Warning! Google’s New Page Layout Algorithm Could Affect Your Rankings

If your site is very ad-heavy above the fold, you may start to encounter problems in Google’s search results.

Google recently announced a change in their “page layout algorithm” that is designed to penalize pages that are stuffed with ads and light on content, especially in the area above the fold (i.e. the screen area that you see before you scroll down the page).

Google says in their post, “This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.”

Matt Cutts, Google’s most public software engineer, also spelled this out to some degree in a Q&A last September.

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Browser Size Tool

In order to help you determine if you have too many ads above the fold, Google has also provided a rather sloppy looking Browser Size tool to help you see your website under different screen resolutions.

Do As I Say

While this move is obviously meant to improve user experience, and will no doubt be a good thing overall, many in the SEO community could not help but giggle/roll their eyes/shake their head/pop a vein at the announcement. Google, you see, makes the rules. But that doesn’t mean they always follow the rules.

A popular little trick to illustrate this point is to go to Google and search for “credit cards.”

How much content do you find above your fold?

Another irony that a lot are pointing out, and that I too experienced, was an email from the Google Adsense team on the very same day of this announcement encouraging me to put MORE Adsense ads on my pages.

The diagram below is from Google itself, recommending possible places to put your Adsense ads.

Funny or Not

Whether you find all this ironic, funny, or infuriating, the fact still remains that the Page Layout Algorithm is a reality, and if you depend on traffic from Google, you will need to pay attention to it.

Google has told us for years that it looks at site structure. It wants to see logic and ease of use for the visitor. So now it turns out that this means more than simply naming your categories well; it also means you need to make sure to lay your site out to highlight the content, not the ads. Presumably, this also applies in-house ads (for your own products or services).

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Photo: Internet Search from BigStock

Comments (18)

  1. Interesting article. Ironic how Google pushed the “above the fold”, but doesn’t abide by the same rules, although, I guess that’s what happens when you’re the rule maker.

    And what the heck is up with that browser size tool? Looks like my 4yr old created it.

    • “And what the heck is up with that browser size tool? Looks like my 4yr old created it.”

      They could have at least put a shining sun up in the corner and maybe a few trees around.

      • This diagram is actually quite old. It’s based on a javascript window measurement script they ran via GA, intended to record common window sizes. It doesn’t look like it’s been updated since, so it likely of very little actual use with todays technology.

  2. Hmmm…. interesting… wonder if Google will “slap” themselves? Doubt it… they make the rules… they don’t have to abide by them… I don’t play the Adsense game either… got better things to do… reality or not, it is funny sometimes to see how poorly they can try to enforce their god-like powers… curious to see what comes next… ;)

  3. Everybody seems to sulk about big G’s rule, but then everyone uses their products daily and even strives hard to follow their dictate (for a rank right below their ad section).

    Why can’t we just have a WP search? Am pretty sure, the internet will be mostly WP soon anyway. Maybe time for Matt & co. to come up with a proprietary WP-SE that also works on every WP site (but searches site and net wide).

    So let’s add sense above the fold and adsense below for the nonsense it is.

  4. I am sure google ads use will help you rank your site higher on google search vs same site with near similar content using bing.

    No one said they cant, afterall, its their product.

    Also – I would like to point out. Who uses an 800×400 browser?

  5. Many of us were around on the net before Google and what a lovely place it was then, there really was no one trying to control things like the big G do now, just wish somone would come along and offer a real viable alternative and make the net a nicer place to be again without the mother of all search engines telling what we should and shouldn’t be doing.



  6. Big G as you call it, is in serious need of competition in it’s field.

    It will be an exciting experience to se, when and how this competition will take form.

    It’s a law og nature, big companies will rise and fall, and in it’s world big G allready is past it’s youth.

  7. I also am affected by this new algo. Traffic dropped from 26.000 visitors/day to 5.000 visitors/day. That is hard, especially because I think I don’t overdo the ads on my pages. I will have to redesign my website and pushdown the ads or remove them. Hard Times! Hope I will get my traffic back soon!

    • Matt – This isn’t the only change that’s happened recently, of course. Panda is about much more than this. You will want to look at other things than just ads, such as content quality, content originality, etc.