If your website, or any part of it, is directed at Children then running display advertising on it can pose a few problems. You probably already work hard to ensure that your website content it suitable for your younger audience, but what about the ads that are shown?
Offering advertising on your website means relinquishing some control over the content. If you only sell advertising directly then you can maintain control over every creative. However once you go out to the networks that can be harder to manage.
The problem doesn’t just stop at ad-content either. The technologies used in some advertising might be inappropriate when used on minors (or even illegal in some cases).
Plenty of child friendly sites do run advertising, so what can be done to ensure that you are running them in a safe and appropriate way?
Google’s “Child Directed Treatment” initiative
If you run advertising through AdSense, DFP or DoubleClick Ad Exchange you can use Google’s option to “Tag for Child Directed Treatment”. This is a means to indicate to Google that particular content is aimed at Children and that they should apply their technology appropriately.
For kids websites, or those with a distinct children’s section in its own subdomain or sub-directory, this is most easily applied at site level through the webmaster tools search console. Once you have your website registered with Google Webmaster tools this is simply applied to either an entire domain, sub domain or directory as per the instructions on this Google help page.
Specify ‘Child Directed Treatment’ as ad unit level
If you require more granular control, for instance just to apply Child Directed Treatment to particular content pieces, it can also be applied at ad unit level either through AdSense, DFP or AdX . In each case it just requires a small change to the ad tag, as per the appropriate instructions linked below:
- Tag AdSense units for child directed treatment
- Tag DFP units for child directed treatment
- Tag AdX units for child directed treatment
What does “Child Directed Treatment” mean?
It’s a good question and not one that is answered that clearly in the documentation other than to say “we will take steps to disable interest-based advertising and remarketing ads for that content.” .
This means that the Child Directed Treatment is in relation to the way Cookies are used rather than the actual content of the creatives of where they link to. Units tagged for child directed treatment will not show ads based on past sites that user visited or their inferred interests. That doesn’t though mean that the ads will then become “child friendly”. For that we need to start taking control of the ads served.
Category blocking to make ads child friendly
AdSense and AdX users have the option to block categories of ads that they do not believe are appropriate to their audience. Sensitive categories such as Gambling & Betting are obvious choices, but site owner might consider some general categories also worth blocking.
For AdSense users these blocks get applied site-wide. AdX users can have the blocks apply to different parts of their sites using blocking rules and trafficking ads accordingly.
Either way category blocking isn’t designed for this purpose and, like any blocking is likely to result in lower earnings.
Is it enough?
The measures above might help you meet your obligations, but will do little to help monetise an audience with a large proportion of minors. For that you are like to need to look beyond Google and even beyond finding a single solution. Taking a multi-pronged approach is likely to be the best result, with ad demand coming from sources such as:
- Direct and agency deals
- Affiliate programmes
- Specialist “child friendly” networks such as SuperAwesome
Will Google ever offer “AdSense for kids”?
The ad funded “YouTube Kids” app has made some kids website owners hopeful that a kids focused version of AdSense could be on the horizon. All ads shown on the Children’s version of the YouTube app are “approved as family friendly”. That approval means the exclusion of obvious categories such as sexual health, but also less obvious controversial categories such as Food and Drink. The ads also undergo what Google have described as “a rigorous review process”.
The ads are also somewhat different in format to the Google Ads that we are all used to seeing around the web. During OKO testing of the YouTube Kids app all ads displayed were full video ads that could not be clicked. In essence TV ads rather than what we have come to expect as web ads. A Google spokesman confirmed to The Guardian that “All ads are clearly labelled and include ad intros. Ads don’t include any click-throughs to websites or product purchase flows.”.
This is bad news for publishers of Child focused websites. The approval process and different format mean that there will be limited ad impressions available. This could present an obstacle to having these formats available to publishers. If they do become part of the AdSense offering we’d expect Child Friendly AdSense to be video only at first, building on the work and demand created by YouTube. Whether that ever happens will most likely depend on whether Google is able to find enough child friendly advertisers faster than they can build an audience through YouTube Kids.
This article was originally published in July 2015 and updated in November 2015 to add details about the fully released version of YouTube for Kids.
Mat has been supporting content creators on the web since 1996. As Co-founder of OKO Digital, Mat became the first person in the UK qualified to AdSense partner status and repeated this first with Google Certified Publishing Partner programme.