On January 19, Google announced their latest “page layout algorithm improvement.” This one is designed to target websites that are burying their content under too many ads. According to a post by Matt Cutts on the Google Webmaster Central Blog:
“[W]e’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down thepage past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.”
Ads placed above the fold (that portion of a webpage that’s visible without scrolling) tend to perform better than those placed in other locations. To be clear, Google isn’t actually declaring a moratorium on above-the-fold ads, but rather those 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.”
According to Cutts, this algorithmic tweak will affect less than 1 percent of global searches, which sounds pretty insignificant until you consider that Google is responsible for an estimated 3 billion searches each day (which, for the mathematically challenged, works out to around 30 million searches a day that will be impacted).
As usual, Google has been pretty tight-lipped about the specifics of their latest tweak. As one commenter pointed out in the blog post, nobody’s sure just what Google considers an ad: “Does it include only AdSense? Yahoo PPC? Banners and other display advertising? Affiliate links? ‘Ad’ is a pretty broad term.”
Online marketers are also hoping that Google will clarify what they consider to be a “normal” vs. “excessive” ad ratio, or which screen resolution they consider to be “standard.” There is also a question of just what qualifies as “content” in the new algorithm. Do images and videos count? How about website navigation?
Admittedly, Google is just as guilty as some of using the valuable above-the-fold real estate for advertising, as their paid results often shove the organic results down to the bottom of the screen. Danny Sullivan was quick to point this out in his article on Search Engine Land, and Google responded:
“This is a site-based algorithm that looks at all the pages across an entire site in aggregate. Although it’s possible to find a few searches on Google that trigger many ads, it’s vastly more common to have no ads or few ads on a page.”