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Why Image Ads Could Be Google’s Next Target

For a long time webmasters have added advertisements to their websites, particularly if those ads can provide a revenue stream. But as the recent Panda update has shown us, Google is intent on clamping down on sites that are literally dripping in ads of any kind.

What Panda did was help identify those websites that were posting low quality content coupled with extensive text ads. The update looked at indicatiors of quality on a website such as the amount of advertising and where it is placed on a page. Although there are other quality factors taken into account when ranking a website, Panda has given a signal that the ratio of content to advertising is likely to become an important consideration.

I should make it clear that having ads on your webpages is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are relevant to the content you promote. As previously mentioned ads can provide a useful source of revenue particularly to affiliate websites or those that are non-monetized such as blog sites. Google’s own adsense program is a popular form of revenue creating advertising and can be seen on a majority of websites.

However, it seems that it is text based ads that were largely targeted by the Panda update which begs the question ‘what about image based adverts?’

There could be several reasons why you would have image based advertisements on your website. They maybe relate to products you are selling or services you provide, they are perhaps affiliate links you have adopted as an additional revenue stream or they maybe part of your link building campaign. This last one could be as the result of link sharing with other websites through posting image based adverts on your respective sites.

Now images are a great addition to a website and certainly help your rankings and landing page conversions. But how does Google differentiate between images which are advertisements and those that aren’t? It is important to note that search engines will want to be able to distinguish between them to avoid advertisements appearing in image listing results, otherwise the quality of search results returned to users could be severely compromised. Another reason could be to distinguish between the level of advertising on a page and the level of content just as Panda sought to do.

Current opinion suggests that Google and others are struggling to find ways to differentiate between image based ads and other images. But before you consider replacing all your text ads with image ads, the answer they are looking for may not be far away. Microsoft has recently filed a patent which explores the various differences between image based advertisements and other types of image used on websites.

This patent takes the approach of classifying images according to a range of associated features, such as text within the image, size ratios, where associated links point and whether the image is a photograph or a graphic. Whilst this maybe Microsoft’s patent and will probably appear within the Bing algorithm, you can rest assured that Google is busy developing something similar.

So what does all this mean and how will internet advertising using image based ads be affected?

If the search engines are busy looking to re-rank websites based on quality indicators like relevance, content and advertising then it is only a matter of time before image based adverts come under scrutiny as well, if they haven’t already. Panda is certainly helping to clean up the internet and provide a better user experience for us all. What we should take heed of is the need to err on the side of caution and exercise a little moderation when it comes to applying advertisements to our websites.