When Google changed the number of ad units allowed per page back in August 2016, they removed the previous “3 display unit” hard limit. Some publishers chose to interpret this as “unlimited ads”, but as we warned at the time this is as much about requiring a higher proportion of valuable content as it is about limiting the number of ad units.
It seems that Google engineering have been busy and cracked a way of enforcing this rule change at scale. We’re seeing evidence of more warnings and enforcement relating to “little to no value” and/or “excessive advertising”, so thought that it was an appropriate time for a recap of what is expected and to share some of what we have learned about how these rules are being enforced.
Recap: How many ads does Google allow? (AdSense or Ad Exchange)
The rules used to be simple: 3 AdSense for Content units, 5 Ad Exchange for Content units per pages (plus additional link units and search boxes). Hard limits have now been replaced by the direction that “Advertising and other paid promotional material added to your pages should not exceed your content”. The theory is simple: Give less space to ads than you do to content and you will be fine.
In practice this can be more complex than it first seems, so let’s look at how to check how you are doing and some of the more common mistakes we see publishers getting picked up on:
How we measure this at OKO
A simple way to spot check pages is to use a screenshot extension that lets you draw over the capture. We highlight all ads and paid promotional content (from any network) in red, and all content in green. Everything else (navigation, related articles,third party widgets etc) remains uncoloured. Shrinking the resulting image down gives a good indication of the balance between ads and content.
We’ve done that on the example below taken from a local newspaper website. The red blocks are adverts. The green are the actual page content. You can see that there is a lot of “filler” – large blocks of related content (essentially navigation) to make the balance of ads to content look more acceptable.
To recap, only the green blocks are real content. This is far outweighed by the red advertising areas. This page would be in breach of Google’s ad placement policies if it ran Google ads anywhere on that page.
Common publisher mistakes
Short article pages
When we talk to publishers about ads exceeding content we are often shown examples of the richest content available on the publisher’s site. However, websites tend to have pages with greatly varying content. If you designing layouts with only your richest pages in mind then you could find your shorter content pages being flagged. We advise publishers to check their short content pages and also to be periodically double-checking all of their highest traffic pages as these are more likely to cause problems.
If you do find that your content varies in length enough to cause problems, there are a number of ways to tackle this:
- Have dynamic ad units that are only shown on thicker content
- Have a separate template for use on shorter pages
- Use key-value pairs to pass an indicator of length into your ad server
- Design layouts based on the shortest content
Different display on different devices
Approaches such as responsive layouts can mean that our pages render very differently across devices. Be sure to check on a range of devices (Chrome’s built in mobile emulator is really handy for this). This problem seems most common when layouts developed as mobile-first, use larger ad blocks to fill the additional space that becomes available on larger screens. Any problem ad units can be tackled by limiting the unit size on different screens or by strategically hiding units.
Thin “utility” pages
Many websites have utility pages that are not real content pages, yet receive substantial traffic. Classic examples are login / logout pages and form “thank you” pages. These typically have every little content and are easily overlooked when checking sites for compliance.
This issue can be tackled in similar ways to dealing with short content pages.
Many publishers like to break long content across pages in a slideshow type format. Done well this can be a great way to break up long content and increase page views, but can result in low-value pages with a poor ratio of ads to content if it is broken up too much.
Content recommendation ads / trending widgets
Content recommendation networks love to push for publishers to use massive ad units on their pages. These help to drive more clicks through the “trending news” type widgets, but can really throw the balance of content to ads. We advise that publishers consider both the revenue and size/impact of units they are running when deciding on placements. (We literally work on a price per pixel calculation in some cases). As a publisher you have limited screen space to give over to advertising so you need to ensure that you are getting a fair price.
What happens when you get it wrong?
Google has been quietly moving towards more granular policy enforcement for a while and is applying more policy enforcement actions at page level. It is therefore that occasional / isolated infractions of this kind will result in ads being disabled at page level and domain/account level enforcement saved for more serious and repeated breeches.
Placement optimisation and policy guidance are just two of the ways that we help publishers. If you run an ad funded site and could benefit from better tools, support, expertise and access to premium demand click here to learn more about what we do.
Mat has been supporting content creators on the web since 1996. As Co-founder of OKO Digital, Mat became the first person in the UK qualified to AdSense partner status and repeated this first with Google Certified Publishing Partner programme.