Last updated on January 25th, 2017
All the way back at the beginning of 2012, Google rolled out a new page layout algorithm. This October, the search giant provided an update on the algorithm, claiming it was affecting just under 1% of searches.
As the name suggests, this algorithm change was designed to evaluate a page’s layout and the amount of viewable content.
At issue – some pages on the Internet, while otherwise properly optimized for the search engines, are pretty top-heavy in terms of ads. Visitors to these pages have to scroll or otherwise spend time looking for the main content. After receiving many complaints from users, Google developed an algorithm to weed out pages that may have too many ads “above-the-fold,” or the area of a page you see when it appears on your screen.
Generally speaking, users want to see content right away, not scroll through ads. When we click on a link from Google, we expect the page to have the content readily available…ads are okay, as long as they’re placed in way that doesn’t interfere with the content showing “above-the-fold.”
In Google’s advisory on the update, sites with what the search giant considers a normal amount of ads placed in the right way will not be affected.
“We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. 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.”
However, sites with little to no content “above-the-fold” will be, or have already been affected. Compounding the problem is the fact that it could take awhile for the Google spider to recrawl your site and take any changes of this nature into account.
What do I do if my site has been affected by the page layout update?
The consensus – both at Google and here at our search engine optimization firm – is to focus on your user’s experience. Consider how you use your “above-the-fold” space. Ads are okay of course, but you must be mindful of where you’re placing them. Don’t make your visitors scroll or hunt for what they’re looking for.
In other words, this update is yet another confirmation on the importance Google, Bing and others put on content.
Remember Penguin and Panda?
Well this is another perspective on the same issue – does your site deliver useful content in way that’s easy to find?
To help you visualize how your page looks on different screen resolutions, Google has developed a special tool within Google Analytics you can use. The original tool announced in January, Browser Size, has been discontinued.
While Google says this update only affects pages with ads, will it one day be tweaked to include image “sliders” or even static images?
That’s an interesting question our lead web designer Gaby asked upon hearing news of this update. It’s certainly possible – with Google, it’s anyone’s guess it seems.
Other search marketing pros are more critical though, even going as far to claim hypocrisy on Google’s part. Barry Schwartz, a.k.a. Rusty Brick at S.E. Round Table, points to Google’s own search results pages as an example – the top 2/3 of this example below is all ads!
Rusty Brick also points out how you couldn’t plug in a Google SERP into the Browser Size tool (discontinued) to see if it would pass muster or not.
From the discussion we’ve seen, many feel the update isn’t fair, especially considering how many of Google’s own pages would not pass their guidelines.
Regardless though, it’s something that must be dealt with on the part of SEOs and webmasters.
One thing we can be certain about – Google will have many other updates to their updates, and even more updates after that. So be on the lookout…
Was your site affected by this update?
If so, how long did it take for you to make up any lost ground?