Many online businesses monetize their websites using display ads – either through a network like AdSense, or by selling ads directly. One of the first banner ads online belonged to AT&T, and was first displayed in October 1994. Logically, it makes sense that if you have a decent amount of traffic, you should make it work for you with ads.
And while you certainly can, it’s a bit more complex nowadays than it used to be. It’s no longer as simple as throwing up ads wherever you want on your website. If you’re not properly implementing ads, you could dramatically harm your search rankings. And if your search rankings plummet, your traffic, and thus earning potential will suffer.
How Ads Negatively Affect SEO
Too Many Ads Above the Fold
Your website visitors want to get straight to your content – and if they see a bunch of ads rather than they content they came looking for, they’re not going to be happy. Don’t make your visitors scroll past a bunch of ads to get to the article or blog post that brought them to your website in the first place. Chances are they’re not going to click those ads anyway –so you won’t make money either way.
If you’re not sure about the best placement for your ads, Google has an extensive guide that outlines their policies. Following these guidelines will ensure you’re not subject to penalties for too many ads or accidental clicks.
Too Many Ads in General
Google wants to make sure the websites that are ranking at the top are providing real value to users – providing the information they are looking for. Remember, Google is a business with customers (searchers) to keep happy, and if searchers aren’t happy with their experience, their business suffers.
Let’s talk about the prevalence of ad blockers for a second. In 2016, an estimated 69.8 million Americans used ad blockers, an increase of 34.4% over the previous year. It’s expected the figure will increase another 24% to reach 86.6% million this year. And while the use of ad blockers is more prominent on computers than smartphones and tablets, as mobile internet usage increases, so will the number of users relying on ad blocking software.
As scary as that is for publishers, The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) released a report that shows about 66% of consumers using ad blockers could be convinced to uninstall them in the industry changed the habits users find most annoying. These include:
- Making sure ads don’t auto play, or use video in environments where customers aren’t expecting them
- Ensuring ads do not block content
- Have safeguards in place to protect users from malware
- Ensuring ads don’t slow browsing.
This approach would not only make the experience better for users, but for Google as well.
Ads are Killing Your Site Load Time
Each time an ad requires an external call, it means the browser has to download something from another server. While you’ll likely have some non-ad related external calls, each one can contribute to site speed issues. Yes, there are load stacking tactics you can use to counter it, but that only works to a certain degree.
When you consider that 47% of people expect a website to load within two seconds or less, and 40% of people will abandon a website that takes longer than three seconds to load – there’s no point in having ads on your site for people to click, if they don’t even stick around for the site to load in the first place. Since site speed is a ranking signal, bogging your site down with ads can harm your ranking, too.
Want to know how your website is doing? Use a site speed testing tool like Pingdom or Web Speed Test. Then, turn off your ads, and run it again. Of course, your ads are not the only thing that can negatively affect your site load time, but the tool will help you with suggestions for improvement.
You’re Overloading the Crawler Bots Resources
Each ad on your website is a potential obstacle for users, but that also includes the bots that are trying to crawl your website for indexing and ranking purposes. When the ads require a lot of resources, it slows the bots down, and the bots don’t like it. If they have to work too hard, they’ll just give up and move on to the next time. The bots are tasked with crawling literally everything on the internet – and that requires a lot of resources. If you overload them, they’ll move on not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to.
Google has a crawl budget. This is the amount of resources Google will use to index your site. They don’t place a specific set limit on it because they know each site is unique – and larger websites will clearly need more resources. But, every time the bots hit a resource call (whether ad related or not) it’s a place for the bot to stop the crawl because of excess trips to the server and back delaying page rendering.
Many things can cause delays in page rendering. If your ad network isn’t compressing images or has scripting errors, that’s a recipe for disaster. If your content loads after your ads, the crawler has to wait for the rest of the Document Object Model (DOM) to load, and when this happens, it’s likely the crawler will just stop indexing.
In the past, Google had limited sites to no more than three AdSense blocks on a page, but they’ve since changed the rule. Now, rather than a limit, they will focus on penalizing sites that have more ads than publisher provided content. So, if the crawlers see more ad content before your actual content, you could be in trouble. Don’t worry about it too much if you’ve only got a few pages like this, but if you have an ad template on all pages, review it to ensure you’ve got a good balance between ads and content.
Best Practices for Ads on Your Site
The main reason you’re getting traffic is because of the content you have to offer – not the ads. Yes, you’ll earn some money when people click those ads, but they should never be placed in such a way that detracts from your content. You could increase your bounce rate (thus negatively affecting your rankings) if you don’t think the placements through.
Eye-tracking studies have shown ads placed above and to the left get the most views. Above the fold ads aren’t an issue, as long as they don’t push down or distract from the main content of the page. When the ads get in the way, that’s what causes the poor user experience.
Less is More
Less is more is a great philosophy to live by in many types of design – and web design is no exception. Putting too many ads on a webpage may clutter the experience, which isn’t good for usability.
Ensure Your Ads Look Like Ads
Your ads should look like ads. That doesn’t mean you can’t design them in such a way that complements the styling of your website, but you must establish enough of a difference so that users clearly understand they are ads. Google doesn’t want you to mislead users for the purpose of getting clicks. When users think they’re clicking on something that will lead them to additional content on your website only to discover they’ve clicked an ad are taken somewhere they were not expecting, they don’t have a good experience. It’s upsetting, and when it happens too often, Google will take notice. Alternatively, you can turn to native advertising like sponsored content, so the ad fits the nature of your website.
To Sell Ads or Not to Sell Ads
Whether or not you should have ads on your site depends on the niche and purpose. If your purpose is to publish content – resulting in a website like Huffington Post – then ads are expected. But, if your website is your corporate business website, ads may not make sense. You’re monetizing the website in other ways, using it as a lead generation vehicle. Many e-commerce sites like Amazon advertise other related products, and that makes sense, too. Occasionally, you’ll see ads to take you offsite, but for the most part, it’s not a good idea to advertise on your business website – because the goal is to keep people on your website as long as you possibly can.
Ads, when implemented correctly, can be a tremendous source of revenue. With thought and planning, it is possible to incorporate ads without sacrificing the user experience. Think about your users, and ensure your website focuses on something other than ad revenue generation. People aren’t coming to your website to find ads to click – they are coming for helpful, valuable, information. If they click an ad and you make a bit of money, that’s just a fringe benefit.
Do you rely on ad revenue? Does this affect whether or not you use an ad blocker when you’re browsing? Tell me what you think in the comments below.