Google's move this week to punish poor quality sites led to the reshuffling of nearly 12 percent of all query results. The goal is a better search experience, but there's a possible upside for advertisers as well.
In theory, the action could mitigate the problem of low quality inventory on ad exchanges and ad networks.
Here's how it could happen: As low-rent content sites lose search traffic they will also hemorrhage page views and ad impressions, leaving them with less inventory to sell on exchanges. Meanwhile higher quality publishers would presumably enjoy a windfall of traffic from Google and seek to fill their surplus ad space (where else?) on ad exchanges and ad networks. Media buyers might find overall site quality has improved.
Adam Cahill, SVP and director of digital media at Hill Holiday, said, "Just by making the change to the algorithm they're probably going to decrease the available page views and the available impressions" to those sites.
Of course, many direct response marketers are not very focused on site quality when buying display ads. Kevin Lee, CEO of agency Didit, said, "We definitely monitor for site quality but there is some latitude."
But an overall uptick in quality would be a significant development for brand advertisers, many of which have withheld dollars from ad exchanges because of quality and adjacency concerns.
Google would prefer not to speculate on the possible ad quality impact of its algorithm change. Its display ad boss Neal Mohan declined to comment for this story but the company offered this statement: "Our recent algorithm change was made solely with the intention of providing better search results for users."
Google is also mum on the specific sites it has punished. Some in traditional media circles have gleefully assumed that content farms and aggregators were high on the hit list owing to their high volume of simplistic, sometimes grammatically-challenged articles. They have swooned at the prospect of comeuppance for the likes of Demand Media, Yahoo's Associated Content, and AOL properties such as SEED and HuffingtonPost.
Their excitement may be premature. Demand Media has already addressed the search algorithm change, claiming in a blog post, "We haven’t seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business."
AOL and Yahoo have yet to comment, and independent traffic reports will take weeks - or months - to tell the story.
Other possible targets are the slew of properties with content that has been outright stolen from other pages, as well as sites with hard-to-remember names - think plasma-television-top-reviews.info - that host little more than affiliate links. Hill Holiday's Cahill argues Google should go further, proactively removing any site devalued by its algorithm change from the DoubleClick Ad Exchange.
"Google just said these sites aren't valuable enough to be on your search results. So how can they be valuable enough to sell to buyers?" he said. (Update: Google pointed out after this article was published that sites hosting unoriginal content are removed from AdSense and its ad exchange, as are sites that violate its webmaster guidelines.)
One could argue banning poor sites would not serve the interests of data-driven ad buyers who are more interested in finding the right audience than in the suitability of adjacent content.
Cahill doesn't buy it. "Even the direct response advertisers really have no idea how awful some of these sites are," he said.
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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