Many webmasters will monetize their sites in order to bring in additional money through ad placements. While the prospect of earning money off visitors to your site can be enticing to both personal and business website owners, many people don’t know about the possible negative affects of having ads. Most people don’t like ads, and Google is all about delivering helpful pages. So do ads on your site hurt your SEO?
Straightforward answer: Do Ads Hurt SEO?
Usually, no. If your site isn’t spamming ads and can be used easily, you’re probably okay. Even so, there are a number of things you should know in order to make sure you’re not losing traffic due to ads. Multiple types of ads can hurt your SEO efforts, and the degree of effect on your ranking can vary depending on a number of factors.
Ways Ads Can Hurt Your SEO
There is no “right” way to utilize ad placements on your site, but there are certainly wrong ways. Listed below are a number of reasons why having ads on your site can hurt your search engine rankings:
Having Too Many Ads – Slows Site + More
If you’ve already put ads on your site, it can be tempting to put even more ad spots throughout the site. Try to resist this temptation and remember that less can be more. While more ads means more money in the short time, the negative effects can lower your traffic and profit later on. More ads on your site can increase the number of resource calls, download uncompressed images, and leads to excessive scripting. Each of these three side effects will add to the weight of your site, causing a much slower speed. Site speed is a pretty significant ranking factor, and is becoming increasingly important seemingly every update. While one or two ads likely won’t change these ranking signals very much, a large number of ads can greatly reduce your site speed. The same effect is true for your text-to-HTML ratio, which some SEOs believe is a way Google measures amount of important information on the page. What is too many ads? It’s hard to say. Google used to have a 3-ads-per-page recommended limit, but that has since been removed. The removal was in favor of an ads-to-content ratio, and was also inspired by the increase of mobile searches where scrolling isn’t such a negative factor.
Overloading Your Crawl Budget
Sticking with the idea of ads increasing you page size, an increased page size can also overload the crawl budget of bigger sites. Google has a unique crawl budget for each website, which is the maximum amount of resources that Google will utilize when indexing your site. Each site has a different limit, and there’s some disagreement about how these budgets are determined. Most websites will have more than enough of a crawl budget, but excessive ads on every page can eat up your budget really quickly. Every additional resource call added by advertisements is a possibility for the spider to stop crawling your site. If your site has thousands of indexed pages, this could be an issue for you. If you have a smaller site or one that has extremely high traffic, it’s unlikely to hurt you.
Poor User Experience
The most prominent reason that ads can hurt SEO: A number of ad types lead to a poor user experience. While not all ad placements are created equal, Google might try to steer clear of certain ad types all together. The most problematic ads for user experience include: auto-playing videos (especially if they have sound or are hard to find), excessive popups (one popup is fine), and ad overlays that force you or trick you into clicking them. In all, any ads that are intrusive or hide the main content are subject to hurt your rankings. Auto playing videos are the most common ad-related SEO problem for non-spam sites, and this is one ad type that you shouldn’t ever use. Google tries to deliver sites with a positive user experience, and no one likes unexpected audio or lag from buffering. Other ad problems will be explained later. Remember that if you’re annoyed by an ad, everyone else is too. Even if you don’t get hurt from your site slowing down, you likely will be hurt by increased bounce rate. Speed and annoyance can combine to make the effect really bad, and make it unlikely for users to return.
Ad Penalties in the Ranking Algorithm
Google is usually secretive with their rankings, but they’ve announce a number of public updates relating to ads. The most notable of these is the original Top Heavy Update, released in 2012. This update was part of a large page layout algorithm change. The penalty was created to counter sites that place too many ads before the main content of the page. These “top heavy” pages create a frustrating user experience and hide the main content. Since the main content is the reason why a page exists, users shouldn’t be required to scroll through ads to see it. Standards have obviously changed since 2012, especially relating to mobile experience. Google added an “App Interstitial Giant Ad Penalty” to counter a trend of mobile apps giving full-screen popups to sell their app (you’ll still see these on all sorts of websites when you click on a Facebook ad, but search results have gotten better about weeding them out). If you have ads like these on your site, it could certainly be hurting your rankings. Google webmasters had this recommendation for people getting hit with this penalty: “Instead of full page interstitials, we recommend that webmasters use more user-friendly formats such as app install banners. We hope that this change will make it easier for searchers to see the content of the pages they are looking for.”
Ad Practices to Avoid
A few bad ads for SEO were mentioned earlier, but here’s a more succinct list of bad ads:
- Too many ads, especially above the main content.
- The main content should be the reason that the page exists. If the main content is pushed down the page, Google considers it a poor user experience.
- Also includes simply having a high ad density
- One ad above your main content likely doesn’t hurt, and ads in your header are fine
- Auto-playing videos
- These videos play when the page is loaded, even if the user doesn’t engage with it.
- Includes auto-playing audio without video
- Users find this very annoying
- Pop-ups and Interstitials
- Ads that popup over the main content
- Can be difficult to close and distracts from the main purpose
- Interstitials can redirect users away from the page without allowing them to go back
- Exit-intent popups are the most recommended for engagement and SEO
- Misleading Styling
- Ads intended to mislead into clicking on it.
- This ad is often used for spam and malware, and doesn’t serve a legitimate advertising purpose
- Abuse of pagination
- Some believe that articles requiring you to click through multiple pages to see the whole content get a penalty.
- This strategy is used to increase ad views by forcing you to click through a slide show with ad placements or go to multiple pages with ads
- The ads likely don’t hurt rankings, the hidden content is probably the bigger issue.
Using Ads Without Hurting Your SEO
If you’re using ads on your site without matching any of the above ad categories, you likely aren’t hurting your SEO (as long as your page speed isn’t slowed too much). To use ads on your site without hurting your SEO, there’s a simple set of solutions. First, look at your user experience. Ask yourself if you’d be annoyed by the advertising on the site. If you can genuinely answer “no”, your UX isn’t a big concern. You should also test out your load speed with and without ads. Check your load speed with Google’s PageSpeed insights tool for free. Lastly, if your Search Console is linked with AdSense, you should check to see if there are any issues with your ads on your site. For best practice, you should routinely check this. Ads on your site usually aren’t an issue for on-page SEO. If you think your AdSense ads could be hurting your SEO on your site, give us a call. We can run through your site and find the issues and help address them. We also specialize in optimizing your site through monthly programs. Whether you’re working on fixing an issue, expanding your content, or need some technical SEO help, we’ll create the perfect monthly plan for you.