Google’s Algorithm Change: When Too Many Ads Attack

    January 21, 2012

If your site looks like one of those “Post No Bills” wall that’s covered in assorted flyers, ads, and various forms of clutter, there’s a good chance Google’s new algorithm change will result in these ad-covered sites being punished, especially if the ad assault appears above the fold. News of Google’s latest algorithm adjustment, something that’s been hinted at before, was recently announced on Google’s Inside Search blog, and the details are pretty straightforward, that is, until you ask “how much is too much?”

Are you one of the site owners Google is referring to? If so, do you plan on moving your ads around or are you going to wait and see what happens? Let us know if Google’s new algorithm adjustment affects you.

While there is no “x amount of ads exceeds our standard,” the blog post does offer some theoretical details about how the change targets the “too many ads” sites, while emphasizing their “above the fold” standard. The [emphasis added] sections are ours:

This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally.

For more on Google’s change:

How Is Google’s Algorithm Update Determining “Ads Above The Fold”?
If you’re a user then you’re probably clapping and cheering Google for this update. If you’re an SEO expert, or an owner who’s sole income comes from a website or group of websites then depending on how neurotic you are, you’re either slightly concerned or freaking out… Read more here

Google’s Ad Related Algorithm Update Analyzed By Experts
There’s one specific aspect of this topic that many experts have been questioning, and it’s whether or not Google is being hypocritical in regards to their latest algorithm changes penalizing sites with too many ads above the fold… Read more here

The question everyone is asking is how much is too much? Does Google have a number of ads in mind before it starts dolling out updated algorithm punishments? Based on what Google’s saying, if the ads make accessing the actual on-page content a chore, and the proliferation of ads appear above the fold, there’s a good chance your site will be stung.

As indicated, Google made the point of saying the new adjustment will only affect under one percent of searches, meaning, from Google’s perspective at least, the act of stuffing ads on a site, ads that obfuscate the content, is not an epidemic. From Google’s perspective, the updated algorithm is presented as a housecleaning tool, one that improves a user’s search engine experience by pushing ad-loaded sites down, while bringing the quality content up, at least theoretically.

For those sites that might have been punished in lieu of the new algorithm adjustment, unfortunately, you may be stuck with your site’s adjusted position in Google’s index, even if you make the necessary changes immediately after you’ve been punished. As pointed out by Danny Sullivan, around the time the above-the-fold ads algorithm change went live, he received an email from Google’s AdSense team, suggesting his personal blog put more ads on it, and they even sent a diagram suggesting how these ads should be positioned around the content.

Essentially, Google wants the content surrounded by ads, they just don’t want you to over do it, especially for content appearing above the fold. Google’s email also refers its recipients to a video about ad placement, which also suggests avoiding a proliferation of ads, especially at the top of the page:

Essentially, the lesson is this: don’t let ads push your site’s on-page content down, unless you risk being punished. Furthermore, the algorithm update punishes the entire site, not just the pages that have lots of ads above the fold. This means if 99 percent of your site is compliant, but you forgot to clean up one of you ad-heavy pages that obscures the content, there’s a chance the site as a whole will be dinged by the new algorithm.

The question is:

Google ad-heavy SERPs
Click for larger image

Will Google punish themselves?

As you can see, the search engine results page for the query “Samsung TV” pushes the organic content almost off the page. What happens when the gatekeeper quasi-violates their own rule, especially when they are making a point to inform site owners about the potential damage they can cause search engine rankings by making their pages top heavy with advertisements?

Does Google’s new algorithm change give you pause when it comes to placing ads on your sites or is this much ado about nothing? Let us know what you think.