Will Google Start Showing Ads and Other Content in Unused Whitespace in Your Browser Window?

When you design a web page with fixed dimensions, set for a specific display resolution, sometimes visitors will arrive at your page with a higher web page resolution level. What this means is that there can be empty space showing in their browser window when viewing your page. There are other times when someone visits your page, and their browser window isn’t using their whole monitor display, and they might resize their browser to include a higher resolution level, which can then cause unused browser space to appear.

An image from the patent showing two different displays; one with a limited amount of unused browser space, and one with a large amount of unused browser space and additional content items.

A Google patent application published this morning describes how Google might identify when such unused space exists, and include content within that space. The patent filing tells us that this content can include text, images, videos, animations, and other types of content that can be displayed in a browser.

Advertisements? Search Features?

While the patent filing provides a fair amount of detail on how they might determine when such white space exists, it doesn’t give us any examples of the kinds of content that might be displayed in that empty space, such as advertisements, search features like Google’s Quick Scroll, news or informational content, related search information, social network information, or other content.

We’re also not told if the unused whitespace might be relevant to the content on the web page being visited, the person doing the visiting, or something else entirely.

How would you feel about Google showing content in unused whitespace on a visitor’s browser if you own the site being visited? Would it make a difference if it was advertising that you might earn money with?

If you follow my link above about Google’s quick scroll feature, one of the things I mentioned that I didn’t like about it was that it covered over some of the content on the pages being visited. Displaying the quick scroll box in unused space appears to be a way of avoiding that problem. Would Google potentially display other search features in unused browser space?

Would the addition of content items like this cause webpages to load more slowly and impact the amount of bandwidth used by browsers and site owners? Are Google’s efforts to speed up the Web at least partially focused upon enabling them to add additional features like this to pages?

The patent is:

Utilization of Browser Space
Invented by Xin Zhou
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20110145730
Published June 16, 2011
Filed March 19, 2010

Abstract

Systems, methods and computer program products for utilization of browser space are described herein. An embodiment includes determining unused browser space on a display and selectively rendering one or more content items in the determined space based on dimensions of the display. The embodiment further includes, determining dimensions of a window in which the browser is displayed, wherein the dimensions include a height and a width of the window.

Furthermore, the embodiment includes selectively displaying the content items in the unused browser space based on the width of the browser window, item width of each of the content items and a gap width between the content items. In this way, unused browser space on a display is effectively utilized by selectively rendering one or more content items in the unused browser space.

Would you consider allowing Google to show additional content items in unused browser space on your pages?

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83 thoughts on “Will Google Start Showing Ads and Other Content in Unused Whitespace in Your Browser Window?”

  1. I would image that publishers would have to include some type of Java that loads your page as a frame and then displays ads in large sections that have nothing but #ffffff.

    Interesting. I wonder if they will exceed the required no more than three ad blocks per page rule.

    Mark

  2. On the sites I run or on client sites I take care of advertising of any kind would be frowned upon, whether this comes through the Chrome browser or any other browser that integrates this mechanism.

    So what of the charitable organizations that are contacted after seeing a load of ads splashed all over the site(s) they are supporting? Would it be opt out etc.

    I know we can’t stop the Google juggernaut but mechanisms for choice would have to be integrated whether that is a revenue sharing system or a complete opt out. Pushing technology on us to perpetuate the whole Google business model is not the same as giving us a choice.

  3. I agree with you Bill. It would definitely take more bandwidth and thus reduces the page loading time. I would not allow Google to advertise on my unused browser space..looks a bit more spammy with ads and unrelated content.

  4. I wonder if there could be (legal) copyright implications if there isn’t some kind of API granting approval by the site for such realtime modifications (presumably some kind of meta-tag in the header akin to site verification that would tie to the siteowner’s google adsense account, etc.)

  5. Seems Google gets away with things that other companies could only dream of. Most of their local results pages are controlled by Google properties already with Adwords, Maps 7 pack results, and blended local etc already. This could be a mistake. At what point will overload occur and the searchers leave in flocks.

  6. I don’t see this as being a legitimate feature for everyone. I would definitely have a problem with this on my own site. Sometimes white space is part of the aesthetic for the site.

  7. I think they may well. The idea that this is patentable though, I find crazy.

    ON some sites I do see ads that do take over essentially all the unused space (including the “white space” that designers put in place for normal use of the site). I find that practice way less annoying than the pop-ups and the newer “pop-ups” that are essentially the same thing but are not called that.

  8. This sounds like the equavalent of Google seeing someone’s storefront and deciding since the walls are white with nothing on them it would be ok for Google to hang signs advertising whatever they want on those walls.

    If someone visits my site anything inside the browser window is my site. If there’s white space there, it’s because I’ve designed the space to be there for some purpose.

    The person who’s browser is doing the viewing can do whatever they want of course since it’s their browser, but I don’t see where Google has the right to fill up the space with ads without permission.

    I would hope Google isn’t stupid enough to do this, but if they did I think you’d see a lot less whitespace on websites. If I’m going to be forced to run ads on my site I might as well be the one deciding which ads.

  9. Personally speaking, it’d be a step too far. As the webmaster, it’s a total loss of control on my part. Will I know exactly what ads are being flashed at a given user? Will it be appropriate? Will it be a competitor?

    It’s a little bit sad that the old ‘we’re open source and cuddly’ Google has turned into such an advertising driven behemoth. And it’s now so large that it couldn’t be stopped by anything short of biological warfare.

  10. I personally wouldn’t want Google to use “my” blank space unless it was VERY beneficial to readers AND I was able to profit from it.

    Sounds a bit too intrusive to me but I can also see how it could make a lot of money for them.

    Regards,
    Maria

  11. I really cant see this happening, I personally wouldn’t like this either as a visitor to a website or as an owner of a website.

    I think if Google did go ahead with this it would encourage many to use other search engines.

  12. I agree with Steven
    “This sounds like the equavalent of Google seeing someone’s storefront and deciding since the walls are white with nothing on them it would be ok for Google to hang signs advertising whatever they want on those walls.”

  13. I think that it’s up to Google to use whatever marketing tool they want! They’ve earned it with their reputation and deserve the right. Here at SimplyCast.com we support any and all channels of marketing!

  14. This move reeks of arrogance on the part of Google. They are attempting to push the limit of their “network” and the tolerance of people for ads by attacking white space found based on display settings.

    I can see them attempting this in their browser. Firefox would likely play along too, as they will surely be compensated. I’m not too sure how Bing, Opera, Safari, and the rest will feel about this, though.

  15. Hi Mark,

    I don’t think it would be necessary for publishers to add any code to their pages for Google to identify when there’s available whitespace to present content upon. It looks more like that might be done via the browser, or a browser add-on like a toolbar.

    I wonder if they will exceed the required no more than three ad blocks per page rule.

    The patent gives us a lot of technical details on how they might determine when whitespace is available, and how they might add content items, but it’s susiciously short on details on what might be contained in those content items, and whether or not they would ask for permission to display them from the owners of sites that they might appear upon. So, we don’t know if the idea is to display ads or what.

  16. Hi Dean,

    I imagine that a lot of sites wouldn’t be pleased if all of a sudden Google started showing ads in whitespace like this without any warning or notice, and without the chance to opt-in and say that you would allow that additional content to be displayed when your site is seen by visitors.

    Advertising has the potential to distract visitors to a site and take them elsewhere, even if the ads are contextual. I’m sure that many non profits, hobby sites owners, and purely informational pages wouldn’t want ads presented either.

    I wouldn’t want to see Google show a set of links to “similar sites,” or “related queries” or other search related features that might make it more likely that people would leave my pages and go elsewhere. I don’t think I would mind if they would show the Google Quick Scroll box in that whitespace since it can help people find their query terms on the page itself.

    I don’t think giving people the choice to “opt out” is sufficient. I’d much rather see an express “opt-in” for anything beyond something like the Quick Scroll feature.

  17. Hi Stefan,

    Yes, bandwidth and page rendering time are a couple of my concerns.

    I’ve always wondered why search engines and other service providers do such a poor jobe when it comes to doing things like providing widgets and badges that don’t validate, aren’t optimized for speed and load slowly, and so on. Should YouTube still be using elements when they could as easily be allowing people to embed videos on their pages with tags instead? One of the drawbacks of Yahoo!’s MyBlogLog was their large image sizes for avatars, which weren’t reduced to smaller file sizes even when they were displayed as smaller images. If you install Google Analytics, finding the asynchronous version of the javascript to install your code is an adventure. Why are these sites so careless when they provide things like this to us?

    I was wondering what my site would look like with a fixed width a couple of days before I read this patent application, instead of the way it is now. I’ve stopped considering the option now.

  18. Hi Steven,

    This addition of content in white space reminded me a little of some sites that were showing the contents of news sites in frames that had advertisements in them. I believe that many of those were the subject of copyright infringement cases, which they either settled or lost. Of course, we don’t know what Google might consider putting in that whitespace at this point, and whether or not they would ask for permission first.

    I could see site owners granting permission to Google to use that whitespace via something like a meta tag, or as a setting in Google Adsense or Webmaster Tools or elsewhere.

  19. Hi Dave,

    It does seem like Google will sometimes do something first, and then ask for permission or forgiveness later. One big example are the cached copies that Google saves, for when a web page isn’t available for one reason or another. While we do have the ability to add a meta noarchive tag to our pages, they are copying them without permission. Copyright infringement? It’s a real gray area at this point.

    What will the public’s reaction to Google’s new “City” pages be as well, which may push down the web sites of businesses further in search results when searchers perform a search that seems to have a geographic intent behind it.

    There may be some tipping point where searchers and site owners are alienated enough to seek information elsewhere.

  20. Hi Andy,

    I agree – sometimes you want whitespace as part of your design, and having some third party arbitrarily adding content to that space that can take the form of potentially very distracting animations, videos and images isn’t something I want to see on my pages either.

  21. Hi John,

    The patentable portion of this may not be the idea that Google might use whitespace like this as a place to display ads or other content, but rather that “unused” space can be identified, based upon the boundaries of a website and the resolution of a browser, or the resizing of the browser window. The patent involves something that could be seen as a purely technical innovation rather than a business process.

    Not a big fan of some of the newer advertising, including the “new” popups. The ones that really bug me are the boxes that show up in the bottom right of your browser after you scroll down a bit. I catch those in my peripheral vision, and they tend to distract me from what I’m reading. Don’t like them.

  22. Hi Steven

    The use of the term “white space” reminded me of the wireless bandwidth that opened up when television stopped being broadcast in analog, and the government decided to auction off the empty bandwidth available, with parties involved referring to those airwaves as “white space.” I could see someone at Google saying, “Hey, there’s whitespace on may web pages that isn’t being used. Maybe we could find a way to use that, too.”

    I don’t consider the “white space” on a page to be unused, but rather intentionally designed to be displayed like that for most sites.

    We don’t know yet Google’s motivation behind this patent, but I hope that it isn’t to attempt to use that space without permission.

  23. Hi kieren,

    Personally speaking, it’d be a step too far. As the webmaster, it’s a total loss of control on my part. Will I know exactly what ads are being flashed at a given user? Will it be appropriate? Will it be a competitor?

    Good points. If I’m paying for the domain name, and the hosting, or even if either or both of those have been provided to me for free, I wouldn’t find Google adding whatever they wanted to white space on my site to be acceptable.

  24. Hi Maria,

    Hopefully Google will take the long view, and recognize that even if showing advertisements in areas like this would potentially benefit them financially at first, the potential to alienate site owners and visitors would be much more harmful to them in the long run.

  25. Hi Paul,

    At this point, we’re not sure what they are planning to do with the whitespace, if anything. It is still just a patent filing, and not an announcement of intent to use the space.

    If they offered it as an alternative method of embedding adsense blocks within your site/design, that might not be a bad thing.

    If they put a feature like the Quick Scroll box in that white space, I’m not sure that it would upset me that much.

  26. Hi CMS Buffet,

    There’s definitely a difference between asking for permission to put up a poster and doing it first and then maybe asking permission later. Guess we wait and see.

  27. Hi Jamie,

    I don’t agree, and I really hope that there isn’t any one at Google who believes that they’ve earned the right to market anywhere they want. That kind of hubris could potentially destroy their reputation very quickly.

  28. Hi Cleofe,

    There is the potential for that. I think we need to keep in mind that the patent filing doesn’t tell us how the identification and possible use of white space might be implemented. At this point, it’s an interesting browser or toolbar add-on feature, and nothing more.

  29. no advertisement should be placed in the unused white space in browser without user permission. It’s our computer and Google don’t have any rights to place add in white space area.

  30. I like whitespace! There’s nothing worse than a website crammed with content. I need some room to breathe!

  31. Speaking as a web user, I’d like to ensure I can switch this off as it has the potential to be very annoying, like a pop up ad. Speaking as a publisher on the other hand, I might turn it on if it increased by revenue and did not overly annoy my visitors.

  32. So many people are simply speculating here and getting too emotionally upset without actually reading the whole thing.

    There is no evidence at the moment suggesting that Google will be showing ads or search buttons or anything else in a browser like Chrome automatically without permission from website owners. The patent simply talks about patenting the technology to automatically show some content in empty website spaces within a browser.

    This may actually be something for AdSense in specific, allowing AdSense publishers to show dynamic ads in the empty spaces on their own websites. If that’s the case, it’s awesome. It could also be some setting or tweak coming up in Chrome allowing browser users to dynamically display related content or other things as they wish on specific sites.

    If neither of those is the case, we have to wait and see what this is about instead of assuming and speculating that Google ads and search boxes will be forced into the empty spaces of all websites. You don’t have to delete your Google accounts or uninstall Chrome just yet.

  33. I agree Dean – there definitely needs to be some kind of choice or ability to opt out. Having a site populated with additional ads in white space could just destroy a site’s look and feel.

  34. I hope they would only do this through Chrome. I would have a problem with them doing that in other browsers (if possible), that would be vandalism of my site.

  35. Surely this could only be an opt-in service, without installing code onto a visitors machine, a Google sponsored browser plugin or a Google browser (Chrome) there is no way that Google can actively utilise the whitespace on any given website. So based on the assumption that this is an enhanced Adsense platform there will be those who derive value and those who don’t see this as worthwhile. Either way I can’t see Google overstepping their bounds otherwise they may all of a sudden start finding
    User-agent: googlebot
    Disallow: /

  36. I would assume this is an opt-in application with java script being added to your site. This would be counter productive for retail sites as you do not want people leaving your site.

  37. But does not that space belongs to the site which is being displayed? So how can google insert ads in that slot? I hope it is configurable and we can get rid of those if we want to.
    But Google are really pushing hard specially after facebook capturing the advertisers interest. More and more people going to facebook for publishing the ads. Google losing out a lot on that front. So no wonder they are trying to change their strategy and plans.

  38. Something “odd” happened to me yesterday when using Chrome’s Incognito. I did a search and the right hand side, about 1/4 of the screen, was black. Refreshed a few times and it remained the same. Should have taken a screenshot.

    I wondered at the time if they were testing something. Almost as if it was a space to be used for applications. It was strange. I have a 22 inch widescreen so the search results looked perfectly normal, just less white space!

  39. This would surely prove unpopular with everyone – for consumers then everyone already finds adwords irritating – and for publishers there is the potential for your competitors adverts to show on your own website!

    although from a google stand point then it would be good because you would
    A) bid highly to stop your competitors ads appearing on your site
    B) bid highly to get your adverts shown on your competitors website.

  40. Hi Andrew,

    Funny, but one of the arguments that I’ve sometimes seen related to businesses coming up with applications or features that might add information to a page through a person’s browser is that it’s the person browsing or searching who should control what they see on their browser screen, and not the owners of any particular web page.

    I don’t like the idea that Google could possibly add content items to a page in whitespace without somehow asking for permission from the author/owner of that page, and hopefully they won’t try to do that.

  41. Hi Tom,

    Careful use of whitespace can definitely add to the look and feel of a webpage. Having someone come along and fill it up without permission or any control on the part of the web site’s owner has the feel of a graffiti artist coming along and tagging your house or storefront.

  42. Hi Steve,

    I try to think about things that I see at the search engines and on the Web from the perspective of a searcher, a siteowner, and someone who helps people meet the objectives behind their sites. Sometimes what isn’t necessarily good for someone browsing the Web may provide benefits for the owner of a site, like the interstitial ads that sometimes show up when you go to a web page and are shown for a short period of time before you can access the content that you want to see.

    I find those annoying, and fortunately many of the people who use them also include a way to click on something to “skip” those ads. They are still annoying, but giving me a little control over getting rid of them helps a bit. Opening new browser windows on me through pop-ups are a pain as well, and the newer popups that sometimes are first shown when you visit a site begging you to subscribe to something or take some other action are sometimes enough to get me to go to other pages.

    If Google starts showing ads in whitespace, hopefully they will give browsers a way of not seeing those ads. If they don’t someone may come along with some kind of ad blocker that will do that for people.

  43. Hi Bes,

    Good points. I don’t think that it’s bad to speculate, but the patent really doesn’t provide details of how this might be used.

    If it did, and it included possibilities that we might not like, I think it would still be too early to object vigorously unless Google started implementing those things. If Google patents something like this, and one of the possibilities that they might have mentioned would be to possibly show advertising without a siteowners consent, and then never implemented those advertisements, the patent might be enough to keep others from trying something similar and showing ads that neither the siteowner or visitors to that site might want to see.

  44. Hi William.

    Agreed completely. And the look and feel of a website is one of the things that many people consider when deciding whether or not they have confidence in a site.

    That’s also one of the areas that Google implies that it looks at in the questions that Google has raised about sites when talking about the Panda upgrades to their ranking algorithms – how intrusive advertising might be on a page, and how much of it there may be.

  45. Hi Steve,

    Purely as a patent and description of what Google could do, I don’t think we need to be too scared. If one of the Official Google blogs tells us later today that they may just start adding advertising to our browser windows in “unused” white space on sites, without a site owner’s permission, I’d probably be angry.

  46. Hi Ryan,

    It would probably be easiest for Google to do something like this through Chrome, but it’s also possible that they could through a browser add-on, like their toolbar.

  47. Hi Rich,

    It’s hard to tell at this point what Google’s plans might be with this patent filing. I suspect that they don’t want to do something that would alienate a large percentage of users and site owners. I’m wondering how they would feel about redesigning some of their own pages to have fixed widths, so that these “content” items might appear in whitespace when people are looking at things like Google Place Pages. Would we see things like Google Offers there?

  48. Hi Allen,

    I’m not sure if there would need to be javascript installed on a site for this to work, but if it becomes part of something like Adsense, that could be a possibility.

  49. Hi Kunal C,

    I would think that whitespace could be said to belong to the site owner, but it might be possible to make an argument that the boundaries of the website shown are within the property of the site owner, and the whitespace that is created when the display resolution of a visitor’s browser is bigger than the fixed display of a pge belongs to the browser’s owner. I’m not sure that I would buy that argument, but I can see it being made.

  50. Hi Jon,

    I would be interested in seeing a screenshot of that as well. Shame that you didn’t take one for a possible blog post.

    Google does do live testing, showing small percentages of searchers some things that others don’t see, and coming across those can sometimes provide hints of things that Google might do in the future.

  51. Hi Sam,

    Definitely one of the drawbacks of using contextual advertisements on your own pages is that you may be helping drive traffic to your competitors. Adsense does let you block some potential advertisers, but there’s always the possibility that others will be displayed.

  52. Hi Dave,

    We’re really not quite sure how Google might anticipate using the idea of showing content items in white space that results from different sized site boundaries and viewpoints in browsers.

    I’d definitely suggest not changing the way that you prefer designing pages until and unless Google does start doing something with that space that might not be wanted. At this point, it’s still just a patent filing, and nothing more.

  53. Ahhh.. this was the last thing i expected… Google has ads on all websites and now even on browsers? Just can’t imagine this…

  54. What kills me is that this is just another attempt by google to move the goal posts when it comes to on-screen ads. I understand the need to patent any new technology, but if this is implemented, it will make browsing websites even worse. It’s been shown that most people don’t click on the adwords ads, and it’s gotten so bad that several themes have been written to make the content look just like the adwords ads to encourage clicking on them. Over time, this will be something else that will be ignored by the end user, and we’re left with a worse looking webpage compared to what we had.

    I can understand the need to innovate, and sell ad space, but there has to be a better way…

  55. Wow that is a totally brilliant thought Jeff… I agree with you 100 %. The impact to the user should be taken into consideration.

  56. Hi Jeff,

    I questioned the possibility of them using that space to show ads in my post, but the patent doesn’t mention them. So, I’m not sure that we can be sure at this point.

    One of the things that does truly bother me about Adsense is that it can often be easily set up to look like a navigational bar for a website, encouraging people to click upon ads that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

  57. Hi Paul,

    The patent only shows how Google might be able to show content items in the whitespace, but it doesn’t discuss things like whether or not they will show ads there, or if people would be able to sign up to have those things show up in those spaces. We’re going to have to wait to see if Google tries to do anything with this at this point.

  58. I certainly don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s a challenge to keep visitors focused, and this distraction by google would not help.
    Considering all the work involved to make a page readable without being overwhelming, this would take much control away from site owners.

  59. Thnx for the share,but Google will not throw ads in the WhiteSpace..!!!
    i have asked the same on their forum just like that and no one has yet replied to my thread..!!! lolz :)

  60. Personally I think that due to the dominance of Google, many people not involved in the industry see it as the only option, almost as the internet itself and not just a product. It’s a very fine line though, if they take advertising too far they could burst the bubble and risk opening themselves up to competitors.

  61. Hi Richard,

    It is the kind of thing that could distract visitors to a web page, and impact both the message that might be found on that page and possible conversions.

    Even if what was displayed was a navigational aid to help you find your keywords on a page more quickly, that could potentially lead people to experience the page differently than you might have intended. That would be an interesting challenge, and I think one way to approach it would be to make a page more easily scannable so that people can find what they are looking for without relying upon such a navigation aid, like a Google Quick Scroll, for instance.

  62. Hi Sid,

    I’m not sure if anyone from Google would comment on this particular process that’s described in the patent until at least they actually do something with it.

  63. Hi Creare,

    It can be a mighty fine line to walk for Google, regardless of their dominance on the Web. Think of the outcry that happened when Google first came out with Google Buzz, and it initially automatically made people you interacted with in Gmail public unless you explicitly kept it from doing so. In Google +, Google seems to suggest that the people you’ve communicated with through Gmail might be people you would consider adding to Circles, but they don’t do it automatically.

  64. I hope advertisements are not displayed. It would add to the loading time and slow down the website not to mention privacy issues.

  65. Hm, I definitely see this as a problem to be honest. I’m in love with white – empty space and I believe I’m not the only one. Clean and simple is always powerful. I mean, look at Google. A white page with a logo and a search box and some text links and that’s it.

    Not to mention a website’s speed which no longer is desirable to the users but Google and other SEs as well that I know of. There’s an SEO penalty for slow websites…

  66. Hi George,

    There are a number of arguments against letting Google or anyone else try to use the whitespace on a site in a manner like this, regardless of what they might want to display. Google’s design is definitely a great example of how powerful that whitespace might be.

    I think if Google wants to try to move foward with something like this that they will do so anyway, regardess of how webmasters might feel, like they’ve just started doing with the Google Relate toolbar, which appears at the bottoms of pages.

  67. This is seriously interesting stuff… and slightly scarying I suppose.

    An interesting way of seeing this rolled out could på to allow Google to splittest different ad positions (even the posistions I/you/we didn’t think about) for performance.

    But for now I’d prefer Google didn’t alter my pages outside the area I’ve designated for Adsense.

  68. Bill,

    A couple of thoughts on your point.
    >> Would Google potentially display other search features in unused browser space?

    Personally, I’d like my empty space to be left, well, empty. It might’ve been there for aesthetic reasons or maybe I’d want to put my own content there. I wouldn’t be too happy if some automated program took control of my online real estate.

    But I guess most don’t mind it if they see potential for more revenue.

  69. Sid– If google goes ahead with using whitespace for advertising it is unlikely they will consult with any of us first.

  70. I can see plenty of positives and negatives, it really depends on which side of the fence you sit.

    Adwords, in the assumption you’ve opened yourself up to the program, the in all essence you are handing over further on page advertising to Google. Maybe you won’t want to, but, I tell you this, not many of us have the resources to pile into online marketing like Google does, and I’m sure they’ll do a good job getting those adverts to convert, more clicks equal more revenue.

    Of course if your site design is likely to be compromised, then perhaps steer clear.

    SEO by the Sea, Nice

  71. Will the authorities really grant a patent for this? Lots of verbage in the abstract but basically the patent request seems to be “we want to automatically use the white space eithe side of a fixed width website”. Lots of people have commented on the negatives of such an approach, but I just can’t see how you could patent such an idea.

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