“Can you make a lot of money from ads and still have a great user experience and strong SEO?”
There’s a lot of noise out there. A lot of questions and a lot of competing advice. How do ads and ad code impact traffic? When it comes to making a good income and growing traffic, do you have to sacrifice one for the other?
We know there’s a lot at stake for you and your business, and as your partners in this online journey we want to help answer these questions and make sure our answers are technically sound and data-supported. We’ve been building a super-star data science team that can harness our unique perspective on billions of monthly pageviews and look at countless data points to do just that.
Here’s a sneak peek of our findings:
1. AdThrive publishers’ sites are seeing traffic and SEO improvements year-over-year
2. AdThrive publishers’ sites rank better in Google, and rank for bigger keywords
3. Sites running AdThrive ads are faster for the speed metrics that matter than sites running ads from Ad Provider X
4. Site speed is one SEO factor, but a small one
Bringing you data-supported answers
If you’ve ever sent a ticket to AdThrive support, you’ve met different members of our publisher support team. But you’re actually just interacting with one portion of the entire team that supports you on a day to day basis.
Today, we’d like to introduce you to some of the faces behind our data science and business intelligence teams that work behind the scenes digging into metrics, insights, and trends to make sure our services and support are backed by the best data!
As the largest ad management firm for professional bloggers and digital publishers, we have tremendous amounts of data and are using that to drive more and more value for AdThrive publishers. The hard work of these data-focused teams helps us optimize the revenue from every ad campaign for every site, monitor the performance of each site and find problems and opportunities faster, and answer crucial questions.
Can you make a lot of money from ads and still have a great user experience and strong SEO?
Spoiler alert: the data says ABSOLUTELY, and we’re excited to unpack that in this and in future articles!
What went into this study?
To answer questions about how loading ads relates to traffic and SEO, we used tools like SEMrush, Google’s Chrome User Experience (CrUX) database and Google Analytics data to analyze key metrics from sites running AdThrive ads and sites running code from another ad management company that we’ll call Ad Provider X.
Our analysis looked at every AdThrive site and every site from Ad Provider X.
Yep, every single one.
That’s A LOT of numbers to crunch, but we’re dedicated to looking at all the facts, helping you find what’s best for your long-term success, and being a source of truth for you and your business!
Year-over-year traffic improvements for AdThrive publishers’ sites
On average, both overall site traffic and search traffic for AdThrive sites grew from 2018 to 2019. Looking at sites that were with AdThrive from April 2018 to April 2019, search traffic grew by more than 20% across all niches and verticals!
While not every site saw traffic increases, this average growth is encouraging — especially considering that the past year saw significant algorithm shifts in Google search and social media newsfeeds.
How do sites running AdThrive ads rank in Google search compared to sites running ads with Ad Provider X?
To answer this question, we turned to SEMrush, one of the most respected tools for SEO analysis and competitive research.
Top 20 Keywords
Using March 2019 (the last complete month) as our timeframe for analyzing our pool of thousands of sites running ads from both ad providers, we identified the top 20 keywords for every site. These are the keywords SEMrush sees your site ranking best for in Google.
Then, we used SEMrush to see where each site ranked for its top keywords — the weighted median for any fellow statistics nerds out there.
In Google search results, AdThrive publishers’ content ranked 3.8 positions higher than content from sites with Ad Provider X.
This means that AdThrive publishers rank better in search results for the keywords that are most important for their site.
Total search volume
We also looked at the total search volume for those top 20 keywords. Search volume measures the number of searches for a specific keyword during a certain time period.
AdThrive publishers’ search volume across their top 20 keywords was 250,000 search queries higher than the search volume from sites with Ad Provider X.
AdThrive publishers aren’t only ranking better for the keywords that matter — they’re ranking for much higher-traffic keywords.
Most importantly, this is a testament to the quality of content you create every day. This also tells us that other methods of loading ads don’t offer an SEO edge. Publishers running AdThrive ads are absolutely crushing it with search rankings!
Conclusion: AdThrive publishers’ sites rank better in Google, and rank for bigger keywords.
What about site speed? How do sites running AdThrive ads compare to sites with Ad Provider X?
For this analysis, we used Google’s CrUX database to look at two page performance metrics Google prioritizes: First Contentful Paint (FCP) and First Input Delay (FID).
FCP and FID: “real-world” metrics
The Google CrUX database “provides user experience metrics for how real-world Chrome users experience” sites across the web, and the data in it is publicly available. You’ve probably seen some CrUX data if you’ve ever used Google PageSpeed Insights — it’s at the top of the report and shows First Contentful Paint and First Input Delay.
First Contentful Paint measures the moment when the first content element appears on screen for a user. First Input Delay measures how quickly websites respond to user interaction.
These two metrics are important because overall speed test scores don’t tell you how your website is actually behaving for real world users. Even if your website is doing exactly what it should — prioritizing content and allowing non-critical tasks to keep loading in the background — overall speed can look poor.
FCP and FID are “field data” that Google collects directly from Chrome users who visit your website, so they’re real-world metrics that give you a much better idea of how your readers experience your website. Google has said that real-world user experience is how they judge site speed, and FID and FCP are two of the most important real-world metrics.
We looked at those two metrics from March 2018 to February 2019. This gave us 48 data points: 2 metrics, 2 devices (desktop and mobile), over 12 months.
Out of those data points, sites running AdThrive ads were equal to or faster than sites running ads with Ad Provider X 44 out of 48 times — in most cases, faster by 10-15%. The 4 times where sites running AdThrive ads measured lower weren’t perceptibly different. It was so close, it could just be noise.
For example, the chart below shows the data for Desktop FCP.
We’ve heard that concerns that ads affect site speed can prompt publishers to look into other ad providers, but the data shows that underlying site speed issues not related to ads are even more important.
Conclusion: AdThrive publishers’ sites are faster in key metrics over 90% of the time.
How does site speed actually factor into SEO?
That’s a heavy question and one where you’ll get a LOT of varying answers depending on who you ask.
While we’ve always worked to make sure AdThrive ads respect Google’s best page-speed practices, we’ve also seen that “speed” plays a relatively minor role. And it certainly takes a backseat to putting out the best, most relevant, and high-quality content.
But what does the data say?
We ran a regression analysis of FCP and FID against the volume of search traffic for AdThrive publishers to determine how much credit to give these metrics in terms of SEO.
We found that while sites have a wide variation in these speed metrics, the metrics overall have a very minor contribution (around 5%, R^2) to the variation in total search traffic.
This is consistent with Google’s messaging that site speed is a part of search rankings, but that great, relevant content is still the most important factor [source].
Conclusion: Site speed is one SEO factor, but a small one.
Deferred Ad Loading
Even still, we know that site speed is a chief concern for giving your readers a great experience, so while we hope this data helps set your mind at ease, we also have an ad loading method available for anyone who wants to defer ad loading to optimize for scores in Google PageSpeed Insights (PSI) tests.
How deferred ad loading works
This method defers ads from loading until after the page is completely done loading or until the user interacts with the page, minimizing the impact of ads when PSI or other speed testing tools measure your site. This largely removes ads from the resulting recommendations so you can more easily see which aspects of your site need to be worked on to improve performance.
Since this method delays ads loading, this does have an impact on revenue: up to a 5-10% drop from the testing we have done, but the actual amount depends on how well optimized the site is to begin with. For maximum ad revenue potential, we HIGHLY recommend making sure other site optimizations are buttoned up as well!
Sign up here and our team will reach out to you to get this activated for your site.
Finally, if you want to talk through any specific questions you have about your site, our team would love to hear from you and have the chance to dig in deeper with you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
We always want to make sure that the decisions we make and the systems we build are in the service of our publishers. It’s critical to us that our code doesn’t interfere with traffic of any sort, and we’re glad that the data so far supports this.
Things change quickly in the online world, so our data team will continue to monitor and analyze to bring you the most up-to-date info. We’ve got a lot of new things we’re working on to improve even more, and we’re closely tracking how we’re living up our commitment to make sure we’re serving your business today, tomorrow, and years down the road.
Keep producing your amazing, incredible, internet-shaping content — and we’ll make sure you get paid well for it for years to come!