The ad debate: Will Google penalize ad-heavy sites?

Speaking at Pubcon in Las Vegas, Matt Cutts, head of Google's spam team, recently discussed the search engine's plans to possibly experiment with algorithms that would penalize ad-heavy web pages, Search Engine Watch reports.

Specifically, Cutts noted that the search engine would look at ads on a page to determine whether they were harming the quality of the content.

This news comes days after Google rolled out its "freshness" update, which rewards sites for having the most recent, up-to-date content. It was predicted that the move affected between 6 percent and 35 percent of search results. In short, according to Econsultancy, Google has been working to "filter out the junk, (and) promote quality and relevance."

Regarding ad-laden pages, Cutts stated "If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it. Do [your users] see content or something else that's distracting or annoying?"

However, Cutts' sentiment raised questions about how this might affect Google's AdSense product, which generates billions of dollars in local internet marketing revenue every year. AdSense encourages the placement of ads "above the fold," or on the part of the page that's visible without scrolling. However, SEW notes that some "working theories" that developed as a result of Google's updates included a prediction that above-the-fold ads may actually drop a website's page rank.

Frederic Fillioux, general manager of the French ePresse consortium, recently weighed in on the ad debate in an article for the Guardian. He explained that more websites have become ad heavy because in today's poor economic conditions, marketers have been asking for more space for less money.

"The result is … appalling when you try to isolate content directly related to the news," he wrote.

Fillioux added that well-known websites such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal feature less ad clutter because they don't rely heavily on ads for income. However, smaller online publications that are funded primarily via ad content may place advertisements in positions that may look undesirable to readers, discouraging them from returning.

Also, he notes that some sites offer subscriber and non-subscriber editions. The amount paid by the subscribing viewer essentially makes up for the fact that these pages feature fewer ads, and thus, create an increase in quality and the experience of the reader.