File Under: search

Google Tweaks Search Results to Punish Ad-Heavy Websites

Google has tweaked its search algorithm to punish websites with excessive advertising “above-the-fold,” that is, websites that stack the top of the page with nothing but advertisements.

According to Google, “rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.” To help users get to that content, Google may drop ad-heavy websites from its search results.

Google says that the change will only affect about one in 100 searches, and emphasizes that websites using what Google’s Distinguished Engineer and SEO guru Matt Cutts calls “ads above-the-fold to a normal degree” will not be affected.

Instead the change is designed to punish 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.” In other words, if a site is so packed with ads that people can’t find what they’re looking for then Google isn’t going to send them to that site anymore.

While the distinction seems clear at first glance, digging deeper reveals some potential confusion for webmasters — for example, what role does screen size play? On a netbook, for instance, Google’s own search results page is almost entirely taken over by advertisements, not the actual search results (i.e., the content).

Google on a netbook screen: Ads are in red, search results in green

At small screen resolutions, Google’s own search results page is one of the worst offenders when it comes to advertising clutter obscuring content. That seeming hypocrisy may leave some webmasters wondering what constitutes “a normal degree of ads” and how screen size affects what is defined as “normal.” Sticking simply with what Google has written about the change, copying Google’s search results page is probably not a good idea in this case.

Cutts does encourage webmasters view their websites at different screen resolutions, suggesting that screen size does play a role, but unfortunately he doesn’t offer any details about what that role is or how it affects the algorithm’s new layout ranking scheme.