Confusing Messages From The Google AdSense Optimization Team

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confused Woman I was having lunch recently with Sunil from The Extra Money Blog, and as we were chowing down on our Pei Wei (yummy), the topic of AdSense surfaced.

Sunil attended one of the AdSense in Your City events where you can gather tips and advice for making more with the AdSense program.

One of the representatives took a look at some of his sites and suggested he move his ads below the fold for better SEO.

This certainly falls in line with what we’ve been hearing this year.  In January and October Google launched the “Top Heavy” search engine algorithm update that targeted sites that had too many ads above the fold.

Google even updated their heat map to reflect the optimal placement for ads.

Heat Map

The darker colors reflect the placement for “strongest performance” while the lighter colors represent weaker performance.  I don’t know if you realize this, but this map has changed quite a bit over the years.

Previously there was a lot more orange and red slots in the header and navigation areas.  So needless to say there is a lot less “heat” on the map than there used to be.

Now, I realize the heat map is more about reflecting optimal placement for ad performance and not necessarily optimal placement for SEO, but it is interesting that the heat map has “cooled off” over the years as Google continues to emphasize having too many ads above the fold is not optimal for SEO.

The Conflict

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Literally less than two days after my conversation with Sunil, I get an email in my inbox from Google telling me I could increase my earnings by 68% if I add more ads above the fold.

So why are people being told one thing at the AdSense in Your City Event, and then emailed a message like that soon after?

Well, it’s partly because The Google Search Quality Team (now called The Google Knowledge Team) and AdSense Optimization team have two different goals.

The GKT’s goal is to improve search quality while the AOT’s goal is to help you make more with AdSense.  So you can see where conflict might arise with Webmasters.

So when Sunil told me the AOT suggested he lower the placement of some ads, I thought it was great that the two teams are now sending out messages that align with one another.

However, after receiving the AdSense optimization email just days later, it’s clear there is still inconsistent messaging going around.

At least caution Webmasters that having too many ads above the fold could be harmful for SEO.  That way their message aligns with what the GKT has been emphasizing.

What do you think?

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  1. says

    I quit paying attention to the messages from the optimization team when my earnings went from over $1500 per month to below $700. It really irritates me that they stripped my income by so much with algorithmic changes and then make suggestions about how to make more money with Adsense.

    • says

      Hi Raymond

      I started ignoring them too. They just seem so redundant and adding more units is not always the best thing. I find them kind of annoying now. lol

  2. says

    Lisa, I went to an “Adsense in Your City” event last year. While there absolutely IS a direct conflict between what the Adsense documentation says, and what Google says about best practices for SEO, rankings and visitor satisfaction, I didn’t find the Adsense reps pushed the “limits” to the point where ad placement was intrusive, took precedence over the content, or interfered with the user’s experience. However, there were 8-10 adsense reps., each of whom worked with individual attendees on a site of their choosing, so I imagine how you experienced things would depend on your rep and the site you were analyzing.

    • says

      PR has never had a direct impact on my traffic. PR is mostly FYI because it shows Google’s opinion of the quality and quantity of your backlinks. Personally I think people obsess over it too much. I keep an eye on it but I don’t worry about it.

  3. says

    Well hello, Lisa it is nice to finally meet you. Just kidding I use to watch a lot and I mean a lot of your videos in 2009 on youtube where you would talk about link building techniques and things I became a fan so to speak because the stuff you said was usually right and so many mislead and fudge online your words and truths were real refreshing. Sorry about the long babble I got side tracted there a moment. I would agree that google sends confusing messages a lot and I would argue that they do this out side of adsense as well. I wonder why they have so much respect and clout and care so little about the small guy / girl out there in internet land? Crazy aint it? LOL. C-ya on you tube girl!

  4. says

    When you say above the fold I assume you are talking about above the body of the page, such as above the navigation bar? I have 1 ad there on my site, one ad in the body and the rest are in what looks to be poor performing areas. From what you were saying it sure seems very confusing info from the google team

  5. says

    Confusing information from Google never means anything good. Luckily there are dozens of people who try to figure out what it all means and share their observations. Thanks a lot for help.

  6. says

    I think They announced an algorithm update twice this year that supposedly penalized too many ads above the fold. But i confused that how much is too much because they never said about it, however. So we have to use our best judgement.

  7. says

    I read about adding ads above the fold is harmful for SEO sometime back. Now its becoming more and more attention making me actually believe that it might be true. Google is sending out too much info these days 😛

    Thanks for the post :)

  8. says

    I’m struggling with this exact dilemma right now! I’m starting to pick up traffic on my site and I had purposely placed most ads below the fold. I’ve found from visiting many forums that it does make a difference for SEO to keep ads below the fold. Right now I’m testing with ad placement. I wish google would get their stories straight!

  9. says

    One of the recent message from Google AdSense team has really increased my earnings to more than 25%. The email suggested me to change the ad format from ‘Text only’ to ‘Text & Image both’ & after applying & observing for a week, I noticed 25% increment in my AdSense earnings.
    I think its better to apply the tips sent through email.

  10. says

    I will not lie, I find it tough to swallow anything from Google especially since these perspectives are at odds. I get that these are the optimal places but I would rather find out which are the best places for my sites and go with those. I find myself leaning more towards gathering my own data and working with that and leave Google to think and do whatever they will. Am I nuts? Probably

  11. says

    I think this arrangement has nothing to do with SEO, in my opinion you get better click on your adverts when visitors come to your website using this new arrangement by google. I think I will try and implement this arrangement in my blog to see how the change will be like.
    Thanks for this wonderful post

  12. says

    This is a classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. It would be better for everyone involved if the company could get their story straight and make recommendations that would help with both SEO and monetization. It is silly for the same company to penalize sites that implement advice that they offer. The best answer is obviously to do what is best for the reader – but if Google makes a recommendation, most people will probably follow it – after all, they regarded as the “authority” on the subject.

  13. says

    Well, I can’t really understand. How many ads above the fold are too many? I have one large image ad above the fold, and I guess it is better to have one skyscrapper on the left instead on right side. Please advise…

  14. says

    I am not surprised they are sending confusing message. They have too many departments. Each one is good at what they do, but it is not surprising that some messages conflict with each other.

    It is almost expected. I hope they start doing a better job of being on the same page.

  15. says

    Too many ads at the top of your pages can really disrupt the flow of the page, that’s for sure.

    Am I right in saying, the higher the traffic through your site, the higher the cpc and \ or bids for ad placements on your pages?

    • says

      We don’t have to, we do, if we want to get ranked. But the rules are simple, are you relevant? Google wants you to answer questions, so as long as you keep that in mind as being the only rule, Google will rank you.

  16. says

    Hi Lisa I agree with you on the way some addsense ads make the page look. I was also given the suggestion to change the bar add to the larger header ad and for me it was too much.

    As far as the above the fold thing goes, both the search quality teat and the adsense teamsadvice does seem to conflct each other. Sounds like the FBI and CIA agree on everything…..nope.

    I think I will just go with trying to display some sort of happy medium an watch the results.


    • says

      Hey Cristian,

      It depends on your goal. You can add more ads if you want to make more, just understand that could come with an SEO price down the road. So it’s about striking the right balance.

  17. says

    Thanks for the great insights, but I think Google is fighting their own internal wars. I find some of their changes contradicts with each other… they should be clear about what they want and not just slap a new algorithm and put your site to hell…

  18. says

    Thanks again for the great Post, where in even you are explaining to the placement of ads but dont you think it is more of distraction to reader…..Are we working for readers or Google I am confused

    • says

      I believe the key is to find a balance. Ultimately you are working for your readers, but nothing wrong with optimizing your content with ads if you don’t go overboard.

      • says

        Hi Lisa

        You are right but don’t you feel placing the ad just below the menu bar would lead to distraction for the reader. This is my opinion…..if big daddy is happy like that then obviously we need to follow. Bid Daddy’s algorithm is becoming nasty day by day.


  19. says

    Speaking from my experience which is now 6 years , and couple oh hundreds thousand dollars in my accts from adsense. All the emails from the google team are legit and they try to support you if you are doing according all the rules of google.

  20. says

    Got a message from Google about year, telling me I should increase the amount of ads on my site I did and my AdSense earnings doubled.
    I think and hope that they are referring to websites that have so many ads that the content is hard to find.
    Their heat map still shows the darkest colors above the fold and at top navigation bar which is where a lot of website have their mean navigation bar. That seems to be mix a message.
    I hope they warn us before taking any action. We all worked hard traffic the traffic we have.
    Thanks Lisa.

  21. says

    Agreed! Alas, I also thought that the whole moving some ads out of the header would be something Google agreed on. It seems somewhat contradictory to their purposes for the GKT not to at least mention that overloading the ‘above the fold’ area w/ ads can hurt your rankings. I mean, they want your site to be as high-quality as possible, right?! Interesting information and explanation. Thanks!

  22. says

    Hi Lisa, I got one of those emails too – telling me that I need to increase the number of pages on my blog with ads and I did increase some. But not about the fold. It’s a shame they are sending mixed messages. To be honest I don’t like the heat map at all because my blog isn’t laid out that way to begin with. I’m certainly not going to chance the layout of my blog to accommodate AdSense. But my question is, why don’t they consider various types of layouts when they create a heat map?

    Thanks for the post Lisa. It would be nice if someone from Google could stop by and give us some consistent guidance.

  23. says

    I definitely noticed the same thing and have the same opinion. They are two team under one company that obviously don’t talk to each other. As simple as that :)
    I kept getting emails about increasing the income with more ads above the fold but I managed to stay away from it, but those who did it at the time ( a few friends I was working with ) all lost a lot of rankings.

  24. says

    I think Google will send out mixed signals and it does fall down to where the individual webmaster’s priorities lye. If you are going to follow Google’s advice and scrape as much revenue from your website by making minor alterations to ad sizes and positions ect then you MAY not be 100% focused on your content.

    If your adverts are tucked away and your content is priority then you will reap the rewards with SEO.

    Google Position is not cheap, just depends if you want the visitor for revenue or to actually read your content.

  25. says

    I think that this really is confusing. They are trying to help us, but we are not getting any help. Their recommendation is to place ads above the fold. But, too many ads above the fold will be penalized. Thanks for nothing! I think I will keep all my ads below the fold. I know, it’s not the best way to earn money with AdSense, but I like to put my content first. Thanks for the info Lisa, wish you a great week! :)

  26. says

    I have been to two adsense in your city meetings and they have always said ads need to be above the fold. I do know that one SBI’er has his own Adsense rep and his are definitely above the fold and also just below the headline (with maybe a line of text after the headline.) I was told in my adsense that placing ads in the center alone under the heading are questionable but that is exactly what he does. The most recent update on Nov 8th was a Panda update supposedly. Oct 9th was an update about ad placement.

    • says

      This is definitely one of the placings that works great, below the title or below first paragraph, but when you make the first paragraph very short then that ad is still up there. I believe from experience those convert great. But then again – do I really want to send the majority of my traffic away as soon as they land :(

  27. says

    I guess the real question is…What constitutes too many ads above the fold?

    I currently have two.

    If that’s too many…then maybe someone (ie: AdSense) should tell us.

  28. says

    Lisa, the best thing is to use our discretion. Some time ago, I received an email to change my smaller ads in the header to bigger ads; I didn’t implement it mainly because it required altering some codes and I felt they will be too big. They kept sending the same mails, I finally gave in and changed them. Shortly after, I received another email that there are lots of pages on my site without ads and that I am not taking advantage of the maximum number of ads per page. But I have refused to implement those simply because I think I already have enough ads on my site.

    We know that Google’s AOT and GKT do know talk to each other so it is up to us to sift through the advice Google’s AOT gives us and avoid the ones that will make us step on the toes of their GKT team. 😀

    • says

      Agree. I have not implemented most of the changes they provide because I don’t want my pages flooded in ads. Could I be earning more if I used 3 units on every page? Sure, but I don’t like how that looks from a visitor perspective.

      • says

        Depending on the site – would you really be earning more, because you tested this so many times (and I did too) that less ads have higher payout. So more ads would probably water down the income, don’t you think?

        • says

          Good point. I shouldn’t say “Sure, I would earn more” because you are right. That’s not necessarily the case. In any event, I don’t plan to clog my site with ads anytime soon. :)

  29. René says


    I dont’t think Google is sending mixed messages. They are, however confronting is with a dilemma. Google is differentiating pages optimized for search engines (theist relevant for their users) and websites that convert best (for webmasters). It is true that placing ads above the fold gets you better results on your adsense account, as google research shows us. But when it comes to a good browsing experience, as google wants to offer to their users, above the fold ads compromise user experience.

    Google is telling the hard truth, and I’m glad they do so.


  30. says

    Lisa – thanks for the mention.

    here is what’s more interesting. they told me to lower the square block but then add the biggest rectangular ad block they offer on the header.

    few days, and even weeks later, I received multiple emails to the tune of:

    1) I need to add the big rec block on more pages
    2) I need to add more ad blocks since each page had less than the three Google allows

    so I did some of each 1 & 2…

    fast forward another couple months and just this past weekend I believe some sort of an algo update was released (maybe the too much above the fold update) and the niche site on which I made these changes TANKED! I posted a screenshot of how badly it tanked on my Facebook page.

    it’s truly astonishing. I am further convinced the teams within Google talk very little at best. the biggest looser is of course, us, the constituents. continuous mixed messages continue to leave us perplexed. but that’s alright, because McDonalds is always hiring :)

    Getting lunch was great!

  31. says

    I quit paying attention to the messages from the optimization team when my earnings went from over $1500 per month to below $700. It really irritates me that they stripped my income by so much with algorithmic changes and then make suggestions about how to make more money with Adsense.

  32. says

    It’s a wreck the head really Lisa. Maybe, they want good content that when it starts attracting great traffic it is then viable to place ads above the fold.For now, on a lot of my affiliate sites, the ads are above the fold with no problems.

  33. says

    Did they also announced that too many ads above the fold will be penalized? And looking at the heat map, the only ad above the fold is under navigation. Not really sure about this though, any thoughts guys?

    • says

      Your question seems to be what needs to be answered. Even Lisa’s article said this. Keyword: “too many ads.”

      If having “too many ads” above the fold penalizes your SEO, why not just put ONE block above the content (or where ever spot performs the best for your site)? It SEEMS like it comes down to the right balance.

      This is yet again a reminder that diversifying your traffic sources is MANDATORY for your business to be sustainable.

      Thanks again, “Leese,” for another heads up article:)


    • says

      They did announce an algorithm update twice this year that supposedly penalized too many ads above the fold. They never said how much is too much, however. So we have to use our best judgement.

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