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Google Pulls an eHow – Thin Content and Wide Ads

John Doherty —  October 14, 2011
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*Warning – <rant>*

One of the factors involved in the Panda update, we think, is the ratio of content to ads on a page. Many people have complained that Google encouraged people to put as many ads as possible on a page only to then slap them hard in the Panda update.

What would you say if I showed you that Google is doing the same thing? I hate when corporations take advantage of situations because they wrote the book on the topic.

I used a tool called MeasureIt to draw the measurement lines to see how wide, in pixels, the text areas are. Surprisingly, Google’s is only about 100px wider than eHow’s.

Here is what I see in Google’s SERPs these days:

Google pulls an eHow

Click to Enlarge. 555px wide.

Here is a screenshot of eHow:

eHow's Text Width

Click to Enlarge. Only 463px wide!

How is Google’s search results page any different from eHow’s page, with a lot of ads and a thin line of content?

My take: It’s not. If Google were to be ranking their own search results and rolled out a Panda penalty, they would lose almost all of their search volume. I guarantee it. Who cares about readability and usability? The funny thing is, Google knows that they have positioned themselves so well as the dominant search engine that people will just continue on using them, no matter what.

More Ads

I admitted back in the day that I don’t really notice PPC ads, but the other day I did as I was clicking through some SERPs. Because I saw 11 ads on one page.

Check out this “Online Colleges” SERP (full length screenshot, so you’ll need to click to enlarge):

Revenue

Plus, it’s not like Google is hurting for money. After all, in their numbers that they released yesterday, they made 9.72 BILLION. Yes, with a “B”.

Can we make Google change the way they are doing business? No, I don’t think so. I’m sure they’re laughing all the way to the bank (9.72 BILLION ways) and you PPCers are super happy about it as well, because now your job is making your company more money. But us organic folks? Now we have even less to work with. And companies are spending more and more money on paid search.

</rant>

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

3 responses to Google Pulls an eHow – Thin Content and Wide Ads

  1. First off: Really enjoying the blog. Just tripped over it (to avoid the stumble reference) yesterday. I’m in a similar boat: Amateur SEO, thought probably less amateur than you by a bit.

    As one that worked in Paid and transitioned to SEO, I remember thinking about the opportunity to be more creative. The “Game” was always changing, and I love a challenge.

    Ads like you’re seeing (and all of us are seeing, really) are disheartening. The challenge isn’t just getting harder, it’s getting EXPONENTIALLY harder. But it’s all still part of the same “Game” from before. More creativity may brew in the face of limited opportunity. And for consulting, I hope you’re preaching more fusion in spending. Paid + Organic. It’s necessary and excellent.

    Thanks for the great posts. Look forward to more reading.

  2. Regarding the new Panda … my content is thin but my images are my own and dominant. Will Google credit me for a site that is more image rich than content rich … and intended to be that way since it features art, family activies and travel destinations.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. SEO for Longtail | John Doherty - January 3, 2012

    [...] add value to the user experience. I’m not just talking about not overloading pages with ads (even though Google seems to be allowed to do it), but also the types of media that you use on your pages. Can you use video? Use it! Images work [...]