Yesterday, Google announced the “page layout algorithm” change which penalizes sites that bury content under too many advertisements.
Here is a snippet of the change as stated on Google’s Inside Search blog:
“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. 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.”
Essentially, if your site does not contain a lot of content above the fold, it is at risk of penalty. Google is interested in enhancing the user experience and it alludes to user complaints about sites that are too ad heavy and invaluable to the search experience.
This news is not anything we haven’t suspected for a while. “Spammy” or “spam-looking” sites will never last as long as Google has anything to do with it. In a previous article, How to Win the SEO Game, I discuss how you can tip the scales in your favor and ensure you will outlast every algorithm update. I assure you heavy ad sites are not on my list of strategies.
How many ads are to many? Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land discussed this issue with Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team. Cutts mentioned that Google wouldn’t supply the public with any type of tool to measure “ad excess”, but the Google Browser Size tool can be used for this purpose. With this tool, you can type in your url and see how much content is visible to viewers with varying screen resolutions.
For example, in the image below, the 80% means that 80% of people who search on Google are looking at a browser window identical to this size or larger. If an element falls outside of the 80% line, it would suggest that 20% of the people will not see that element upon visiting your site.
These updates are not to scare the average marketer and your page will most likely not be downgraded if you are concerned with your audience and providing value. This update will most likely weed out the sites that are focused on ads first, which often appear spammy anyways. Google made a point to describe “excessive” ads rather than a normal amount of ads above the fold. It also mentioned that only about 1% of sites will be impacted by the update.
Is Google Guilty of a Double Standard?
I found Search Engine Land’s discussion on this topic rather interesting especially when the article talked about how Google displays its ads above organic search results. I have noticed the slow increase of whitespace above the ads and the gradual widening of the Google ad box myself. Years ago, I ran an ecommerce store and I remember hoping to rank for the top 5 results in Google because those were the ones that were shown “above the fold”. Today, you are lucky to see even 2 organic results above the fold. I did a search for office supplies and this is what I saw. The red line indicates where the advertisements end. You will notice that you can barely see the second organic search result. I would say that 75% of the real estate is taken up by advertisements on the top and side of the page.
Google responded to this criticism and made a statement assuring marketers that ads above the fold do not imply that you will be penalized by the update. According to Google, “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.” Google is more concerned with “excessive” behavior.
What is the moral of the story? Focus on content and pleasing your visitors and you will always do well in Google’s eyes.