In some cases, less is more. Google is finding that out in respect to the number of ads it shows on certain search results pages. Last week, Robert Scoble shared his cocktail party conversation with an anonymous Googler in a post titled "Did Google turn down the revenue knob?" While fewer ads mean less short-term revenue, the increased relevance leads users to click on ads more, according to the source.
That kind of thinking is not new to search engines. They constantly test the number and position of ads to find the best-performing combination. Sometimes, it turns out that fewer ads are more productive. Google's not alone in this process. Ask.com went through this process very publicly a couple of years ago, and had to explain away the short-term effects to stockholders for several quarters. Every search engine is testing these variables constantly.
Over the weekend, ZDNet's Donna Bogatin went through Google investor call transcripts to find an explanation given in January of the reduction of ads from Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder and president of technology:
In the fourth quarter, we continue to enhance our ad matching by eliminating ads from some of our less commercial queries while showing more ads on commercially-oriented searches. As a result, the percentage of queries that receive ads have gone down by several points, but monetization has improved. These are the kinds of improvements that we make all the time and really improve both the quality and the monetization of our system.
That's also the official response I got from Google, via Nick Fox, senior business product manager for ads quality. "We believe that ads improve the user experience when they're high quality and relevant, so we don't necessarily think that fewer ads is always a good thing. However, we do believe that low quality ads hurt the user experience and work aggressively to ensure that our users don't see low quality ads," he said.
The end result is that, over time, some searches will return fewer ads per query as low-quality ads are weeded out. Usually, revenue is not affected, Fox said.
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