Google's Plan To Penalize Advertisers Whose Websites Load Slowly Will Benefit Consumers And Google

from the now-less-irritating dept

News.com points out that Google is planning to measure the time it takes to load the target pages for its ads, and penalize ads that point to slow-loading pages in AdWords auctions. Ads that point to websites that pop right up will be ranked above those that load like molasses. I think this is not only a great idea, but a good illustration of why Google has been so successful in recent years. As we've noted before, one of Google's great strengths has been its relentless focus on improving the user experience, even when doing so might not help the bottom line in the short run. One of the ways Google does this with its ads is by prioritizing relevance over cost-per-click: Google shows you the ads it thinks you're likely to click on before the ones with the highest bids.

The payoff for Google is that over time, people begin to subconsciously associate the Google brand with a fast, clean, efficient user experience. Most user don't specifically notice that Google's ads are more relevant or its pages load a half-second faster. They just begin to feel that Google sites are generally less annoying than other sites. An extreme example of the opposite phenomenon is About.com, which I've learned to avoid it like the plague (despite the fact that it often has relevant information) because every time I click on an About page my screen seems to fill up with pop-up ads. Another example is mainstream sites like Forbes and Salon that make you watch a full-page ad before they'll show you the content you asked for. These policies goose revenues in the very short term, but at the expense of making it less likely that users will come back in the future. In contrast, by giving preference to advertisers with quick-loading websites, Google will be ensuring that users who click on ads find the experience as painless as possible -- and therefore, more likely to click on ads in the future.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Thom, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 11:09am

    Salon got clipped, About was aborted

    I was a huge fan of Salon in and just out of college. They went the subscriber/ad route shortly before I got a good paying job. I removed them from my favorites and haven't been back for years ('cept for the occasional link I follow from schneier).

    I've absolutely never cared for about.com (hated is more appropriate). In the search engines it always appears relevent but it never is. The information is marginal at best. What's there is spread over as many pages as possible to increase page views and then, as you noted, are the ads. I put about.com in every hosts file I edit so any attempt to load a page is in-effect aborted.

     

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  2.  
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    Do an About-face, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 11:37am

    About?

    I absolutely refuse to open a link to About.com. It never seems to be ABOUT what I was looking for in the first place, which is laughably ironic.

     

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  3.  
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    Jon Robinson, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 11:38am

    improving the user experience

    Tim, great insight into the fact that improving the end user experience will build Google an even better foundation of users to generate revenue....this is the same reason I think that Apple's appstore will be successful. The "walled garden" as you put it, actually creates an enjoyable, easy and predictable service for end users. I think Apple designs systems like that with the customer in mind above all else.

     

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  4.  
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    Jake, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 11:50am

    Maybe it's just me...

    ... but I can't help feeling that all this might be a touch unfair on well-designed websites that feature high graphical or other media content. It might make good business sense for Google, but I worry that they might unwittingly penalise some personal or small business websites running on a tight budget, and that could have a nasty backlash; Google has a lot of goodwill resting on their reputation for corporate social responsibility, and losing that will hurt them quite badly.

     

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  5.  
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    jonnyq, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Maybe it's just me...

    I came to say something similar...

    I'll just point my Google Ads to a very fast minimal page that links to the slower bulkier page. Or I'll make my page very light and bulk it up with Javascript that hopefully Google won't catch.

    Hopefully it won't be that easy to abuse.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    Hopefully this will push page designers to clean up their layouts and better organize the overall web space design. Many pages cram too much information into limited screen space. There are so many links, banners, video, audio, top and left navigation links it easy to forget why you came to the site in the first place. Then you got those sites with so much information 'below the fold' you end up watching the page loading for several minutes.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:50pm

    Exactly. The best thing about all this is that it might lead to a pruning of the internet overall. Most pages badly need to be simplified and uncluttered, especially commercial pages. There is a reason Craigslist and Google got popular in the first place, and in my opinion its that they offered a a great service, WITH NO BS. Not everyone has 5+Mb per second internet, and even those that do usually don't get it reliably.

    I used to think that as time went on, pages would load faster and faster as speeds increased. What's actually happened is that average page loading times have stayed the same, and pages have simply grown more complex to take up the extra bandwidth.. Maybe Google's plan will contribute, ever so slightly, to making what I "used to think," come true?

     

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  8.  
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    Paul Grusche, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    100% Content, One Ad-For-Access and That's It

    Our research has shown that people understand the value-exchange of advertising to keep content free. However, they were annoyed with ads that compete for their attention or interrupt while trying to enjoy content. We've found an upfront and honest exchange defuses anxiety over ads while providing tremendous engagement for our advertisers at less than the cost of a key word search. They can now brand everybody and expand their top of funnel base beyond those who simply show interest by clicking on an ad.

    We are using the 100% opt-in Ultramercial format to achieve this. The same model that five years ago brought Salon back from the brink of bankruptcy and brought 47% of their ad revenue according to their own 10Qs. Salon has since moved away from the correct implementation (see our site http://www.motorcarmarket.com) and run an interstitial that is forgettable.

    The trade off for Salon was more viewers entered their site so they could increased page view impressions for ads most people ignore. They gave up a respectful, honest format that gave advertisers a one-on-one, full-screen, opt-in engagement for less than the cost of a key word click.


    Paul Grusche

     

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  9.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 12:58pm

    Maybe

    Maybe this will help with that "bandwidth crunch" everyone is talking about. :P

    I've been complaining about the poor quality web development for a while now. Seems like I'm no the only one.

    They need to do this with their search results as well. Not bump a page to the bottom just because it take 1.5min to load, but it should be a factor.

     

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  10.  
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    tedivm, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Maybe it's just me...

    If the time a site loads what the only factor, I would agree with you. However, its just one of many factors. A well put together site with high graphics and a slower load time will still beat a fast loading crappy site.

    This shouldn't hurt any small businesses either. I work as a web developer in Western Massachusetts, and most of the small businesses around here run their hosting with one of many local hosting companies (I myself run one alongside the development work). While these companies don't offer the same amount of resources (such as bandwidth and space that we know the client will never use anyways) the big hosting companies do, they don't overload the machines and they cater to these businesses. They're also fairly cheap- my average client pays about $15 a month. The few bigger clients who need their own servers need them because they're businesses are successful, so they tend to be able to afford it.

    The only people who will suffer are those who aren't willing to work to keep their business current. It isn't a matter of money in most cases as much as it is a lack of understanding- many people seem to think that you can put a website up, ignore it, and it will act as a perpetual money machine. These are the same people who react to lowered sales by only increasing the amount of money they're spending on advertising, while ignoring the underlying problem. A slow site is a sign that the company maintaining the site has fallen into this pattern so I can see why Google would want to reward other sites over them

     

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  11.  
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    tedivm, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 1:06pm

    Re: 100% Content, One Ad-For-Access and That's It

    I followed your link and have to say-

    Not only was the advertisement that showed up one of the most annoying things I've ever seen, it didn't even function right. After being shuffled from site to site the ad finally dumped me onto a 404 page.

    Well done.

     

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  12.  
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    Dazza, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 1:48pm

    Ads are killing sites

    If it wasn't for Adblock and IEPro then many sites are just unusable. Bombarded with in your face advertising that not only detracts from the content you want, but definitely put users off revisiting sites.
    I commend Google for promoting speed in advertising as generally its the ads that are causing the slow page loads, but they should also limit numbers of ads per page.
    Putting a couple of relevant ads along the side of a page is okay but having ads embedded into the middle of content is ridiculous.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

    an alternative to advertising

    Lets talk about an alternative to advertising for a moment.

    I pay $120/mo out of my pocket to host a system which tens of thousands of people use for good and useful purposes. Nobody charges for any of that stuff. I support it with my own $120 and consider it the tax I personally owe to keep the internet running and full of free information.

    Now, I know $120 a month is an awful lot to ask everyone to pay. But lets use it as a starting point. In 2006, U.S. online advertising spending was $16.8Bln. If each 300M americans contibuted his $120 then the free internet would be funded to the tune of $36Bln.

    Or, to fund it at current (2006) levels each american would need to contribute $60/month.

    So, thats how much free stuff you're getting. Not a bad deal... but... I pay more than that, so I have earned my right to my adblocker.

    You should consider doing it, also, and in return you will have also earned the exquisite moral delight of knowing that you played to the strengths of the system of free information, instead of leaving it to the adverting sharks to sully it with noise and flashy cacophony.

    Perhaps not a practical alternative to advertising.. but an alternative, nevertheless, as promised.

     

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  14.  
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    Drew, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

    Free Speech?

    I'm not ready to get up in arms about this, but has anyone considered the free speech implications? Isn't this just a different type of the "traffic prioritization" that we're so pissed off at comcast about?

    Say there's two pages full of information about MegaCompany X. One of them contains a great deal of information about how MegaCompany X has destroyed the environment, run ma and pop shops out of business, etc. but is run on a small-budget hosting site. And the other page is run by MegaCompany on their MegaServers.

    I go out and search for MegaCompany information, and no matter how much more relevant the critical page is, because it loads slower, it will be further down in the results? Seems less than fair to me...

     

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  15.  
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    John, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 3:22pm

    Two points

    First, Tim- are you serious when you say you see pop-up windows when you go to About.com? Are you the last person on the Internet to not use a pop-up blocker? :)

    Seriously, though, with so many companies offering pop-up blockers (AOL, AOL toolbar, Google toolbar, Firefox, IE, Yahoo toolbar, Earthlink, etc), why in the world is anyone seeing pop-up windows?
    And with so many people blocking pop-ups, why would any company even still think this is a viable form of advertising?

    Second, does Google's plan penalize the website or the web hosting company? Suppose a business designs a super-fast site, but the hosting company is slow (or is down or whatever their excuse is). The business can't do anything except complain while their search ranking falls.
    Or will this encourage businesses to switch away from slow hosting companies?

     

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  16.  
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    Disgruntled user, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 3:43pm

    GMail takes forever to load!

    Google should work on improving their own websites. Gmail takes minutes to load on a old mac.

     

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  17.  
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    Amanya Wannahearfrom, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 5:19pm

    So many here do not like a miracle... don't believ

    How much better does it get than Google wielding it's powerful sword over those misusing the military internet by not keeping up.. notice few end users are the problem, but the infrastructure (the last mile, if you will, to the end user's house) is a REAL issue needing attention.

    Google offers to fix the internet for free, keeping it from becoming (MORE)predictable than rush hour(s) in LA- and nobody is singing Google praises?

    Come on! Move out of your van and notice who the problem is.

    Fantastic, once in a year, article, in that it reports on a SOLUTION rather than a problem.. so again:

    Haaannd...Salute! for Techdirt.

    Mike

     

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  18.  
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    Squidly, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 6:11pm

    Re: GMail takes forever to load!

    Uhhh...maybe it's time to replace the "old mac"!

    GMail loads extremely fast for me - as does all of Google. Of course the major reason Google is fast is the thousands of NetScalers they have running. :-)

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 8:28pm

    Re: 7 - very kinzler theory-esque

     

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  20.  
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    mkam, Mar 12th, 2008 @ 3:32am

    Re: Re: 100% Content, One Ad-For-Access and That's

    I will agree with tedivm, except it isn't really the 'most annoying thing I have ever seen'. On the internet that is a pretty hard title to take. As soon as I saw that I had to make a choice between commercial (or ultramercial) and registering, I made the third (unseen) choice to not view the site. I don't know if you really figured out the future of web advertising, but good luck with it. Much better than some, worse than others.

    mkam

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 12th, 2008 @ 9:19am

    Google Analytics, too, please.

    I wish they would focus some of their attention on Google Analytics. Ever since that came out, I've noticed that a lot of my daily sites load more slowly and a quick glance to the bottom of the browser always points to the same place.

     

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  22.  
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    Brandon, Mar 12th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Maybe it's just me...

    I think this is referring more to websites where ads all across the top and both sides load up first and then, 5 minutes later, the actual content appears in the middle. I don't think it's focusing so much on sites that are graphic heavy and by their nature slow to load. I think it's more about sites that load up a ton of little ads first based on their coding and design, then after all that's done, they load up the actual content.

     

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