Are fewer ads always better?

Are fewer ads always better?

too many ads

Google recently announced that it will penalize sites with more than three ads above the fold. Frequently, these sites are low-quality sites with super-SEO’d, thin content landing pages designed to have people quickly bounce off the site when they click on one of the ads.

There are two conflicting reasons why Google may penalize them:

  1. People may be less likely to click on AdSense ads if there are more ads, or
  2. if too many of these pages rank high on search results then people won’t use Google.

Most likely, it’s the latter, since Google knows that content-thin landing pages hurt it in the long run even if they produce more immediate profit for Google. However, placing advertising this densely before Google started penalizing sites was only profitable for thin content sites specifically designed for it, not for sites with actual human readers. Many of the clicks would even be misclicks, which would decrease the value of AdSense ads for AdSense advertisers. This would hurt Google even though they received more clicks for a while if they had continued to not penalize sites with more than three ads above the fold.

For sites with real content read by real people, too much or too little advertising can drastically cut revenue and either one could make a site with good potential to make money unprofitable. This is true for almost any type of advertising but it’s especially true for banner ads and in-text ads. In-text ads by companies like INTENTclick, a specialist ad provider for sites about making money and coupons, highlight words with links and you get paid each time someone clicks on a link. Figuring out how many INTENTclick ads to place per page is difficult if you don’t understand why you don’t want too many or too few ads. That’s why I’m taking a concept from government and economics about setting the proper tax rate to maximize government revenue and applying it to advertising density to illustrate how you should figure out how many ads to place on your site:

Laffer curve explained


Politicians use the Laffer curve to claim that reducing taxes for the richest Americans will raise government tax revenue, because they assume that the reduction in taxes will create so much more commerce that more money will be generated even the wealthy are being taxed at a lower percentage.

But it doesn’t usually work that way. There’s really an optimal tax rate for getting the most tax revenue. If taxes are already below this rate, like they are in the United States, then cutting taxes even more will decrease revenue. Cutting taxes when the tax rate is beyond the optimum will raise revenue, but the optimal tax rate for wealthy people is usually pretty high since they tend to save their money instead of putting it back into the economy. This means that although cutting taxes for the wealthy doesn’t increase revenue when taxes are too low, it can increase revenue it taxes are too high and the tax cut brings the tax rate closer to optimal.

How does this apply to INTENTclick advertising?

The Laffer curve can be applied to a site’s in-text advertising density, and reducing the density of in-text ads results in more revenue a lot more frequently than cutting taxes does in the real world. The reason is that too many ads devalues your site since people quit going to it if you have too many ads, or they quickly go back to their search results. On the other hand, if you have too few ads, you’ll have a lot more readers but they won’t give you PPC revenue very often since there won’t be enough opportunities for them to click on ads.

This is a guest post by Murray Newlands. Murray’s company, Influence People, does blogger relations work with INTENTclick.


I own Influence People, an online marketing consulting firm. I enjoy blogging, making money online, and volunteering for charity.

Personal website:


  1. Using the Laffer Curve this way is an interesting approach. But, the Laffer Curve does not promise to balance the budget and The Laffer Curve does not promise to solve social problems – seen from a political point of view:-) The Laffer Curve only promises that, if the tax rates are too high and they get lowered, revenues will increase. Personally i dont care much for pages stuffed with ads. Focus on the content and use as few relevant ads as possible. People are getting exposed to so many ads these days that they just get tired – but it could be wise to test and test and test…

    • The article isn’t about the Laffer curve. It’s using the Laffer curve to illustrate a point: If you have too few ads, you’ll gain less revenue, and if you have too many ads, you’ll also gain less revenue. The amount/density of ads is analogous to tax rates.

  2. Fabrizio

    In-text advertising is a pretty reasonable alternative solution to using big bulky ad banners and units, but what about the revenue, it is much lower. Fewer ads or keeping no more than three above the fold in any bet is the best solution to keep Google happy :)

    • Hey Fabrizio,

      I do have to disagree about in-text ads not producing lots of revenue. When used well, especially with a well-targeted audience with automatically inserted links (like VigLink), they can produce a lot of revenue.

      Your changes to Magnet4Marketing looks nice, btw :)

  3. Murray

    I think using less ads are better, because it keeps our website looking cleaner. Most of the time the readers dont like a lot of banner ad usage, or too much ad.

  4. I think less cans are better if you are using a splash page approach.
    Complimentary second and third ads work also. No more than 3 adds ever is a good rule.

    Ads also are an opportunity to present great content, this is the Genius of the super bowl.

  5. I have been thinking more about the AdSense ads on my blog recently. I realized that I had too many ads at the top, but I admit the income was good. I removed one of the units and I noticed that my CPC went up, so in the end I may just end up with the same income, just with a lower amount of ads.

    The important part is to find the best fit with regards to ads on a site, and two sites won’t be the same. It will come down to experimenting with what works. You may have lower income with one ad setup, but it may be offset with higher income from another.

  6. This is actually really interesting. I didn’t realize that Google was going to start punishing those sites by reducing their page rank (though this makes me happy because I hate hitting a site and having so many ads that I can’t even tell what is supposed to be “content” and what is just ads). Also interesting thoughts on the tax rate.

    • Google basically wants the Internet to be good for users so that they keep using Google’s search engine, and people won’t want to use it if they keep landing on landing pages full of annoying ads. This is also why it shows results similar to what people already like, even though this reduces exposure to new resources and opinions.

      • And I applaud them for that – of course, it’s also fairly annoying when I am trying to convince them to show people my blog. ; )

  7. I thin fewer but more strategically placed ads seem to work a lot better. We are all tired of non-stop bombardment of ads everywhere and when people arrive to more or less clean site – they do appreciate it!

  8. From the reader’s point of view – I take sites more seriously if they have less ads on them. I’m more likely to actually read what it says there if there are no ads.

  9. I definitely think that location based advertising will help any good marketing campaign. This is a really good example from New York City’s Central Park that used QR codes to show video ads at certain parts of the park. What do you think?

  10. Hello Murray,

    As a reader of blogs I would say that fewer adds is better as ads can be very annoying. BUT if the ads are relevant then they can actually be very useful so I think that the way with ads on a blog is to make them relevent if you want to have a lot of them!

  11. Fewer ads are not always better. When it comes to ad sizes and placement, the ‘one size fit all’ pedagogy does not work. For instance, there are three ads maximum for Google adsense so I thought I would use all three on each page, only to find that the income was way less than one site that I had only one ad on. I subsequently removed one and left one at the top and one to the side, and the income has increased. I guess people were turned off by too many ads.

    Also, for some sites the text ads work best, but for some the image ads are way more effective in terms of generating income. This was all experiment, and although time consuming, well worth it in the end. Each of us has to experiment with each site, and page, to see what works and what does not.

    The good and bad thing is that there are ways for individual site visitors to disable ads. Bad for me, good for them :)

  12. (sorry this part was missed out from my pasting – second paragraph)

    On the other hand, one of my website which has a lot of content is bombarded with Adsense, linkshare, and a few other ads yet that website gets the most visitors and lands me the most revenue. Guess it all comes down to experiment.

    • Yeah Genie, it all depends on who reads your site. Some sites can even get away with more than three ads and have lower search rankings since a lot of their readers don’t come from search engines.

  13. Thanks for the tip Murray. I hadn’t heard about this recent change by Google, but I’ll be sure to change my site up to avoid being penalized.

    • Google’s been going after thin content and spam sites pretty hard since the Panda update. They even check for grammar now, which hurts our Indian friends with less than perfect command of the English language. But hurray for British and American SEO writers!

  14. I am really glad they are doing this. Almost universally, sites that are just packed along the top with ads aren’t really worth the content they are giving you.

    I felt the same way about the panda update. I know a lot of people complained about that, and will complain about this update too, but I find the results in Google getting better (read that to mean, more real), which is the whole point….right?

  15. personally, i prefer to see less ads…. because it keeps our website looking cleaner and less cluttered, for me, banner ad usage, or too much ad distracts me and i get really confused

  16. Imho, it all comes down to the site. I have a few sites out there, and certain ad placements perform better. On my more content based sites, in text ad placements work better especially with an ad that correlates to the topic. For my blogspot sites that are more visually based, I notice an ad up top right under the title and to the side of the title performs much better. Just experimenting with ads for a few months, you can kind of gauge what performs well and what does not.

  17. I have debated this issue with myself back and forth for sometime. At one point, I had my site covered in ads and I drove as much traffic as I possibly could to make up for it. Sometimes, the old ugly massive ad layout seems to have worked better.

    But where I was losing out was I was constantly losing rank in the SERPS and I relied heavily on driving traffic from high traffic websites that were similar to my own. It became a daunting task and it was really depressing to have put so much work in and then watch google discard my work because of advertisements.

    I had a list that contained tons of Amazon products and it was a high traffic list but eventually google penalized it because there were simply too many iframes and too much html. I am learning slowly but surely what to do.

    • I guess Google’s rankings adversely affected the optimum, even though your readers may have put up with it.

      May I ask what type of site you have? Especially post-Panda, Google penalized sites that were more or less landing pages containing Amazon affiliate links. Some of them have even started using well-targeted AdSense ads to regain the revenue.

  18. Elizabeth

    I absolutely adore that the theories and principles I studied at uni are starting to come back into fashion. Never thought I would see a Laffer curve on the internet without using it as a keyword!

  19. My take on this is that Google is doing a good thing. Making it so that all sites will need to have good quality information on them instead of just ad stuffing. Better for all of us as we will now need to provide the internet user with quality. What a concept, work for our living, Good God what is this world coming to!

  20. I am also in favour of fever ads because website owner spend money on theme to attract their readers and customers however using high ads can bring your web down. great post. thanks for sharing it with me.

  21. I don’t know, I go away for the weekend without the internet and I return to news like this. If this does go ahead then I will have to seriously have a look at making changes to my ads.

    If I offer fewer ads then I can increase the prices for the ones I have running, but at the moment I’m only attracting text link ads , the banner ad units are being filled in by Abdrite and other CPM networks at this time.

    As I said, I might have to have a serious think about this.

  22. I also think fewer ads are better, especially since a lot of site ads today contain malware or malicious redirects. I’ve got a fair share of viruses and spyware through popups and redirects embedded in ads. Luckily my anti-malware suite stopped them, but it is very obnoxious.

  23. personally im glad that Google is going to start punishing sites by reducing their page rank, I so hate hitting a site and having so many ads that I get confused and my eyes go in different directions at the same

  24. I think there’s always exceptions to the rule and I don’t like when someone (Google or anyone else) says this is the limit no matter what. There are always reasons to have more than 3 ads on a page. I see the benefit in this new rule though, I just don’t like the “all-inclusive” rules that limit me.

  25. I am not well versed in either finance or the more technical aspects of advertising, i.e. the Laffer Curve, but I have been testing advert position / layout for several years now and have so far concluded that “less is more”. Whenever I attempted to follow Google’s Adsense suggestions I see the CTR and CPM drop. A few well placed adverts seem to work much better than a page full. I put it down to too many simply turning into a noisy mess, the adverts start to look more like wallpaper than branded banners.

    • Hi Jon,

      Thanks for your comment!

      Less is not always more; there’s really an optimal amount that depends on your readership, how much traffic you get from organic searches, etc. If you decide to test more ads, make sure to do an A/B test and don’t measure the results until you’ve done it for a while and have a large sample. If you increase your ads, a lot of your readers might not be annoyed right away (though this too depends on who your readership is) and they might initially click on the extra ads a lot more than they will in a few months’ time.

  26. Hi Murray,
    I believe using less advertisements are better, since it keeps our website searching cleaner. More often than not the visitors dont like lots of advertising usage, or an excessive amount of ad.
    Thanks for sharing with us.
    ~ Amit Shaw

    • Thanks Amit

      It really depends on how much the ads will produce ad blindness and how much they’ll annoy your readers. Some sites have much lower optimum advertising densities than other sites.

  27. There definitely needs to be a balance of content to ads. I do not know what the ration would be, maybe 275 words for everyone image ad? I usually just have two ads, but am really considering smaller 125 x 125 types. Personally as a reader I hate those flashing ones also. Thanks Murray!

  28. I really think there is a fine line about the amount to have on your site.I feel that the less the better but then its not always the case you want the ads that will make you the money but soon will have to be more selective over your chose.

  29. Hi Murray,

    I’ve read recently somewhere that there is such thing as “subconsciously blocking” ads. We are exposed to so many ads that we decide subconsciously to not really see them. So, I think that too many ads do more bad than good. And that goes for text ads.

    There used to be a very attractive blog that I visit which became a billboard. Frankly, I am no expert and maybe they are now making much more money, but the blog lost all its attractiveness if you ask me.

    Now I’m asking myself, it that blog looked like that the first time I saw it, would I have came back? hummm good question :)

  30. I think fewer QUALITY ads would be better than a bunch of ads no one would be interested in. Although I guess that is a matter of opinion whether the site visitor would be interested in clicking or not. I haven’t ever got in to PPC, but the more posts I see like this one, the more interested I get. Thanks for sharing!

  31. Spatch Merlin - How to Blog

    Before I decided to venture into the online industry I am one of those readers who hates reading a resource pointed by the search engine which contains too much ad in it. Matter of fact, if ads annoy I usually close the tab and move on to next one in the list. Lesser ads are better but not too little that won’t generate funds to your site too.

    Spatch Merlin

  32. Megan R. Stinson

    Woah! Thanks for this eye-opening article. I never know that google is punishing sites. Well too much is not good in every area even in advertisement in websites :) Great post!

  33. Obviously as a visitor we would like to see less ads in the way, but the site owner needs to make money for their hard work too. I think some ads are fine as long as you don’t go overboard. Where that point it exactly can be difficult to master. You might need to do some testing to find what works best.

  34. hey Murray
    thnax for the awesome post .
    we all know ads is part of website and without advertise the website look like empty . but huge amount of ads is not good. many time people can irritated because of advertisement.

  35. This is interesting but confusing. As I understand if you have more than 3 adsense ads on a page google automatically disables them, so do you mean that they will penalise you for non google ads?



  36. You hit the nail on the head with this one. I had thought about this when I first read about it. There are so many great websites out there that offer great content, but without the ads, they probably wouldn’t have the motivation in order to create more content. I mean, who wants to work for free?

    When it comes to ads, it really comes down to where you place it. If I’m landing on your website and I see that there are three adsense ads blasted above the fold with all pink font, I’m probably thinking spam. This is what the Google engineers thought as well. While this is going to weed out most of the junk, some are going to get caught up in the mix sadly.

    • What’s ironic is that Google search results now show a lot of advertisements. They have three ads above the organic search results (more if you count any of the sidebar ads as above the fold) but Google search results pages are so short compared to regular webpages that the ads take up a much higher percent of the pagespace than ads do on normal pages. Just look at the picture of a Google search from the Search Engine Land article I cited:

      (scroll down a third of the way or so)

      That one has FOUR ads that are directly above the organic search, plus four more sidebar ads that are higher than the first organic search, and then a few more sidebar ads (0ne is visible) at the same height as or below the first organic search result.

  37. There is of course the question – has Google got it wrong? I mean, a lot of magazines and newspapers have full page and double page adverts – you see them and then turn the page. Nobody stops buying the papers because of the adverts. However, Google is downgrading websites for having too many adverts – Google is making the decision for the reader. Is it the correct decision? A lot of people do not mind seeing adverts, some people actually like adverts, especially those who are always on the look out for a bargain or offer.

    • Unless we stop letting Google manipulate our every decision they WILL control more and more. They are consistently taking away our free choice and spoon feeding us only what they want us to see. We need to do the right thing – even if that 800 lb gorilla doesn’t like it – and focus on what is ethical and best for the greater good rather than kissing up to them.

      They are just like law enforcement. Even if you try to be the best little girl or boy you can be they can STILL penalize you. Anyone who thinks Google is going to let them keep the traffic they have now is going to be in for some real surprises.

      Google has consistently TOLD US they plan to favor big brands and their panda update did just that AND slapped their competitor’s sites that allowed us to find small businesses. I encourage everyone to look at the screen captures in my post about the REAL implications of the Google Panda Update.

      Pay special attention to the screen captures to the results of the searches I did on TheFind and ShopWiki compared to the results Google search and Google Shopping returns. The best solution is to actively encourage EVERYONE to use alternative search engines and solutions to reduce the power Google has over us.

  38. Hmm, it is certainly a mixed bag. On one hand spam sites suck, or the other 3 ads isn’t a lot if the are small ads.

    Not that it really matters, Google doesn’t have any real competition, if we don’t like there is not a lot that can be done.

  39. Many bloggers do not realize that there is another factor that can not be measured when it comes to revenue from ads: how many readers does bad ad placement or too many ads run off and how much traffic are you losing because quality bloggers will not link to or share your content.

    I wrote about that in How NOT to Monetize Your Blog which I regularly share directly with the blogger when they have content I would have linked to or shared but didn’t because their site looks like an MFA (Made for AdSense) site.

    If I won’t link to you or share your content you can bet I’m not the only one. At least I realized they HAD quality content. Many will just see all the ads and leave immediately not even bothering to read it. If you have a giant block of AdSense between your post titles and text or flashing, talking, annoying junk on your blog that post is for you.

  40. From a personal point of view, I can not stand going to a site that is full of advertising, the content maybe great but with advertising all over the place and in the way I am quickly turned off and invariably my visit quickly turns into a bounce.

    Regardless of how google ranks your site in accordance to their policies of on site advertsing, you would think that the site owner would do everything they can to keep their visitor on the site as long as they can and I would think they would then be more likely to click an ad.

    Each to their own I guess, but I do think people go about things the wrong way in chase of the almighty dollar.

    • Some people plaster their sites with ads because their content doesn’t need to be as good. These sites usually don’t have regular readers and are basically farms with super-SEO’d articles, like eZine. It isn’t as profitable as a high-quality site but it’s a lot easier to do so some people take the path of least resistance.

  41. It is rightly explained the comparison of tax revenue and the earning from blog but I think there will be many more factors above such as quality of ads and especially the price of affiliate products etc. However, overall optimized ads will being in best results.

  42. Fewer ads have always increased my revenue for Adsense sites. According to my own tests, Google always served up the higher paying ads when less ads were available on a given page. After all Adwords user are “bidding” for ad space so the highest bidder wins, right? Well…it has been in my case.

    When I had the max amount of ads on my pages I always made less than I did with only a few well placed ads. When a page has many Adsense ads, the visitor has an increased opportunity to click on lower paying ads.

    Another way to look at it is that more lowering paying ads are available on the page that is inundated with Adsense ads.

    I wouldn’t say my findings are the “rule” but it is what I observed with all my Adsense sites.

  43. I experimented with ad density and found that having more ads generated more ad revenue. Even if a site looks reader unfriendly, but the bounce rate is low despite higher ad density wouldn’t that be the best outcome? Still if google is truly going to penalize a site for having 3 ads above the fold, it is worth looking at removing some ads.

    • How long after increasing your ad density did you see this increase? Usually it takes a little while for your regular readers to quit going to your site. Regardless, you could have been below the optimal ad density and adding more ads brought you closer to it.

  44. Economics – The laffer curve! That is a great theory to use here. I agree that more ads do end up doing wonders. However, are too man of those a threat to you blog site? I mean, big firms who own blogging sites have the capability to own millions of ads and also gain many readers; so do normal bloggers face problems if they own many ads?