Feeling blue? How color affects your AdSense CTR

Craig Ling Uncategorized

A common complaint from publishers is that they don't get enough creative control over the programmatic ads that appear on their sites.  Customizing AdSense settings, however, is one area where publishers can exercise some control over how ads look. 

Since AdSense allows publishers to customize the color settings for text ads (see guide at the end of this article), we decided to run an experiment across our network of sites to see how different color themes impacted ad performance.

An example of an AdSense text ad; you can adjust the color of the background, url, and text.

Our color test has been running for over 4 months, and we've learned that a good color combination can increase CTR up to 80% over a bad one.

While it's tempting to set it and forget it when it comes to AdSense, publishers are doing themselves a disservice by not testing customizations. Evaluating color themes and finding those that outperform others is a huge opportunity for publishers to positively impact ad performance. This is a regular part of our work with publishers, as we've found that while advertisers and marketers usually A/B test the creative, publishers aren't taking the opportunity to A/B test the presentation of ads, and could be missing out on a significant lift in revenue.

David Ogilvy, The Father of Advertising
Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.
- David Ogilvy, The Father of Advertising

AdSense allows you to create custom palettes, which give you a lot of flexibility to modify the board, background, title, URL, and text. For our test we adjusted two components at a time, title and URL colors,  in order to better understand how these affect AdSense ad revenue.

We're not going to tell you that one color definitively outperforms another, or that changing your AdSense palette will absolutely result in more revenue. In fact, what we found is that the same color theme that increased CTR on one site decreased it on another. What we will share is what we learned about how the mind processes colors, especially in relation to each other, and some of our findings relating to one of our own sites.


There is an entire discipline of psychology dedicated to how colors impact human behavior and emotions. Marketers see color choice as an important part of marketing and branding because colors can impact a consumer's opinion of a company and its products. Companies choose a palette for the brand strategically, to associate themselves with particular values or traits.

color guide

Image credit: https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-science-of-colors-in-marketing-why-is-facebook-blue

Marketers may also use certain colors in specific situations to prompt a particular behavior, such as quick decision-making, or to promote relaxation, as described below.

color buy


However, it is a simplistic view to assume that all people perceive all colors the same way. More recent research indicates that individual perception varies widely, and that each person has had unique experiences that impact how they feel about particular colors. Simply put, people like the colors of the things they like.

With this in mind as we started our experiment, we decided to focus less on the impact of specific colors, and more on how text ad colors related to those already existing on the site, and to each other within the ad itself.


To understand how we approached our experiment, an intro to color theory is in order. Color theory explains how colors should be mixed and/or combined to achieve particular results. It's based on three elements: the color wheel, color values and color schemes.

The color wheel

color wheel


The inner ring is made up of three types of colors:

Primary - red, blue and yellow

Secondary - colors that are made by combining two primary colors e.g. purple (red and blue), green (blue and yellow), and orange (yellow and red)

Tertiary - colors that are made by combining one primary and one secondary color e.g. red-orange, blue-green, yellow-green, etc.

These colors are considered pure.

Color values

As you move outwards from the center of the wheel, you'll find variations on pure colors:

Tints - pure color + white
Tones - pure color + grey
Shades - pure color + black

Color schemes

Monochromatic color schemes consist of a pure color, along with all of its shades and tints. A blue color scheme, for example, would range from pale blue to inky blue-black.

Analogous colors are adjacent to each other on the wheel, such as red and red-orange, or orange and orange-yellow.

Complementary colors are located directly across/on opposite sides from each other. Red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple are all examples of complementary pairings.


Now that you know a bit about color theory, let's talk about the approach we took for our experiment.

As part of our Ad Engine, we built a tool that tests different color combinations of AdSense ads. The system uses machine learning over time to discover which combinations or themes perform best on various  sites. We have been running this experiment on our network of sites for over 4 months . While clear winning combinations have been identified for each site, we continue to test other combinations against the highest-rated theme to ensure that we are capturing data under a variety of circumstances.


Based on our findings, top-performing color themes consist of those that are complementary or analogous to the main colors on the site. Because there is variety in the site schemes, we're not able to state that one color consistently outperforms another, but we are confident that text ads with complementary or analogous colors, providing contrast to the site colors, achieve the highest CTR.

As an example, let's look at the performance of various color themes on one of our sites, Snapsort.com. Here is a screenshot of the homepage, with a text ad using the top-performing theme:

snapsort screen theme

We tested the primary site colors against a number of test palettes (shown below, ranked from higher- to lower-performing).

color palette

Let's look at the top-performing theme onSnapsort.com. If you locate the test title color (yellow) on the color wheel, you'll see that it is analogous to the primary site color (yellow-green).  This means that yellow is next to to yellow-green on the color wheel.

You may also notice that the purple-blue color used for the URL is complementary to (across from) the secondary site color (yellow-orange). While these exact colors are not visible on this version of the color wheel, it makes sense that if blue and orange are complementary colors, then their variations would be complimentary as well. With this theme, we saw up to a 20% increase in CTR.

If you spend some time looking at the position of the top-rated themes in relation to Snapsort's primary colors on the wheel, you'll notice that they are almost always complementary, analogous or complementary-analogous to the site colors. We noticed this trend across our network - ad colors that contrast too sharply or that match too closely with the site are rated lower, while ads made up of complementary or analogous colors consistently perform best. The visitor's eye is drawn to an ad that stands out (isolation effect) but doesn't try to compete or create noise on the page.

Overall, the top themes yielded 7-20% increase in CTR on Snapsort.com, and within our network, we saw increases as high as 80%. While we understand that ad color isn't the only variable on any given day, we have tested these themes over time and under different circumstances, and we're confident that finding the right color theme for AdSense ads can improve their performance.

Ultimately, the best colors for your Google AdSense text ads are the ones that have been tested on your site and have shown improved CTR. If you're looking for a place to start, however, try experimenting with the colors that are complementary to your site's scheme, and see what happens.


Applying a new color theme to your text ads is easy.

  1. Visit the 'My ads tab', then select 'Ad styles'
  2. Select the ad style that you would like to change
  3. Edit the ad style, including font and text color
  4. Save

Google AdSense Help also provides information on additional customizations to how ads look on your site.

Try our AdSense color tester on your site

We at Sortable are publishers too, so we understand the challenges you face on a daily basis. Ads suck. We're trying to make them suck less. We run AdSense color tests on all the sites that work with  us, and we can help you generate more revenue for your site. If you are interested in trying it out on your site, contact one of our Ad Operations experts.