Google has just recently rolled out a new major page layout algorithm update. Basically, the purpose of the update is to weed out websites that have too many ads and other non-content elements “above the fold”.

What exactly does “above the fold” mean? Basically, it’s everything a visitor can view on the when they arrive, without having to scroll down. This area is the most viewed part of the page most often, and is the first impression given to a visitor.

If this area happens to be filled with an unreasonable amount of advertising, it obviously won’t give a very good first impression, and the visitor will most likely click the “back” button immediately. This is what Google hopes to address with this latest update.

Deceptive Ad Layout - Page Layout Algorithm Update

(click to enlarge)

Have you ever visited a site and been frustrated by how difficult it is to find the actually content you’re looking for? Or have you even been duped into clicking an ad that seemed like it was part of the actual site?

If you’ve ever been to one of those obnoxious driver download sites, you’ll know what I’m talking about! It seems as if the sole purpose of these types of sites is to trick the user into either accidentally clicking one of the ads, or overwhelming them to the point where they’ll click on anything just go get the heck off of the page!

Well, those types of sites will eventually become non-existent with the way Google is evolving. This update is probably just one of many that will take out overly spammy sites.

So how can you tell if you will be impacted by this update? What if you think your site isn’t actually spammy, but just may appear that way in the eyes of a Google spider. Here’s what Mat Cutts from Google’s webmaster blog has to say about it:

We’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 the page 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.

Take an objective look at your site and ask yourself if a reasonable amount of content is visible without having to scroll. If you have too many ads, or even if your header is too big or you have images at the top that push the content down below the fold, you most likely will be affected by this update.

In all honesty, even our site here at BTFB was slightly hit by the algorithm update. We’ve seen a few top page rankings drop because of it as a matter of fact. The way we had our ads setup was pushing the content down too far. In some cases, the content wasn’t even visible at all. I honestly didn’t even realize it until I started reading about these changes.

So, to rectify our design, we’ve got a new minimalist theme up along with new ad placements that are more Google friendly, and ultimately more user friendly. We’re even playing it safe by eliminating the embedded ad at the top of the content (at least until our rankings start to come back) and moving it to the bottom of the articles. This way we’ll be showing the maximum amount of content above the fold.

Does this mean you can’t have any ads above the fold at all?

No. In fact, Google is still recommending webmasters to place ads on top to monetize your site. After all, :

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 page layout 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.

The trick is to find that delicate balance between optimal ad placement and user-friendly content visibility. In other words, a site that doesn’t look spammy, but also is able to make money (which is ultimately our goal).

Were you hit by the page layout algorithm change?

Here’s what you can do:

  • Change your layout to be focused on getting content to the top of your pages as soon as possible.
  • Reduce the height of your header if possible.
  • Reduce the amount of fluff between the header and the actual content (breadcrumbs, blank space, social media icons, etc.) or relocate them to the sidebar.
  • Consider making your site wider to allow more content to be shown (somewhere between 960-1000 pixels seems to be the max width on most popular sites).
  • Google Browser Size Tool is a handy tool that you can use to gauge how much content visitors are able to see based on several different screen sizes. This tool will show you what percentage are able to see what (**Tip – to get a more realistic view, resize your own window horizontally to eliminate the background outside of the wrap).

Examples of good page layouts, as well as what to avoid:

(click to enlarge images).

Best Ad Layout
Good Ad Layout

Better Ad Layout

Good Ad Layout

Bad Ad Layout

Bad Ad Layout


How long will it take to get your rankings back after improving your page and ad layout?

Unfortunately, like other google updates such as the infamous Panda update from last year, it will most likely take a while to recover, depending on how badly you were hit.

If you reduce ads above-the-fold, the penalty doesn’t instantly disappear. Instead, Google will make note of it when it next visits your site. But it can take several weeks until Google’s “push” or “update” until the new changes it has found are integrated into its overall ranking system, effectively removing penalties from sites that have changed and adding them to new ones that have been caught. – SearchEngineLand.com

This is just one of the larger updates google is planning on implementing. Apparently there will be about 500 “improvements” in this upcoming year. We’ll just have to wait and see how many of them are actually going to be improvements. I suppose it all depends upon your particular perspective and how much your site will be affected by constant algorithm changes. Either way, it should be a very interesting year for SEO, that’s for sure!

As usual, we’ll keep you updated on all the changes Google throws at us in the future. Feel free to comment below and let us know what you think about this latest page layout algorithm update.