Short answer: No, putting display ads on your website will not hurt your SEO traffic. If that were the case, no sites would have ads.
Most publishers get nervous making big changes to a website, especially if the website has a lot of traffic.
That’s why I often test anything major on smaller sites first.
One big change you can make to a website is adding display ads for revenue. Maybe up until now you monetize with affiliate links or promote your own products or focus on growing an email newsletter. But now that you’ve read about how much display ads can earn a site (such as Ezoic, AdThrive and Mediavine) you want to add the sweet, passive, easy ad revenue stream.
But you might be nervous doing so. If so, your biggest concern is whether putting ads on your site will hurt your traffic.
When I started with display ads way back in 2015, that was NOT a concern for me. The reason my main site back then was earning nothing. I had nothing to lose. I started the site as an affiliate site but that didn’t work. I now know why but I won’t get into that. I had an AdSense account so I slapped up some AdSense ads. The site earned more overnight than it had to that point.
Ads were a big hit.
I immediately shifted monetization methods from affiliate marketing to display ads. That’s when I started to focus on growing a publishing business monetized almost entirely with display ads. It’s been a huge success. I’m glad I decided to slap up some AdSense ads on a site years ago.
Did my traffic drop after putting display ads on my site?
No. It’s done nothing but grow since then. Sure, I’ve had traffic ups and downs. I’ve lost 20% traffic from some Google updates. But I’ve recovered that and grown beyond that. Every year since 2015 my biggest site has enjoyed more organic traffic than the year before.
I’ve also launched grown and even sold some sites since then. Most of those sites enjoy traffic growth. All of those sites have display ads on them.
I can confidently say that putting display ads on your site will NOT hurt traffic as long as you do it right.
It makes sense. After all, Google earns most of its revenue from display ads. It wouldn’t make sense if Google wouldn’t rank sites with display ads. That said, Google does draw the line with ad density. It’s not like you can put as many ads on your site as you want. There are limits. I tend to put fewer ads on my sites than what Google mandates. I do so to improve user experience.
The one type of ad Google does not like
The one type of ad you don’t want to put on your site is the interstitial. This is the ad that blocks access to a site before you enter it. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It says something like “Entering site in 10 seconds” with a second timer. Usually, there’s a “Click to site” link but generally speaking these ads are horrible. I get why Google doesn’t like sites having these ads.
Interestingly, intersitials on a site once a visitor on the site is okay. Google calls these vignette ads. When a visitor clicks to another page on your site, the screen fills with a large vignette ad. I guess Google is fine with these because the user already enjoyed the first page. It’s not as annoying as an interstitial before visiting the first page.
What about ad density?
I’m actually amazed at how many ads Google considers okay. I monetize with AdThrive (and soon I’ll have a site with Mediavine… I’m onboarding a site with Mediavine in January, 2022). I have AdThrive reduce in-content ads by 50% because so many ads really can be disruptive. I know I’m losing money but I like to think that the improved user experience will pay off in the long run. Maybe I’m naive.
What about sticky ads?
Sticky ads are fine. Both sidebar and bottom of site sticky ads are totally fine. I know these ads are pretty annoying but they do earn a lot. AdThrive offers the option to remove the close X for the bottom sticky ad. I don’t turn that on. I like to give visitors the option to close out that sticky ad.
What about ads above the fold?
One ad above the fold is fine. Don’t put any more than that. The above-the-fold ads earn really well. They’re worth doing but be sure not to cram your above-the-fold digital real estate with too many ads (i.e. no more than one ad).
What about video ads?
Video ads are totally fine. I set them to silent by default. In fact, I’m not sure there’s an option to do otherwise with AdThrive. I also have sticky video ads, which again are pretty annoying but earn outrageous amounts of money so I use them.
The easiest way to ensure your ad setup complies with Google
The easiest way is to monetize with a solid ad network or platform that follows Google’s display ad policies. My three favorite are Ezoic, AdThrive and Mediavine. Ezoic is great if you don’t qualify or don’t get accepted in Mediavine or AdThrive. All three of these platforms are very, very careful to comply with Google’s display ad policies. With Ezoic, you can have a customer service rep set your ads up for you confident you won’t fun afoul of Google (although I’d still double-check your site because you might have your own preferences). AdThrive and Mediavine take care of ad set up although I know with AdThrive I can turn certain ads off and/or reduce ad density.
That’s not to say ads aren’t problem-free
Ads do compromise user experience
There’s not getting around it. I only put ads on my sites because ads are the best way to monetize. If I earned 90% from affiliate revenue, I wouldn’t bother with display ads. I’d want to create the best user experience to earn more affiliate commissions. I used to have ads on Fatstacksblog.com but they didn’t earn much at all in relation to how much this site earns from offering a better user experience and attracting new email newsletter readers.
Ads do slow down a site and hurt Core Web Vitals scores
There’s no denying that ads hurt site speed and CWV scores. That said, there are steps you can take to still ensure a speedy site and decent CWV scores but ads make it harder. Ask your ad provider what they offer to help with this issue.
Ads MIGHT hurt time on site but it would be only by a tiny bit
It’s possible ads will slightly reduce time-on-site (dwell time). After all, some people (not many in my experience) hate ads so much they leave sites with ads. I think that’s a losing battle given most sites have ads but whatever. I think people who really hate ads opt instead to use an ad blocker. I can’t say putting ads on my site has hurt dwell time at all.
Is it better to use AdSense for SEO because that’s a Google platform?
No, not at all. In fact, you’ll earn a fraction with AdSense that you’d earn with Ezoic, AdThrive or Mediavine. These more advanced, higher-earning ad platforms do work with Google for the ads but also work directly with advertisers. You definitely want to use a higher-earning ad platform. It will make absolutely no difference to your SEO.
Will display ads hurt mobile SEO traffic?
Again, not at all as long as you stick to the display ad policies with Google. Again, use an outfit like Ezoic, AdThrive or Mediavine so that you won’t run afoul of Google.
The bigger issue is whether putting ads on your site hurt your overall objective?
My portfolio sites earn from ads and that’s about it. Email marketing is non-existent for the most part. Affiliate revenue is pretty much nothing. The main revenue thrust is ads and so I put them on pretty much all of my sites.
If you earn by selling stuff, email, affiliate or other and you decide to put ads on your site, you need to test to ensure that your primary focus isn’t compromised. That said, it’s possible, for instance, that ads reduce your affiliate revenue but if ad revenue more than makes up for that, then ads are worth it. Remember, you can turn ads off on individual pages as well.
Website ads are an amazing way to earn a living
I love monetizing with ads because I get to focus on writing. It’s 10 am as I nearly finish this article and I’ve already written this article plus two excellent articles for my niche sites (totaling 4,000 words written in a few hours… not bad). I don’t have to worry about conversion rate optimization, fancy affiliate offers, etc. I just write, write and write some more. That’s what I like doing. That’s what works for me. The more I write the more traffic I get and the more I earn from the passive-earning display ads.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.