Changes were made last week to the AdSense and Ad Exchange policy pages relating to the number of Google ads that a publisher can place on each web page. There has not yet been an official announcement from Google about the change but this is not unusual in itself. Publishers are expected to stay informed about policy changes and they are not always announced. This is quite a significant change though and we would not be surprised if more information appears on the official blog before long.
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What has changed?
The previous policy was very rigid and very clear. Any page could contain a maximum of three AdSense for content units, three AdSense link units and 2 AdSense for search boxes. These hard limits have been replaced with more subjective rules that focus more on the ratio of “publisher provided content” to ads.
“Advertising and other paid promotional material added to your pages should not exceed your content. Furthermore, the content you provide should add value and be the focal point for users visiting your page. For this reason, we may limit or disable ad serving on pages with little to no value and/or excessive advertising until changes are made.”
Why the change?
Many publishers are already raising concerns that more subjective rules will increase the risk of falling foul of policy, so why remove the hard limits? The hard limits were conceived in a time when the web was very different. Publishers now serve content to an ever growing list of devices that present it very differently. Technologies such as infinite scrolling pages and ajax loading and single page architecture have also meant that the concept of a page has become cloudier. These changes reflect the fact that hard limits don’t always make sense on the modern web.
There has also always been a tendency for certain publishers to see the limit as a target, even on thin pages. It makes no sense to allow 3 ads on a page that only has a few lines of text and to impost the same limit on a 3000 work online essay.
What is the new limit?
The new limit says that ads should not outweigh “publisher provided content”. That gives a theoretical maximum of 50% of your page. That is a liberal limit for most sites. Our interpretation, based on the additional guidance that Google Certified Publishing Partners have received, is that the change is more about ensuring valuable content is available as it is about raising the number of ads served by Google on any page. The key phrase is “publisher provided content” which isn’t the same as “non ads”.
What does Google mean by Publisher Provided Content?
Publisher Provided Content does not just mean content written by the publisher. Content that you curate, edit and moderate will also count. Ads from any source: sponsored content, third party widgets, paid content recommendations and blank space don’t count. AdSense policy specifically states that content should “add value and be the focal point of users visiting your page”.
How will this be enforced?
The new rules will enforced with the help of human policy specialists. If they review content that they interpret as not being compliant with these rules it will be flagged and a warning issued. Publishers will then have three days to fix the issue or risk having ad serving suspended.