Do ads affect your search rankings?


For many websites, a lot of traffic will come from search engines, so ensuring that your pages rank highly for your chosen keywords could significantly increase visits to your site. That’s particularly important if you run ads on your site, since more visitors will mean increased revenue from those viewing and clicking on those ads.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a whole industry in itself, and lots of factors can affect your search rankings, but here we consider the potential impact of showing advertising on your site, and what you can do to ensure that ads don’t negatively impact your search rankings.

Could having ads on your site improve your search rankings?

When talking about SEO, we’re generally referring to optimizing your site for Google, since it’s by far the most popular search engine globally. Some people believe that displaying ads from Google, for example via AdSense or AdManager, could cause a site to rank more favourably in search results. After all, sending more traffic to a site using AdSense should result in the ads on that site receiving more views and clicks, thereby increasing revenue for both the publisher and Google.

However, this theory has been clearly refuted by Google, which even addresses it in the official AdSense Help Guide. Google claims that AdSense does not affect a site’s ranking in the SERPs, that it believes in free expression and that its “search results are unbiased by our relationships with paying advertisers and publishers.”

Could having ads on your site harm your search rankings? 

In contrast, many publishers worry about potential negative effects from showing display advertising on their site. After all, Google search results are increasingly taking into account the user experience of a page and placing ads on there could detract from this. In particular, Core Web Vitals (CWVs) are now a key factor in determining search rankings, and all three of these measures can be negatively impacted by display ads.

  • Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) measures loading performance – in other words, how fast your site appears on the screen. Having to wait for lots of ads to load can potentially slow this down, and cause users to leave before the page has fully loaded.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) quantifies visual stability – essentially the amount of unexpected movement of your site after it has already started loading. Display ads which are not properly placed can sometimes cause a sudden shift in the content of the page, annoying visitors and potentially leading to accidental clicks on ads.
  • First Input Delay (FID) considers interactivity – or how long it takes for the site to respond after a user interacts with it (e.g. by clicking on a link). Again, this can be slowed down if the site is still loading other elements such as ads.

However, for many publishers display ads are an important source of revenue, so it’s probably not desirable to remove them. The good news is that it’s possible to retain display ads and still provide a good user experience, if you go about it in the right way.

How to optimize your ad setup for a better user experience

Track your Core Web Vitals

Since Core Web Vitals (CWVs) are a factor in Google’s search rankings, it’s important to ensure your site is compliant. You can get a quick check of your current CWVs scores on both desktop and mobile here. However, if you’re considering making changes to your ad setup, it’s worth setting up real-user monitoring so you can see immediately the impact of any updates and identify anything that might be dragging down your scores.

Beware of having too many ads

It’s obviously tempting to put as many ads on your site as you can to increase your potential revenue, but having too many could lead to a poor user experience, a slower loading speed and lower viewability. Together these factors could actually lead to you making less revenue than with a smaller number of well-chosen ad placements.

Avoid overly annoying ad formats

Some types of ads in particular, such as autoplaying videos or multiple pop-ups, are shown by research from the Coalition for Better Ads to be seen as especially annoying for users. Publishers should ensure they comply with the Coalition’s Better Ads Standards, as well as with Google’s ad placement policies.

Reserve space for ads to load into

Ads often load up more slowly than other page content such as the text of an article. That can lead to a sudden shift in the page when they finally do load. Not only is this annoying for users, it’s likely to drag down your CLS score and can lead to more accidental clicks (and potentially penalties from Google). 

You can prevent this by adding the width and height for the ad slot, so that the browser will leave space for the image until it loads. Remember that smaller ads might load within the space though, so make sure to style it accordingly – and use adaptive ad layouts to ensure you’re adapting to the screen size and connection speed of each user.

Use lazy loading

You don’t need to load all the ads or images on a page straight away either. With lazy loading, these will only show up at the moment a user scrolls down to the relevant part of the page. That will cut down your loading time and improve your LCP score.

Optimize for mobile

While for a lot of publishers a majority of traffic now comes from mobile devices, many sites are still not set up properly to display ads in the best way on smaller screens with generally slower connections. Often it can help to use a specially designed mobile template, such as Clickio Prism, which uses lightweight code, adaptive ad layouts and a global CDN to ensure your site always loads quickly.

Try different ad formats

Getting the right balance between ad revenue and user experience can be tricky, so you may want to experiment with different placements and formats. For example, sticky ads or smart ad refresh could help you increase revenue from your existing ad inventory, without overloading your site with more ad placements.

Of course, it’s important to test the impact of any changes you make and refine your approach over time. If you need help with this then please get in touch with Clickio. Our AI-powered platform constantly tests and adjusts multiple variables to maximize revenue, while a dedicated account manager can help you select the most appropriate ad formats for your site.

You can register for free on the Clickio platform here – or contact us to find out more.

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