We can all remember a time when the Internet was an annoying tool to use. We loved the creation of email and chat services that allowed us to instantly talk with friends and family around the globe, and who doesn’t enjoy reading about the latest news the moment it happens? But in those early days of the web, far too many websites were a tangled mess of ads that made it next to impossible to actually enjoy the content on the page.
Heavy advertising on a webpage may seem like good business. The more visitors your page has, the more valuable it is as an advertising forum. For the reader, those advertisements are little more than an annoying distraction that lessens their enjoyment and slows down their surfing. Too many ads on one page can bog down your site as viewers struggle to navigate with endless pop-ups appearing. On the other hand, you rely on those advertisements as a source of income from your website.
The question we seek to answer is simple: how much on-page advertising is too much? Somewhere in the jungle of potential answers is a solution that balances the advertising needs of your website, and the viewing pleasure of your visitors. Let’s get down to business then!
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Beware of Bunching
Long before the existence of the Internet, there was an advertising term used by newspapers known as above the fold. In print media, above the fold referred to advertisements that were visible on the newspaper stands the moment someone picked up the latest edition. Alongside major headlines, advertisements appeared in this high-value space. Readers wouldn’t have to open the paper at all to see these ads.
In the Internet Age, above the fold refers to the links, headlines, and advertisements featured at the very top of a webpage. Everything that shows up on your screen when you hit a landing page is above the fold because you haven’t had to scroll down the page yet. Webmasters started cramming as many ads as possible into this space because, like the newspapers of old, these were the ones that were most likely to be seen by viewers.
In its never-ending quest to clean up the Internet, Google is coming down hard on webmasters that bunch ads at the top. According to Search Engine Land, Google rolled out a new “page layout algorithm” in 2012 that punishes webmasters who bury valuable content at the bottom of the page under a heap of annoying ads. Plain and simple, viewers were dissatisfied when coming across a landing page they hoped had the content they searched for, only to waste time sifting around in search of the content in a minefield of ads.
If you thought Google would relent or forget about ads, you guessed incorrectly. As ShoutMeLoud.com notes, Google has rolled out a number of updates to the page layout algorithm since 2012. The most recent update came in February 2014. With that in mind, it’s time we address the concept of too much advertising.
How Much is Too Much?
In a simple world, Google would tell you how much advertising is too much. Then again, they wouldn’t be the crafty bunch they are if they just gave you the answer without making you work for it. The good folks at Search Engine Land reached out to Matt Cutts, the SEO guru behind Google’s spam team, for an answer to the question “how much is too much.” Unfortunately, he didn’t really tip his hand. His comments read as follows:
“We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. 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.”
Allow us to translate that comment for you into clear English. The only answer Google is willing to tell you outright is that placing too many ads above the fold is a sure-fire path to penalties, reduced standing in SERPs, and lower traffic for your site. What it doesn’t say is how much advertising across a full page or your entire site is too much.
The simplest answer to this question is to consider the following ratio: 3 ads per unit of rich content. What does this mean? Well, if you’re using Google AdSense, you’re well aware that you are limited to 3 advertisements surrounding any given portion of unique content. Webmasters are allowed advertisements in the banner at the top, vertically along the side of the page, and in the footer at the bottom. This 3-ads-to-one-content ratio appears to be the most effective.
However, it does come with a caveat. For starters, Google AdSense has been known to send users notifications alerting them that they can place more ads on their page. This would seem to be an underhanded play wherein one branch of the company pushes more ads while the another branch punishes you for too much advertising. Success lies in attention to detail.
What constitutes too much advertising will always depend on how much unique content is found on one page. If you have a number of preview windows on your landing page that offer snippets of unique content and allow users to follow a “read more” link to view the full content, AdSense would technically allow you to surround each snippet with ads. At the same time, your page could easily become cluttered and dampen the user experience.
If you really want to avoid placing too many ads on your page, the first place to start is above the fold. Remain vigilant and avoid placing more than 2 or 3 ads above the fold on your page. This is high-value space, but you need to give the readers what they are looking for right off the bat. To keep tabs on ads on the rest of your page, we recommend using Google Analytics. With an account, you have access to the Google Browser Size tool. This tool allows you to analyze the layout of your pages to determine how much content is visible at first glance for viewers, compared to how much advertising is cluttering the page.