want displayed on your own site (even though this filter is really almost useless for any multi-website use). Google Relative links offers no such protection.
Personal summary in my comparison of Google Adsense and Related Links
In my opinion, Google Adsense does a better job at targeting the page being displayed. It will fill out three blocks with different content. You have a small chance of filtering out items that you do not want displayed and you can be sure that the displayed items are manually reviewed from time to time.
Why should I give up (or compete against) my Adsense revenue to display something that is less useful for my visitors?
Google is sure to work on the service in the future. The first versions of these things are always a bit on the rough side. Even assuming that the relevance and quality of the entries was the same as Adsense, why would the webmaster choose to place free content blocks on their page when they could be earning money with them?
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