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Matt Cutts Announces "Above The Fold" Algorithm Launch

 11:48 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

In our ongoing effort to help you find more high-quality websites in search results, today [19 January] we're launching an algorithmic change that looks at the layout of a web page and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result...

This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally. That means that in less than one in 100 searches, a typical user might notice a reordering of results on the search page.

- Matt Cutts




 2:53 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was hoping for a recovery even after putting the ads back they way they were because I was able to re-arrange the layout to put more content above the fold with the ads.

Nothing has recovered.


 3:10 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

Since I haven't seen a recovery, I have to assume that I was dinged by one of the other January updates or refreshes. I'm putting the top ads back on my lesser site to see how it does. I've taken quite an income hit following this page-layout theory.


 3:21 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

if no one else has recovered so far then the algorithm has not been run yet. As far as I read, it is a manual update and I am curious if and when Google would run it.
I would still be patient if I were you and follow the "news"... I haven't given up yet and still believe that it may recover.


 3:58 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

Based on Google's initial blog post:

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes.

Given that folks aren't recovering the possibilities are:

1) It doesn't work like Google intended and they need to re-run something on their end, or they have a bug

2) Many of us that were hit were actually hit by something else on that same day.


 4:13 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)


Please read Danny Sulivan's article in Searchengineland:

Read the section: "Fixed Your Ads? Penalty Doesn’t Immediately Lift"

In other words: You do the changes, it takes time to recrawl. Then google runs a manual update in order to remove the "BAD" tag. If they run it before your pages are recrawled, then nothing would happen cause Google remembers the old page layout.

Why is it a manual update? I assume that in order to know how to align a page layout Google needs much more Computer Power than reading just titles and text. It must work similar to Panda...

[edited by: tedster at 4:31 pm (utc) on Apr 1, 2012]
[edit reason] make link active [/edit]


 5:09 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

My ads were reduced for more than a month. Others here have stuck with reduced ads for more than 70 days. The article says "a few weeks". That just doesn't jive with my experience.


 6:38 pm on Apr 1, 2012 (gmt 0)

@deadsea. I wrote the post with the 70 days and I have been sticking to reduced ads all along Just remember that manual Panda updates could happen each 8-10 weeks or more. I agree with you that 10 weeks seems too much, but who knows? I'd be happy if others would give their feedback too.


 12:54 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

The debate about whether or not you can see quick improvements from fixing the issues is interesting. I always heard for some of the panda updates that your site couldn't rebound entirely until the next wave of updates. That seems a little silly if you ask me, and I have no data to back up that sentiment. Just food for thought.


 1:35 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've been posting here too. I too saw a big decline on January 19. I moved all the offending top-heavy ads about five days later. I also modified content heavily to move it to the top of the page. My site has been up for a very long time, never affected by panda.

I got too greedy with AdSense suggestions for three ads on each page.

Since January 19 I have not seen any changes in ranking. They're still at 50% of original traffic. I think the algorithm has not been rerun. Otherwise we all would see changes to the sites.

I had three ads on each page. Long banner on top, one square ad, and a footer. I Wiped all but the middle ad and moved it to below the fold.


 3:38 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I always heard for some of the panda updates that your site couldn't rebound entirely until the next wave of updates. That seems a little silly if you ask me

It's because Panda is so computationally intensive that it's a separate routine, run once in a while and then the results are integrated. Last month Google made some changes to integrate part of the Panda routine closer to real time, and I'm sure that's the eventual aim for ATF and anything else they think up. Hey - all rankings used to be stuck for a full month, remember?


 4:17 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

tedster, I think there is other reason for this. Panda is not real time (yet), because that's how Google wants to defend against reverse engineering.
Is it computotionally intensive? It shouldn't be.


 4:35 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I have pretty good reasons to think you're wrong. Panda is not just a complex data scoring of a massive number of web pages - that's just the "data refresh" area of Panda. The core algorithm itself is constantly evolving through machine learning on a massive scale. This means that what specific metrics it uses to create the scores (and the formula for how those metrics are combined) are not the same from iteration to iteration.

There was just one Panda data refresh that did not involve a new version of the core algorithm and that was during the week of Jan 19-24, 2012. Members (including me) here had trouble pinning down the date any better than that, since it faded into all the other ranking changes that month.

Not only is this a vast machine learning process (done on a scale that even Google never before attempted) the learning process is being done over a moving target: all the web pages that are continually changing. Even IBM's Watson doesn't have this kind of challenge.

If they just want to protect the Panda algorithm against reverse engineering, all they would need to do is not announce which ranking updates were from the Panda portion of the total algorithm.


 7:14 am on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

@tedster @onebuyone
I agree with tedster, I am sure it is computer heavy. But let us stick to Page Layout Algorithm: I think one can easily understand that painting the layout of each page (!) needs more CPU than just reading and parsing it as plain text. Google has already suggested that it is a manual update.

But, all this DOES NOT MATTER. The REAL QUESTION that has to be asked is when they will/did rerun it. Because if it has been rerun and people did not see changes, then they were 1.probably hit by something else from the beginning (i.e Panda in mid-January) or 2.their changes were not sufficient (still ad-heavy) or 3. their pages have not been recrawled yet.

Since I have not seen anybody recover from it yet I still have hope that I was hit by the Page Layout algorithm and not by Panda (which would be 10 times worse).


 6:27 pm on Apr 2, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was hit Jan 19 with about a 50% drop on my main website and like most folks, removed all the above-the-fold ads but have seen no improvement in traffic, despite everything being recrawled weeks ago. Never been hit by Panda before, actually been helped. Since Jan 19, traffic has crept up maybe 10%, typical of what happens when a Panda is run, but of course it's still barely over half of normal.

I also have a different very small low-traffic website which had Adsense ads last year, which also crept up about 10% with each Panda. Last year, I decided to remove the Adsense ads for fear Google would think it was a MFA site and it would endanger my main site's Adsense account. Within a couple days, traffic dropped 50% on the little website, for no discernable reason. It stayed that way for about 80 days, then suddenly spiked up to normal again, and has stayed normal ever since. I added Chitika ads after it got back to normal, and no change.

Now it seems beyond strange that I got an 80-90 day penalty for taking off Adsense ads on the little site, but that was the only change onsite or off, and none of the Panda runnings last year had that kind of dramatic effect, up or down. It really seemed like a timed penalty. The little site wasn't affected on Jan. 19 because it had so few ads.

So I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the above-the-fold slap on my main website contains a timed penalty also, which explains why no one has seen recovery yet, and with luck, something exciting will happen around the middle of April, or whenever the timer ends.


 3:28 pm on Apr 3, 2012 (gmt 0)

The homepage of our our sites dived about 7-8 spots in mid-march. The homepage was ad-heavy (the sub-pages were not and weren't affected). However, since this happened mid-march, is it safe to assume that this would be too late to be an above-fold content penalty?

Also...how on earth does google know the difference between an ad and say glorified navigation button or picture? Are they parsing known link profiles? There are flash sites we keep an eye on as well as wordpress sites with mega slideshows at the top...they weren't hit.

I'm almost thinking this algorithm thing is a ruse..and google is using EWOQ or a similar human review team to determine whether a site it too ad heavy or not. This would also explain why many sites haven't bounced back yet...the human reviewers haven't got to them.

Determining how ad heavy a site is is EXTREMELY difficult with googlebot because you're messing with the javascript, foldable content, css layers, flash, and legit graphical content. Only humans IMO (at this point) would be able to tell the difference unless google cheats and goes after say sites with fingerprints with third-party ad services (like adsense).

Or perhaps it is a combination of the two... Googlebot flags a suspected ad heavy site for human review and the humans actually assign the penalty.


 1:50 am on Apr 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

I haven't seen any posts about recovery, but maybe it was highlighted in another topic?

I'm still in penalty, since Jan 19th, still only 50% of traffic.

Since the changes I've made in first week after penalty [reduced number of ads, aligned site to left, etc], I have not touched it at all.

Any update?


 1:58 am on Apr 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

FrostyMug -

We were hit with this penalty too. The interesting thing is our content is very high on the page. Our information starts around 110 pixels from the top. We had a search box above the content, which we moved to the side but we've seen no recovery either. It's just remarkable. Our navigation is on right, which is unusual and I'm wondering if that's throwing off Google.

I'm thinking these penalties do not go away easily. It's like getting thrown in the sandbox again, it could take months to recover after a fix is in place.


 7:45 pm on May 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

@FrostMug No recovery here either... "a few weeks" became months. I cannot rule out that another penalty was imposed on the same day.
However, it seems no one has reported recovery so far, which keeps me in the wondering.
By the way, looking at Google analytics the "crash" started on Jan 19, at exactly 12:00 West Coast time.


 10:37 pm on May 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just listen to yourself.. you are jumping ropes for google here.
Changing layout of your own property just to please the big G ?
Do you know how pathetic this sounds?
Lets start sending flowers to G , and don't forget to trow in box of chocolate.. we would not want to throw off Google,would we?.

"We had a search box above the content, which we moved to the side but we've seen no recovery either. It's just remarkable. Our navigation is on right, which is unusual and I'm wondering if that's throwing off Google. "


 10:47 pm on May 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Do you know how pathetic this sounds?

Quite frankly, the only thing this penalty made us do was take another look at our layout. I actually like the new location of the search box. So a big thanks to Google for making us think. :)


 4:53 pm on May 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

I discovered something interesting in google webmaster tools. Under "Your Site on the Web" -> "Search Queries" I used to rank #1 for some queries that get 100,000+ impressions per month. Now if I sort by "Avg Position". I see that I still rank #1 for lots and lots of terms, but the top terms that I rank #1 for have at most 3000 impressions per month. It makes me wonder if this is because those terms are less competitive or if Google applies to "too many ads" filter to the SERPs only when there more more than 3000 impressions a month.


 7:09 pm on May 7, 2012 (gmt 0)

Deadsea...interesting...I might be seeing the same thing.

We got clobbered for our money phrase which was 100k+ a month (we recovered a bit then dived when penguin rolled out). Not sure if it an above-fold thing or a penguin thing...

At any rate...most of our results didn't get touched...only our money phrase to our home page. It's as if google has a completely different algorithm for 100k+ searches.


 6:32 am on May 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Any recovery for anyone?
We are still down 40% since Jan 19, 12:00 PCT...


 2:06 pm on Jun 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Is there anyone who was not affected by the above the fold algorithm when it rolled out in January but feels that they may have been impacted by it later on?

I know that this may be hard to determine but maybe there are some who might be able to.

Has the percentage of space above the fold occupied by ads that causes a site to be affected by the algorithm changed?

Has this algorithm been made a part of Panda or Penguin and is now one of the factors in either or both of these algorithms?

Has anyone not impacted by the above the fold algorithm in January who had ads above the fold at the time moved them and seen any changes as a result?

I would appreciate your responses.


 6:36 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

Is this algo being run regularly? I changed the design of my website and took a hit the next day. I might never know if it was the AtH or just a layout change in general that caused it.


 8:45 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

As far as I can tell, the ATF algo is folded into the near-real time total algorithm. Only Panda and Penguin depend on a periodic re-run. It is very strange, however, that no one is reporting any recovery.


 10:52 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was hit on Jan 19th, UK. I've never been hit by Panda in the past. It's rather unfortunate that both ATF and Panda update were released alongside one another. As it makes it much more difficult to know 100% which update we were hit by.

I have a max of 1 ad per page, so I can only assume I wasn't hit by ATF, but I've never been 100% sure.


 10:59 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

Re the "affects 1%"... does this mean that when we find tat we have been screwed that we are supposed to assume that because it only affects 1% that we are just unlucky?

Otherwise it's not the most idiotic suggestion that Google has ever made, but it's on par... to being so simplistically naive that it's incredibly funny.


 11:18 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'm firmly convinced that Google is not able to measure content effectively for my site. My content on the pages that was hit is a block powered by javascript. Some folks have indicated that image or flash content above the fold is ok. I'm seriously considering converting my site from javascript to flash to try do demonstrate to Googlebot that there is content there.


 11:24 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've just looked at my analytics on 18th, 19th and 20th Jan. My traffic remained solid until jan 19th around 10pm GMT. But only ended slightly down. 20th ended 25% down, with a clear drop on an hourly basis.

Despite several people trying to convince me that it couldn't possibly have been the ATF, looking at my traffic graph, it has to be the ATF. But with no ads on most pages and 1 ad on others, it can't only be ads, this update is targeting.

Especially as sites in my niche with many ads above the fold, aren't effected.

Google is a mysterious beast.


 11:25 pm on Jun 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

@deadsea do you happen to have an exact time that you notice the drop?

This 322 message thread spans 11 pages: < < 322 ( 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 > >
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