May 23, 2008, 12:00 AM

Google ranks search ads on page load time, making simplicity a virtue

Google will start ranking search ads in mid-June on how fast a landing page loads. Advertisers that have lots of third-party content, such as ads or tracking tags from analytics vendors, may suffer, says Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at Gomez.

Google will start ranking search ads in mid-June on how quickly a landing page loads when a consumer clicks on the ad. Advertisers that have lots of third-party content, such as ads supplied by advertising networks or tracking tags from analytics vendors, could suffer, says Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at web site performance company Gomez Inc.

Google had disclosed in March that it would soon take into account landing page load time when setting a Quality Score for each ad, saying slow load times make for a poor user experience. Quality Scores determine the position and price of an ad; advertisers have to pay more or accept lower positions on the search results page when Google gives their ads low scores.

Landing pages that take more than three seconds above the average for a given region to load will be penalized, Google says. Retailers that advertise through Google’s AdWords search advertising system can test their landing page load time at the Keyword Analysis page in AdWords.

Quite a few search advertisers could be affected, says Mouline of Gomez. “Do we see a wide variety of load times? Absolutely,” he says. Even for a single advertiser, the load time can vary according to time of day and geography. For instance, a server located in Boston likely will deliver a landing page more quickly to a user on the East Coast than to someone in California, Mouline says.

Third-party content on a landing page can slow down load time, as a delay from any provider prevents the page from being fully loaded in Google’s view, Mouline says. Examples of third-party content include tracking tags from analytics vendors and ads from ad networks. “You have this third-party content coming from a variety of places being assembled in real time at the end user’s browser,” he says. “All of that impacts page load time.”

Pages that rotate content also can result in Google rating a page as loading slowly. For instance, if a page is set to rotate the image displayed after 15 seconds, Google won’t consider the page fully loaded until the refresh takes place. “In this world of richer Internet pages or applications it’s sometimes hard to tell when a page is done loading,” Mouline says. “When is done done?”

Ads also will be penalized for redirecting the user to a page that appears briefly before sending the user to the ultimate landing page. In some cases those intermediate pages, which have their own URLs, are used to register the click on the ad, Mouline says. “Minimizing redirects and refreshes is good,” he says.

Gomez is offering a free site that can test how quickly landing pages load when an ad is clicked on by users in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and Beijing. Advertisers who sign up for Gomez’s paid web-monitoring service can test their pages from 35,000 locations and customize the testing, for instance testing only during the day for advertisers that do not serve up ads at night.

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