Google AdWords Partner Sites Gain SEO Benefit From Paid Ads

When an in-house search engine marketer lovingly crafts a new paid search ad, spends time testing multiple ad texts, labors over search term lists to pick the perfect words, the last thing the advertiser wants is to have all that work help another site’s search engine optimization efforts. And yet, increasingly, I see AdWords ad text influencing unpaid search results for Google’s partner sites.

Here’s an example:

Google Search Example

The text snippet that is showing up in the natural search result description for TripAdvisor is actually an AdWords ad from Viator that is displaying on TripAdvisor, a Google search partner.

If it happens once it’s news, twice it’s a coincidence and three times, it’s a trend. I’ve seen this issue cropping up more than a few times now, and launched on an exploration of how to fix it.

Marketer and partner try to solve the problem

The site and category exclusion tool in Google AdWords only allows for excluding content network sites, not search partners. At the campaign level, it is possible to target Google search only and exclude search partners, but that change would significantly impact all search partners, not just the partner gaining search engine optimization benefits. As an advertiser, I don’t think its fair that I’d have to lose all search partners to solve the issue of my content appearing on one of them.

Even if I could exclude a partner, frankly, the targeting is not the issue; the problem is that advertisers don’t want the sites their ads are showing on to derive SEO benefits from the advertiser’s marketing work on writing a relevant, keyword rich ad, not that advertisers don’t want their ads on that partner’s site. The advertising relationship is great, advertisers just didn’t sign up for the SEO relationship. I want to keep Viator’s ad appearing on TripAdvisor, I just want it to stop showing up in the search results text for them.

Can TripAdvisor (the advertising partner) solve the problem? The travel vertical is a small world and we know TripAdvisor, so we reached out on the issue. TripAdvisor was happy to chat and pointed out that they have implemented the AdSense API according to Google’s instructions and aren’t trying to derive any additional SEO benefit out of the paid search copy. In fact, they have spend a lot of time working on optimizing their site, including writing optimized meta descriptions, which they’d much prefer to show up in the search results rather than broken snippets of AdSense text.

Both advertiser and partner agree that the paid search results should not be used in any way to determine or display natural search rankings, but it seems neither party can directly resolve the issue.

Over to you, Google

Perhaps Google should have addressed this issue from the start. Google solidly claims that paid search and unpaid search are totally separate entities and never the twain shall meet, but in this case they seem to be uneasy bedfellows. How different is a paid search advertisement from a paid link (a practice Google does not condone for SEO) on someone’s site?

If a paid link represents trying to buy your way into natural search rankings, doesn’t a paid ad from AdWords that impacts natural search results represent something similar?

In-house search engine marketers should assess if this is occurring for their AdWords ads. If so, is it impacting their paid search program performance or the performance of their company’s natural search results?

Now that I’ve noticed the trend, I see examples more and more, but I don’t think the issue is yet at a pandemic level. The bottom line is that Google should be excluding its AdSense API, or really any advertising, from natural search results.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | In House Search Marketing


About The Author: is the Vice President, Marketing at Viator,the leading provider of destination activities worldwide, and also blogs on in-house search engine marketing issues at

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  • http://www.Match.ccom simons1321

    i thought the latest consensus on meta descriptions was that they only help with CTR and are not used in the ranking algorithm…? According to the latest SEOmoz report… i think.

    If that’s true, then the “impact” that adwords ads may have on SEO rankings may be nil, if anything at all. Meaning… just because the ad text shows in the organic description snippet doesn’t mean that the adwords text is what is causing TripAdvisor to rank for that keyword phrase or is even being considered in the ranking algorithm.

  • michaeljayberman

    I’d bet that its related to the fact that you have a Viator ad currently residing on tripadvisor’s landing page, including the same text which is being captured by google for the description as you’re seeing in your search result screenshot. Since these sponsored links are not through google’s network, i’d say its very unlikely that its an effect of PPC, and rather an effect of google somehow assuming that your content at times is most relevant to the query “sydney things to do”, on trip advisors page.

    I’d also guess that since your past searches were probably related to Viator, since you work there, its possible your previous search history swayed the content on these pages, and google is looking for content related to Sydney & Viator – thus your content gets pulled from TripAdvisor.

    This is all theory, per se, but it’s much more acceptable than what you’re trying to suggest, for me anyways.


  • michaeljayberman

    Nevermind, it seems like we’re saying the same thing. :) nice catch.

  • Kelly Gillease

    Mike, to clarify, the sponsored link on the TripAdvisor page is from Google’s network – the Viator ad on their landing page is via Google AdWords, so its definitely related to PPC. And we did check to see if this happens for computers that haven’t ever searched for Viator, and it does, so its not just a personalization issue.

  • bocakmak

    To Simon’s point, I also do not understand how exactly this is benefiting SEO.

    The ads appearing on partner sites are different from the ads in the content network (in the code at least) because they are being pulled from the API and are displayed using HTML & CSS. Content sites use JavaScript to display ads and therefore do not get indexed.

    With that being said, it does not seem like Google is doing a poor job of separating paid and natural results but rather that Google needs to tighten the leash a bit and make partners adhere to the same (or similar) code and display rules so that the ads do not get indexed. To their benefit, at least places a nofollow on the ad links so Adwords advertisers are not gaining any link value from the purchase.

  • Michael Martinez

    Google announced a couple of months ago that it is now indexing some Javascript text. They are probably doing what Yahoo! has done for years: indexing Javascript ads, perhaps only the ads they don’t control.

  • http://www, granite

    This has been a particular issue on Tripadvisor for a considerable period of time.
    One of our clients in the travel industry had an issue where Tripadvisor knocked it off the top spot in the SERP for its most important key-phrase 2 years ago, only to realize that it was our client’s own Google ad was the culprit.
    The reason appears to be that the ad is visible in the source code whereas with the content network it is not. Whether it is Tripadvisor’s way of rendering the ads or the Search partner’s API makes them visible in the source code, I’m not sure.
    There is a way to fix it though but it is not ideal:
    Either exclude the USA from the target market in the campaign or have a different ad for the USA. Obviously this isn’t optimum, especially if your main market is the USA.
    The reason this works is as follows:
    Where a site is geo-targeting its content, Google seems to only index the content that is visible to USA users. For example, the same tripadvisor page will show different ads to different markets depending on the advertisers settings in their Google campaign. However, only the USA targeted ads are indexed. If you can afford to have a less keyword rich ad for the USA then this solution will work. Otherwise it is over to Tripadvisor or Google to fix.

  • RobAndrews

    As Michael says this is all about how Google now crawls Javascript. This change has been quite far reaching and I guess this is just another one of the knock on effects.

    Not sure Google will be looking to combat this any time soon as it seems a pretty complex one. However, you are right, it will change the on page effectiveness of some pages both positively and negatively.

  • http://www, granite

    Rob, The Tripadvisor issue has nothing to do with Google crawling javascript. The Google ads are appearing in the source code of tripadvisor as standard html & CSS and therefore are read by Google as standard content.
    On the content network where the ads are displayed by Javascript, the ad text does not appear in the source code and this issue doesn’t arise.


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