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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




 7:19 am on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

One of my sites was hit on 19th. Today (Friday) I lost about 30-40% of visitors compare to last Friday.

About my site.
It's a WP blog about 750px wide.
Here's what I had above the fold.
1. 728x15 link unit just below the blog title and description.
2. 468x15 banner after the first paragraph. Displayed only on single pages.
3. Google search box in the right sidebar.

Below the fold:
336x228 unit at the end of the post.

All post have very unique content with lots of pics and description. Most post have hundreds and even thousands of comments from people (not stupid spammers) saying thank you for a very useful content.

Do I have too much ads? Not reasonable?

By the way, just yesterday I received an email from AdSense team saying: "Youíre missing #*$! opportunities to earn more". What a joke!


 8:39 am on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

for many reasons, i don't believe in what Matt Cutts has said (even in the past).


 9:38 am on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

@potentialgeek, yes a 336x280.

It is the first large fall in traffic I have had in three years, and it came right on the day of the announcement, so I am inclined to attribute it to the change.

The announcement says that less than 1% of searches will be "noticeably" affected. A page of results that is only slightly different to a visitor, may be very significant to a site that has slipped a place or two down the page. 1% of searches could mean a lot more than 1 % of sites.

I would also be interested in knowing if this is completely rolled out or still going on, and whether there is any indication of what effect space taken up by things that are neither ads or main content has.


 12:18 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

There is a problem here with lack of definition of "content".
It seems that the feel of the article is saying it's content versus ads. If we read "content" as text, then most sites have got a lot of stuff above the fold that doesn't fit into those two categories (navigation, nice graphics that make your site attractive to the user, video etc)
If we could trust Google, we probably agree that there are sites overloaded with ads where it's difficult to distinguish where the text is and very little is above the fold. Most of us are not worried about those sites being hit. Our fear is that Google is not very accurate in it's targetting eg Panda) and we fear that we'll be hit in the collateral damage.


 12:54 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Guys but is it just me or sometimes Google spams 4 ads on the top? I guess it is giving good experience. I guess it does? Google is really the Lion of the jungle now.


 1:10 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Got hit on the 19th. About 50% drop in traffic for our main site, which went live in 1999.

Above the fold contains the following:

- Header (logo on the left, 486x60 on the right)
- Leaderboard
- Left narrow column: first thing is an Adlinks, then button ad
- Center column: featured article
- Right wide column: first thing is an Sponsored Link, followed by a medium rectangle

Which is what many sites have. We're not like the "extreme website with 90% of ads." The difference, however, is that ours is a butt-ugly site. It was made in Frontpage -- and continues to be updated in Frontpage. No CSS. No prettiness. I'm not a programmer or web developer so loads of HTML errors.

We haven't updated it because it works for us. It earns a lot of advertising revenues. So we were in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mode.

Plus, it gets a lot of mentions -- our articles have been cited several times in New York Times, Washington Post and other leading publications. We got links even from the Department of State. At one point, it even got a PR7. So this is not the "sludge of the Web" type of site. But it is ugly.

The irony is that we are planning to move it to Wordpress this year, and I've started moving a few of the content already.

If we are indeed hit by this algorithm, then we need to move our timetable quicker and get everything done sooner than we had planned.


 1:55 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

@ Alika -

If I were in your position, I would hold off on the WordPress update, until AFTER you correct the ads issue. At least then, you'll be dealing with one set of issues at a time, versus wondering if you lost relevance due to ads, wordpress, or something else.

Matt stated that the algo learns or re-ranks on subsequent visits, so I would suggest removing some of your ads first, let your traffic recover, then deal with the updating at a later date. Maybe, wait a full 2-3 months AFTER recovery, before muddying the waters with a site makeover...

Thats just me though.



 1:56 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

To balance it out, virtually all pages on all my sites have a 336 x 280 ATF - occasionally a 300 x 250. None have been hit.

My experience is that there is a % or two of websites who have 80% of ATF stuffed full of ads. To my thinking Google are going after them and Google have my 100% support if that is the case.


 2:45 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks @mhansen - I think that's a wise plan

Our original plan was to move the site section by section. So I've started with one section first. The idea was to change that one section, then study the impact in terms of user engagement and ad revenues. If things look good, then we move to other sections of the site. I had originally planned the whole thing to be about 4-6 months of work.

I'll clean up the homepage first.


 3:15 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

that might not work because doesn't panda downgrade the whole site? if google thinks part of your site is still lousy, then even your new improved bits might get punished


 4:32 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

I have 10,000+ static pages. Unless I employ an army of workers, I can't possibly move all of the whole site to Wordpress over the weekend.

Since the move involves fixing the whole taxonomy of the site, entailing changes in categories and URLs, I still want to do it section by section and not shock Google furthermore with URL changes of 10,000+ pages.

We were hit by Panda in Feb and got out in the summer - doing nothing. We just went on continuing to put out more content and developing direct and referral traffic


 4:35 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

My site's are fine above the fold. Can't say the same about Google's SERPs, though.


 5:54 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

There's only a small handful of people here who criticize Google as much as I do (and rightly IMO!), but I can't find fault with the notion that the most valuable & meaningful content should be top, front & center (or "above the fold" to use their parlance). It just makes sense to me that they would want to encourage that sort of design, and in fact, from the point that I started building websites in the mid-90's, before Google existed, that was the advice from the most accomplished webmasters of that day. I read it plenty times: Put your most important content at the top, and put your most important words/ideas at the front of your paragraphs. I just wish it had more weight in the algo, as I've been trying to do that from the gitgo, and still I took a massive hit from Panda. I'll see if MC's latest pronouncement does me any good ~ I doubt it, but I'll hold onto a shred of hope.

Addendum: Is Google very often an example of "Do as we say, not as we do?" Yeah, they probably are, but that doesn't discount the value of having quality content up top. That notion stands on its own, with or without Google.



 7:01 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

is it google's job to judge what is good site design though? might they be in danger of chucking out the baby with the bath water?

there is no real way to judge the quality of the content by looking at where the ads are positioned. in fact, its impossible.

that google blog entry specifically says "[If the first part of the website] either doesnít have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the siteís initial screen real estate to ads, thatís not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward."

so what happens if a site moves their above-the-fold ads to the bottom instead, and leaves the rest the same. presumably they would no longer fall foul of google's new rule, and yet -- as far as the user is concerned -- the actual page content is indentical. its the same text, same words, same images. it hasn't changed at all. but one layout gets punished and the other doesn't? its nuts. google are punishing the design, not the content. how can they not lose a few good sites along the way?


 7:22 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

I use CSS to place ads within the content, so the HTML code has the ads above the content, yet it's not rendered this way and Google won't see it way. The thought of having to change 100's of pages because of this is not exciting. I'll just wait and see.


 8:07 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

I use CSS to place ads within the content, so the HTML code has the ads above the content, yet it's not rendered this way and Google won't see it way.

Let us know how it goes, because it will be interesting to find out exactly how google is determining the appearance of the page, whether by searching the code or by some sort of "visual" rendering of the appearance of the page.

Robert Charlton

 8:12 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

its the same text, same words, same images. it hasn't changed at all. but one layout gets punished and the other doesn't? its nuts. google are punishing the design, not the content. how can they not lose a few good sites along the way?

IMO, that's one of the reasons they made this announcement so public and so specific. This isn't about secret sauce... and it's not about punishment. This is about user experience that Google wants to improve. Google needs to be concerned about the satisfaction of its own users, and I think they've discovered that searchers don't like interacting with sites that are ad-heavy up at the top.

So Google is making this algo-change public enough that those sites with good content, which they'd rather not lose, might have a good idea what to fix. It's likely also that Google will be taking a closer look at the kinds of sites that this set of algo changes affects, to further calibrate its own algorithm in this area. Google will probably be further comparing sites with large blocks of ads, vs sites with large images, vs sites with lines of small ads intertwined with internal navigation, etc etc.

Panda is a statistical algorithm, and Google is using it to look at user behavior, at what kinds of decisions users make and where and when they make them. Google will further refine the algo, factor by factor over time. Examining above-the-fold behavior in isolation will help Google get more granular with regard to it changes in the above-the-fold area.

Changing the ads on your site won't automatically fix your rankings, though, if, say, you don't have good content or if your backlinks are weak... but it may keep you from getting filtered out if you know that other things are OK. If you've got some big images that you feel help the user experience, I'd say keep them. If these big images are helping the user, Google should ultimately sort that out.

On the other hand, I've seen sites overloaded with so many big images that haven't been optimized for the web that pages took 15-seconds to load on DSL. Loading speed is another factor, but these things do interrelate. Here's where you have to have both some knowledge and the courage of your convictions. If you build your site with an eye towards relevant, good quality content and good user experience, you will develop some self-awareness about a site's strengths and weaknesses that should guide you. But this is by no means easy.

Google has made other changes, not specifically announced, in this same period, which might also adversely affect your rankings. I'm thinking that I'm currently seeing changes probably related to backlink quality and/or user engagement on the site... but that's only a guess, and these factors might apply differently on different kinds of sites.


 8:12 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

but one layout gets punished and the other doesn't? its nuts. google are punishing the design, not the content.

They are trying to address poor user experience, and it seems to me like it's been done with a very gentle touch.

When it comes to the web, layout and content have a potent interaction.

how can they not lose a few good sites along the way?

That certainly might happen - always a chance with any automated algo. But so far it doesn't seem like false positives to any noticeable degree.

I think it's really important not to borrow trouble here - we're mostly fine with just filing this information in the "no action needed" box. Except for sites that intentionally bury their content toward the bottom of the page, of course. Those folks may need to do some redesigning in the direction of helping their visitors rather than playing "hide the content".


 8:20 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Is anyone getting hit who had ads in the right column or just center of the page (above the fold)?


 8:39 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

i think google are going down the wrong path here. a good analogy would be in choosing a wife. imagine that google is a dating site. people are looking for a woman with a brain and a personality. but google has put all the ones with buck teeth (ie. ads above the fold) at the back of the queue. and given all the dumb blondes a boost to frontpage.

blondes might give a better user experience, sure, but at the end of the day blonde hair is a superficial thing. like ad placement. people are more interested in the other stuff.

(thats where my analogy falls down... because most men would prefer the blonde!)

Robert Charlton

 9:13 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

I think that in the early iterations of Panda, Google was looking at an entire range of factors. They most probably decided that ads above the fold were one factor worth looking at in more detail. Perhaps there were ambiguities or uncertainties in the results they found.

This iteration is just about those above-the-fold factors. They've already decided about the brains a long time ago. They may then combine refinements from this iteration back into the overall algo, to see if the ads are still a deal breaker.

Google isn't just depending on its own preconceived notions, btw. It's testing those, and is looking at user behavior, and maybe trying to send some otherwise good sites a big hint about something that needs fixing... sort of like trying to tell someone that they have bad breath.

PS - It's very likely that the affected sites really don't have that much good content. If they did, why would they be hiding it?


 9:29 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

but if you look at all the things they've been pushing recently -- page speed, big brands, ad placement etc, its all blonde hair kind-of stuff. that want to push all the well-known and pretty pages to the top. the kind of pages that users are comfortable with.

i think they are trying to become the "comfortable jumper" of search engines. they might not push forward the best results from the farthest reaches of the web anymore (not when every search returns wikipedia amazon youtube blah blah), but what they do serve up will likely do the job


 9:54 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well, if Google's users happen to be non-thinkers and these non-thinkers are satisfied when pretty content is above the fold. Then it would make sense for Google to show sites which have this pretty content.


 10:09 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

I don't see a lot of discussion concerning ecommerce as far as the above the fold algorithm change goes. Many sites, including the big one, are not content oriented above the fold. It's typically photo, name, price, and add to cart button. In fact, on the big one, I go down two folds before I get into product description but could be because of my monitor settings.

Is this more of just an adwords/advertisements issue above the fold, or would this normal ecommerce design be in jeopardy? To me, an ecommerce product page is an advertisement although possibly not what this algorithm change was after.


 10:28 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

From a user POV, using a high speed connection and reasonably up-to-date computer (Win7), I have had enough of junk pages that are full of slow loading graphics, slow loading ads, that start sound whether I want it or not, that won't let me use my back button (locking me into their site unless I go to History and pull down 2 or 3 places), etc etc. Yeah, they may have some decent content somewhere, but the aggravation factor outweighs any value they offer. So if Google can push those sites down and allow other sites, where the user experience is more pleasant, to move higher, then I'm all for it.

And in any case, I don't think it's an "either / or" situation ... either sites have good content but it's always below the fold, or they have mediocre content and it's above the fold. There is absolutely no reason why, in most cases, the "prime meat" of the page cannot be close to the top ~ as I said in my previous post, that advice has been around for at least 15 years, if not longer.

So if Google can help make my own personal user experience more enjoyable, then in this instance I sing their praises.



 11:14 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

it is a bit crazy. does "the godfather" suddenly become a worse film when it's on the telly, because its got ad breaks?

Yes, it does become a worse film. Imagine there's a TV guide agent that helps you find what you desire. Say you're in the mood to watch a gangster movie and you search for "mafia". Two channels show Godfather. One channel as ads interruption every 5 minutes, the other has ad interruptions every 30 minutes. Knowing this, the intelligent TV program ranks the one with less interruptions first because it knows it will deliver a better film experience. That's his job, and users are more than happy with that line of thinking and continue using that intelligent TV guide over other less sophisticated ones who can just scan titles and movie genres but can't figure out that there are other elements for a quality movie experience.


 11:25 pm on Jan 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

This is the first algo change that his hit one of my sites big since 1997. My main site lost 30-40% of traffic. I fell from #1 to #6 or #7 to some big keywords.

The site has two adsense blocks above the fold. 728x15 link bar and 336x280 large box. It also has almost all the content above the fold. Most users don't have to scroll down at all.

I've long thought that the 728x15 unit was a bit spammy, bit it was hard to argue with the revenue that it brought in. If that traffic comes back without it, it isn't worth having.


 4:23 am on Jan 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

> The site has two adsense blocks above the fold. 728x15 link bar and 336x280 large box. It also has almost all the content above the fold. Most users don't have to scroll down at all.

Is the 336x280 ad on the right or in the middle?


 4:49 am on Jan 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

I wonder if anyone else affected uses in text ad links (I use Vibrant).


 4:57 am on Jan 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

@alika if your site has any consistency in its structure you should be able to write a script to import it into the database rather than do it manually. I have done it in the past.

You could also write a script to change the HTML.

You say you are not a developer, but you could probably hire one at a reasonable rate as this is not a huge job - much cheaper than manually moving 10,000 pages.

Why do you need to change the taxonomy of the site? Unless the new structure offers a real improvement, you should retain what you have. Can you move to a CMS now, but change the structure later


 6:14 am on Jan 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

Many sites, including the big one, are not content oriented above the fold. It's typically photo, name, price, and add to cart button. In fact, on the big one, I go down two folds before I get into product description but could be because of my monitor settings.

Isn't that begging the question? Not just you. Half the people in this thread are assuming that "content" means text. The other half are assuming it means "anything other than advertising". Does anyone know?

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