Still Struggling with Google's Algorithm Updates? Here’s What You Can Do

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Have visits to your website from search engines continued to decline over the past few months?

Without knowing it, your site may have fallen foul of the various and continual quality updates from Google. Websites that rely on advertising and affiliate links are the most vulnerable to these updates for three reasons:

  1. Ad-heavy experience (way too many ads on a page)
  2. Intrusive ads (think pop-ups, countdowns, etc.)
  3. Thin content / no perceived added value to users

In this article, we’ll focus on the first couple of points, specifically what you can do to avoid penalization and how to recover if you’ve been struggling with this. (For more on how to create relevant, valuable content, click here.)

But first, let’s talk about ad experiences...

So, what’s a bad ad experience and who decides?

Firstly, Google defines an ad experience as: “The combination of site layout and behavior, and content and ads that your users are exposed to” and then differentiates mobile vs. desktop. This information is not focused on text-based affiliate links but on banners/ graphical displays.

So, who decides if an ad experience is bad?

This is a great question that is addressed by theCoalition for Better Ads, which was formed by leading international trade associations and companies involved in online media in late 2016 as a direct response to the rise of ad blocking software and to act as a regulator for internet ads. Currently it boasts 35 members including Google, Facebook and various other news and ad publishers. The group aims to create and enforce global standards using technology that scores ads based on consumer research, as well as on page load time and number of tracking pixels.

The first consumer survey undertaken by the Coalition for Better Ads had 25,000 participants across North America and Europe, and graded various ads on how much they annoyed and frustrated people. The following are ads were deemed the most problematic:

You can read an explanation of each in this PDF overview, and learn more about the research and methodology on the website.  Note all of these poor ads are large graphics -- text links still seem to be fine.

Why does this matter for your website?

Google is a part of this coalition, and we’ve already seen websites impacted by changes in its algorithms earlier this year. Demoted websites were notable for having what’s been deemed as an “intrusive ad experience” -- targeted for what was most likely based in part on the above information. Google also plans in 2018 to launch ad blocking within Chrome based upon this same criteria.

Coupled with Google’s push towards a faster mobile experience (AMP) and its mobile first index approach, this will be heavily linked to these changes. We often find that third party advertising significantly slows page load time, and faster loading pages support better conversion.

So what can you do?

Firstly, the good news is that you now know the rules: No pop-up ads, no full-screen ads (especially with countdowns), and no animated, sticky or auto-playing ads. In fact, no more than 30% of the page content should be ads.

But what if you’re using an ad network, and how can you tell if you have a problem?

Good news! Google launched a tool that you can use to identify whether or not your website is at risk from upcoming Chrome updates. This will also give you insight as to whether or not your website is being impacted by the search engine’s ad quality algorithms.

 Introducing the Ad Experience Report

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You need to have a Google Search Console account and your website validated in order to use this tool. Once that’s done, find “Web Tools” in the left window. Choose your website, and start by focusing on the mobile report, as it's probably the most critical.

Once you’ve run the report, you’ll see one of the following statuses:

●      Not reviewed: Google hasn't yet reviewed the ad experiences on your site. As a best practice, they recommend preemptively fixing any questionable ad experiences before they review your site.

●      Passing: Google reviewed your site and didn’t detect a significant number of negative ad experiences on your website.

●      Warning: Google reviewed your site and detected a number of ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards. You should fix the issues as soon as possible, and submit your site for another review.

●      Failing: Google reviewed your site and detected numerous ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards. You should fix the issues as soon as possible and submit your site for another review. If your site remains in this status, Chrome will filter ads.

If your website is deemed as failing, and you need another review, be careful to make all necessary adjustments. There is no delay the first or second time you request a review, but subsequent requests will have a 30-day delay -- and you don’t want to be penalized for an extended period of time.

Google will provide guidance on what you need to do, but put simply, it’s really about removing the poor ad experiences and submitting for review once done.

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You can read more about the Ad Experience Report here:

●      Introduction to the Ad Experience Report

●      Accessing and using the Ad Experience Report

●      Fixing issues and submitting for review

●      About ad experience reviews

What will happen if I ignore this?

Not only can you expect your traffic from search engine referrals to decline, but also since Chrome now represents a very significant share of the internet browser market, you can expect your ad revenues to also decline. This will be because your ad placements will be frequently blocked for more people that visit your site.

Recommendations

If you don’t have the time to read all of the information Google provides or do a detailed audit your site, here are some recommendations that are quick and easy to implement:

  1. Limit tracking pixels and advertising networks -- keep to one or two networks.
  2. Use a well-established ad network, as they’re more likely to serve faster ads on your pages.
  3. Only use recommended placements and ad sizes; here’s a good guide.
  4. Only use the micro placement (300 x 50, 300 x 250, 320 x 50, 320 x 250) for mobile app banners, including for deep linking and promoting app downloads. Try to avoid using full pages wherever possible.
  5. Don’t place ads after every paragraph -- keep it to only a couple of placements at most.
  6. Don’t use one of every type of display placement.
  7. Avoid any kind of pop-up ad or auto-playing ads.

Algorithm updates are constant and the push for better user experiences are continual -- now is the time to take action to ensure your website is above board when it comes to advertising experiences. We’re always here to help you stay on track, so if you have any questions or feedback, we’re here to help. Send us a message anytime at AskEPN@ebay.com

Pete Dainty is Senior Director of Shopping Experience & leads SEO at eBay, where his focus is building eBay’s new structured experiences for a better customer experience.

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