One source of constant confusion and debate in the AdSense community has been the placement of images next to ads. Many people discovered that putting images right next to ads caused an increase in the CTR of ads. Google, however has come back to publishers and told them that they are not allowed to do this, and ads that appear physically related to the ads are not allowed.
Google has now posted a blog entry that clarifies AdSense’s image policy.
Here is what I believe is the main thrust of the policy:
We ask that publishers not line up images and ads in a way that suggests a relationship between the images and the ads. If your visitors believe that the images and the ads are directly associated, or that the advertiser is offering the exact item found in the neighboring image, they may click the ad expecting to find something that isn’t actually being offered. That’s not a good experience for users or advertisers.
Many publisher have tried to put a thin line between the images and the ads, but according to Google, that is not good enough:
If the ads and the images appear to be associated, inserting a small space or a line between the images and ads will not make the implementation compliant.
So, the basic rule is, don’t try to fool your visitors. This is still a subjective judgment, but try to view your site as if you were a Google engineer, and ask if it seems acceptable or not.