Google put the squeeze on websites that are too top-heavy in advertisements

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Here’s some interesting news that was revealed over the weekend by Search Engine Land.

According to the report, Google are now going to punish the search engine rankings of web pages that push its content too far below the fold with advertisements at the top.  I can think of many websites that do this and when the rules start being enforced, it’ll be interesting to see what the reaction against the company is going to be.

Here’s two big problems that I can for for Google straight away (and even bigger problems for website owners) after adopting this new stance:

1. Just what constitutes being too “top heavy”?

We all know there are a few sites out there that have some much ads not only for its partners but its own content that it only manages to show the article headline and the very start of the first paragraph.  It’s clear that Google will be putting the hurt on sites such as this and negatively ranking their pages because of it.

But what about the sites that have 3 or so ads at the top of the page and still manage to show a decent amount of content above the fold?  What exactly will constitute as a page being too “top heavy” in its design?  Will the search engine giant release any sort of guidelines that give website developers clear and concise details of what exactly will cause its algorithms to punish a page based on its design choices?

Google aren’t known to be all that transparent when it comes to its rankings – with the rouse of one-upping SEO companies as a prime motivator – and this could cause a lot of blogs and other websites to spread their advertisements out with its design more spaciously.  As a result, we may see more ads going under the fold and hurting the earnings of the sites that produce original content.

Which leads me to point number two…

2. How will antitrust regulators be able to stomach Google playing both sides of the fence?

Google were just recently bragging about its display advertising unit being a $5 billion business.  What they don’t talk much about, though, is how Google AdSense determines the earnings of its ad display partners.

With a good portion of blogs out there using AdSense, it seems ironic that Google would force advertisements under the fold, pay less to websites as a result and keep the difference on display prices paid by advertisers for itself. It’s a little known fact that in the US for example, over 30% of all money spend on online advertising is wasted on buying ads that are never even seen.  With Google’s new rules, this number would be getting worse.

If the company is found to so much as even give a hint of being guilty of something like this, it risks having the book thrown at itself by the heavy hand of the law – those sorts of actions of using its monopoly in search to manipulate display advertisement placements could very well fall under possible abuse of antitrust laws and cause all sorts of heartache for the company.

At a time when it is being dragged through the mud in Europe and trying to close mega-purchases like Motorola Mobility and vertical search technologies, these sorts of tactics don’t easily fool the people who know better than to think that Google have the end user’s best interests at heart in situations like these.  It could just as easily be seen that the company is trying to manipulate its ability to squeeze extra profits out of its existing infrastructure and market influence.

Discuss

I’m interested to hear what you guys have to say on the issue.  Do you think that Google’s motivations are pure, or do you smell a rat?  Do you trust that Google has the best intentions at heart of you, the end user, or do you think it is growing into a greedy, selfish and monopolistic market abuser?

Your thoughts on the matter will make for an interesting debate.  As always, fill up the comments below with your thoughts.

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