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Matt Cutts Announces "Above The Fold" Algorithm Launch
tedster




msg:4408781
 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

[insidesearch.blogspot.com...]

 

acee




msg:4409787
 9:18 am on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

'weve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and its difficult to find the actual content, they arent happy with the experience'

The same can be said for long pages with articles on a range of topics, where individually they don't match your search keywords, but together they do. You end up scrolling or searching through the page only to find that, once again, Google has NOT sent you to the most relevant page.

Google has exacerbated this situation with Panda by actively encouraging webmasters to consolidate content, thereby creating less concise webpages.

Is scrolling past a couple of ads that big a deal, if you think the page has the content that your require? I think not, but if it was that big an issue for you, wouldn't you simply install an ad blocker?

Perhaps the real issue for Google is that the ads are targetting visitors accurately and preventing them from bouncing, whereas a bounced visitor returning to the SERPs is another opportunity for an adwords clickthru!

potentialgeek




msg:4409792
 9:47 am on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I don't know how much Matt Cutts was involved in developing this algo, but in the past when Panda rolled out, he seemed to object to Suite101.com, which at the time had ads on the left side (where most sites have nav menus).

There are at least two above-the-fold issues that frustrate users and make it difficult for them to find content they want.

1) Text ads where they expect to find navigation links (on the left);

2) Lots of ads (stacked).

opraus




msg:4409810
 11:08 am on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi all,

Thought I would add my 'data point' FYI.

My site (w/ top placements for 7 years) dropped 10 places on the 19th, for most(all?) keyword phrases.

Site's ATF features include:
  1. 300px wide <div></div> floated to right column, with cartoons, and medium rectangle affiliate ads (300x225)
  2. 78px Header (<h1>Title</h1>)
  3. <h2 font-size=20px;> subtitles tags and
  4. a couple sentences of text. (font size = 18)

*I mention number 1 because the graphics are early in source ...

So I removed the affiliate ads (not the cartoons) and decreased the text sizes, allowing for more text ATF.

Will let you know what happens ...

jmccormac




msg:4409838
 12:47 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I don't know how much Matt Cutts was involved in developing this algo, but in the past when Panda rolled out, he seemed to object to Suite101.com, which at the time had ads on the left side (where most sites have nav menus).
And the Google Adsense heatmap suggests that the upper left of the page is a good place to put adverts. All this contradictary advice from Google would lead one to think that these guys can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Regards...jmcc

gmb21




msg:4409891
 3:16 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

The landing page quality guidelines for AdWords MAY give some insight into how this will work. They state that, in a 1024 x 768 maximised window:

1. At least 30% of the above-the-fold area must be actual content. Content excludes headers, navigation, search boxes, etc.

2. Ad area above-the-fold must be less than or equal to actual content.

See the details in the 5th post on the following page:
[google.com...]

rlange




msg:4409909
 4:08 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

londrum wrote:
and given all the dumb blondes a boost to frontpage.

You seem to be equating attractive design with universally poor and irrelevant content.

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.

But who's going to reject a smart, personable, and attractive woman for a smart, personable, and ugly woman? Seriously.

deadsea wrote:
How many ads above the fold are too many?
How big can ads above the fold be?

Questions like this tend to lead one to do the minimum necessary to avoid punishment. In a few months, even a minor change to the rules could put you in punishable territory.

jmccormac wrote:
And the Google Adsense heatmap suggests that the upper left of the page is a good place to put adverts. All this contradictary advice from Google would lead one to think that these guys can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

This apparent separation is probably intentional. Back when Microsoft was found guilty of anti-trust practices, one of the punishments put forth was to split the company up. It was felt by some that the close-knitting of the unrelated departments encouraged certain questionable activities. Google most likely learned from that.

On the heatmap point, though, any place that's good to put an advertisement is a better place to put useful information.

--
Ryan

graeme_p




msg:4409923
 4:48 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

@potenial geek, any solid evidence or clear Matt Cutts comments on ads on the left being a problem? I moved my down and to the left - below the (very small) navigation bar.

One of my competitors who has gained at my expense has navigation on the right, and text link ads that look exactly like the navigation. Sigh.

Marketing Guy




msg:4409937
 5:26 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

@graeme_p left or right makes no difference. Suite101 was/is just thin content geared up to draw search traffic and filter it through copious amount of ads. It was that strategy that got them in trouble, not the specifics about their ad locations.

It's the virtual equivalent of intercepting tourists when they get off the bus, then charging commission to the hotel they were trying to find anyway.

You need to take these things in context. The Adsense heatmap apparent "contradiction" isn't a contradiction at all. It's perfectly good advice, which if you follow you'll be fine. Just when you stuff loads of ads above the fold with the clear intention that you'd prefer everyone to click the ads rather than use your website - that's what this update is about and that's what will get you in trouble.

And don't think because there has been an update recently that a) it's the reason you've lost rankings or b) it's the reason a competitor gained rankings. Could be completely unrelated (I recently saw a huge shift in one market due to a couple of large websites merging several million pages).

Scott

netmeg




msg:4409982
 6:40 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I predict we're gonna see a lot more feature sliders with just text, no images (which was what I was working on anyway, as it happens)

robdwoods




msg:4409998
 7:24 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hi all, I've seen a lot of comments on this thread along the lines that "my site was penalized". Please keep in mind that this is absolutely not a penalty designed to punish your site specifically. This is a broad algorithmic change which affects rankings for particular search queries. There is no penalty to try to get out of; this is simply a larger scale algorithm change than the usual ones which can happen on a daily basis.

That this is a pain and affects the income of some sites is indisputable but we've been needing to react to algo changes from Google for better than a decade now. If you were hit: change the number of ads on your site, especially above the fold, add some new content, and wait for a few weeks to see if the traffic comes back after the next large scale index update. Look at Google's screen resolution tool and see where your ads sit for most users. I'd recommend not placing them in the upper left quadrant if possible.

I fully expect this change to remain in place and indeed roll out slowly to many more than 1% of search queries. If you had it good making a ton of money from heavy ad placement above the fold I suspect you need to live with the fact that those days are gone and find other ways to monetize that traffic.

flatfile




msg:4410001
 7:33 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've spent the last couple of months changing the structure of my content. Most of my pages now show images above the fold, and the text is below the fold. I got worried when I first read about this update. It doesn't seem to have affected me though, but I'm closely monitoring my stats.

Shatner




msg:4410063
 11:20 pm on Jan 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Having read through all six pages of this thread, I can say with a degree of certainty that everyone whining about being hit... deserved it.

I don't see how anyone can have a problem with this update. We've all known this was coming forever. If you've been paying any attention at all you've already adjusted your site to fit these factors.

It seems to me you're fine with two ads above the fold. If it's a 728x90 in your header and a 300x250 in your right column next to your content, you're good.

Any more than that, and you're in trouble. That includes people who put ads IN the content.

All of that has been over for a year now. We knew it was a factor with Panada. A few people were lucky and kept doing this and yet dodged Panda anyway. Well you should have made changes, because now you're caught.

It's obviously bad user experience and this makes total sense.

Google isn't saying no ads, just be reasonable.

shoreline




msg:4410099
 12:53 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

I had a site that has been number one for at least 3 years now and I've wanted to change it up but was hesitant to make a move.

I had only 1 ad, a 336 top left ATF that was doing great until it recently dropped. Big hit in revenue, but happy that now I am free to make changes!

It would have been nice to have a heads-up before the change! Good solid content, just got caught in the mix. I will update this if things change.

tedster




msg:4410120
 2:30 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

It would have been nice to have a heads-up before the change!

Matt Cutts did mention it was coming - from the stage at November's Pubcon. That said, until you know it's going to impact your site, I can see not doing anything at all unless you already know that your layout has been exploitative.

Robert Charlton




msg:4410138
 4:18 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

It would have been nice to have a heads-up before the change!

This has not exactly been secret....

More guidance on building high-quality sites
Official Google Webmaster Blog
Friday, May 06, 2011

[googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com...]

Amit Singhal wrote...
...if you want to step into Google's mindset, the questions below provide some guidance on how we've been looking at the issue:...

...- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?


Quality According to Google - Official "Guidance" on Panda Update
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4308892.htm [webmasterworld.com]

brinked posted on May 07...
First of all, that is a great blog post by google and very very helpful if you know how to read between the lines. I recommend everyone read it at least 5 times....

- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
Here is the point I have been pushing big time on here. I think I was one of the first to push this idea in the "sites that dont fit the mold" thread. If you have too many ads on your site it is taking away from your users experience. Do not use deceptive ads or ads that overwhelm your users.


Pubcon info: Content/Ads position is becoming a ranking factor
http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4385605.htm [webmasterworld.com]

And many other such comments along the way.

graeme_p




msg:4410142
 5:16 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

It seems to me you're fine with two ads above the fold. If it's a 728x90 in your header and a 300x250 in your right column next to your content, you're good.


I have been hit, and I only had a single ad above the fold. A 336x280 above the fold and to the left seems to be fatal. It is fine on desktop resolutions (most of my visitors) so Google are presumably catering to smaller screens than I have been.

@Marketing Guy, I think it is this: lots of terms (glossary type site) and both main gainers keep ads subtle (on the right, and mostly text link ads above the fold in one case, and no ads in the other case). NO other changes in my niche except smaller (my size) competitors seem to have been hit even worse either on this change or at some point before it.

Given the date, lack of any other apparent changes, and also minor gainers - my best single term I was in second to third place on Google UK, now behind the two mentioned, a .gov.uk and a site that only has a single banner above the fold (another banner and text links means they have plenty of ads, but not above the fold).

chrisv1963




msg:4410149
 6:41 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've spent the last couple of months changing the structure of my content. Most of my pages now show images above the fold, and the text is below the fold. I got worried when I first read about this update. It doesn't seem to have affected me though, but I'm closely monitoring my stats.


Images = content.

I have a lot of images above the fold and my rankings improved after this algo change.

Marketing Guy




msg:4410172
 9:15 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

I predict we're gonna see a lot more feature sliders with just text, no images (which was what I was working on anyway, as it happens)


Be careful attempting something like this. A well known UK SEO agency got themselves banned from Google a few years ago for rotating text snippets via CSS. They were clearing doing it for SEO though but you can be sure they got that little nugget removed from their and their client's sites real quick! ;)

NO other changes in my niche except smaller (my size) competitors seem to have been hit even worse either on this change or at some point before it.


There could be a bunch of other things. I saw huge movements in one of my client's markets in Nov because a couple of big brand sites merged their content - the resulting improved website had a load of new rankings that pushed everyone else around. Or a mass wipe of backlinks. Or a number of other factors.

I really can't see Google punishing having an ad block in your sidebar - above the fold or otherwise. That's as fair practice as you can get. Might be worth looking deeper for other issues.

MikeNoLastName




msg:4410179
 9:56 am on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Okay, as usual, late to the thread, but actually stayed up to read it all.
Yes the concept was mentioned at Pubcon in early Nov (I understand) AND at "Adsense in your City" in Las Vegas immediately thereafter. The Adsense reps seemed as mystified as the rest as to what constituted the "fold". So much for the traditional ad "heat map" they've touted for a long while.
We started keeping it in mind as we created new pages, but not a huge effort. Almost hate to admit it, but our sites moved UP consistently the last couple weeks, but I don't think I can entirely attribute it to this change... but I won't go there in this thread.

336x280 top-left? Whew, we were getting ready to go-with-the-flow of so many other sites and put our logo up there to link back to our home page. We'll keep it topmost center I guess.

We frequently have one 300x250 ad near-top center of on-page or off-page navigation which we instituted many years ago before adding affiliates and adsense... simply because it worked the best. On many of these pages we also have 120x600 or the newly encouraged (by Adsense) 160x600 on the left, below text navigation bars.

On many other pages we have a smaller-than-billboard size horizontal ad at the top just below the title logo and maybe 1 or 2 others way lower on the page. We have consistently resisted Adsense's encouragement to add all 3 ads to many pages.

A few comments/observations/questions _I_ have:

- On a page which is basically a single page main menu to more refined content (possibly a home page, or a second tier menu for different shaped widgets) what is really considered content? You might only have a menu with one-line descriptive text for each selection just filling one entire screen. Are ads no longer allowed at all on useful single-screen sized pages?

- What is really an ad? How can they truly differentiate between high-profile, known Adsense, affiliate ad services, etc. and your own direct-sale graphics or text ads which pass through to an internal noindex page, or robot-excluded domain before linking to another website from there? They may be shooting themselves in the foot and driving publishers AWAY from Adsense to direct-sales. Just create your own secondary ad-link thru-pages. Alternatively, perhaps they will be using the previously highly encouraged nofollow tag to differentiate an ad from a non-ad ;-)... your gamble to use or not.
Hey, think about it, (and remember you read it HERE first folks) why not let's just go back to the "dark" ages and display yellow-page style ads with NO links, just phone numbers... I think most people still own phones... for now? That'll fool them good :). Or... graphic urls (that'll surely IMPROVE user experience)... or graphic QR codes...

- what about 600 high adsense skyscrapers which start just at the very bottom of the first screen? Do they count the same as a FULL ad above the fold?

- what about full-page overlay flash ads and pop-overs?

- will mobile-oriented sites be given breaks on fold height? How will they tell which are which? Can we sneak more ads closer to the top if we put it on a me.example.com subdomain?

- What about large illustrative photos at the top of a page of a product you're selling (surely a picture is worth a thousand words... except apparently to Google... well unless they take a liking to it and include it in their unlicensed-use image database), or better still, how about HREF links to .jpgs? On thousands of pages we have href links from a 200x200 thumbnail photo to a larger format 1024x768 FOR THE BENEFIT OF INITIAL LOAD SPEED AND ADDED BENEFIT OF READERS NOT WISHING THE LARGE VERSION!. In our case G seems to LOVE these in their image-base, but how does it KNOW they are not ads ;-)? Is an href'd .jpg photo link, considered an ad or a page or... ?

I am not saying there are not a lot of sites out there at the top of the results that P me off with nothing but ads at the top and almost no additional content per page (certain highly ranked / respected definition or "dictionary" type sites which I use a lot come to mind. Just search for "anyword definition", hmm, just noticed some recent CHANGES in the ranks there I see... for the worse I think.) But I also think G is pushing the limit on trying to "see" what the user sees in a site experience, when there is such a large variety of screen sizes, browsers and people with 5-deep stacked browser tool-bars who rarely expand their browsers to full monitor size. Nor can they really determine if a linked 800x600 IMG at the top of a page is an ad or a panoramic view of a destination one is trying to impress visitors with, or if a 800x100 mini-photo strip is really a single mapped set of links to larger photos or a set of direct-sale ads. All this does is further restrain originality in web design and artistry to Google's ever-narrowing, yet-unofficially-defined, cookie-cutter website design concept (did they recently buy a template-based website-design tool?)

Slashus




msg:4410232
 1:49 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Dale Earnhardt, too many sponsors on his car man he must suck!

netmeg




msg:4410312
 4:12 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Be careful attempting something like this.


I know what I'm doing. These are just going to be notices of featured posts and events.

I wonder if the size of the ad makes a difference? I don't tend to use the bigger ones, and none of my sites have been adversely affected - the only ads that show up above folds are a single 468x60 and in some cases, some ad links. Where there's a 160x600, it's below the fold. I have never been convinced that bigger ad blocks provided bigger earnings anyway.

robdwoods




msg:4410348
 6:25 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

graeme_p

I can see how one ad justified top left could trigger the change depending on the other content on the page. Top left is really the prime area every single user is going to look. If you look at almost any heat map of a page or even the Google screen resolution tool the focus of users is virtually always top left. I suspect with this change it's not just the number of ads above the fold but their placement on the page as well. I suspect top left ad placement is rated "lower quality" by the algo than a location like right sidebar, that a banner in the header that doesn't force the content down is rated less "spammy" than an ad at the top of the content in the body section of the page which does force down content. I haven't done enough testing yet to confirm it but my strong suspicion is that placement is as much of the change to the algo as is raw number of ads. It would be an interesting test to move that top left ad to another location above the fold and see if there is any change.

Also please note that lower quality and spammy above are in quotes. I certainly don't mean to suggest that any site here has those attributes, but rather that that's the way the algorithm may see them under it's current configuration.

fearlessrick




msg:4410390
 7:23 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

I would like to chime in on this topic, but first, hello to all the great webmasters here (I haven't been around in a while).

First, I heard about this algo change a few weeks ago and thought, hey, two of the ad networks I use REQUIRE their ads to be "above the fold."

Second, my home page and a lot of other pages are so full of self-sold, paid ads and ads from networks, I'm almost embarrassed to mention it, but, I remain #1 in the SERPs for my main keywords, so, I'm not worried about this at all.

Third, I agree with most of MikeNoLastName's post about 10 slots above mine.

Fourth, Google continues to try to impose its will on publishers and I believe most could care less. Google has long had far too much power and control and I believe that their "500 improvements" are a lot of blather, which will result in their ultimate destruction.

Fifth, I switched my default search engine to Bing six months ago because it was BETTER. So, should we follow the usual path, like using PCs rather than MACs because "everybody does it?" Or, will the combined intellect of the internet find ways around the behemoth that is Google and search using Bing or other solid engines?

Google has been the champ for a long time, but, as we are all well aware, the crown changes hands over time and I think Google is already dying. Just look at their desperate attempts to integrate Google + into everyone's lives.

They're done for and the web will be a better place when they're knocked down a few notches.

(Was that too negative?)

robdwoods




msg:4410399
 7:56 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@fearlessrick Just because you haven't been burned by the algo update yet doesn't mean there is no need to be concerned. This has rolled out for around 1% or queries. I strongly believe that Google will quietly roll it out to more and more queries in the next few weeks. The term you currently rank #1 for may not be in the 1% group but you may still see a rankings drop if that term is included in an expanded roll out.

And, just my opinion, power users may have started to move away from Google, but until the vast majority of average, casual users of search engines change, Google will continue to dominate. I agree that no site is inviolate but I have less confidence that the "combined intellect of the internet" is enough to overcome the inertia of "good enough".

"No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people" - H. L. Mencken

tedster




msg:4410421
 8:50 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

This has rolled out for around 1% or queries. I strongly believe that Google will quietly roll it out to more and more queries in the next few weeks.

I read Google's communications a bit differently. I read that the algorithm is in effect universally, but it only makes an impact for about 1% of all queries. The exact quote is "This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally."

Panda is a much more involved algorithm, and it apparently needed to be rolled out in segments according to how long-tail the query was. But I didn't get that in the communication about this Page Layout algorithm. It could be that way - I just didn't read that in what Google actually said.

steve8383




msg:4410426
 9:02 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

My 10 yr old site that has had great rankings for years suddenly lost 40% of its traffic on Thursday, it must to be to do with the new algo.

I can see where the logic behind the algo is coming from (even if Google don't practice what they preach on their own site) but what really annoys me is my site has no ads above the fold at all!

Only about 25% of my pages have ads at all, and then they are either close to the fold or below it. How can I possibly make changes to my site in the hope of regaining my previous rankings given this scenario? I could remove the ads altogether, make even less money and probably still not regain the traffic.

A 40% drop in traffic will equate to a 40% drop income, if not more since my (affiliate) sales pages have taken a bigger hit than my information only pages.

I'm a full time webmaster with a family to provide for. These poorly applied changes are potentially destroying peoples legitimate livelihoods.

robdwoods




msg:4410428
 9:08 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@tedster fair enough. It's only my personal opinion that Google will slowly roll the changes out to a broader range of terms or I suppose I should say tweak the algo so that it applies to a broader range. I don't have any evidence to show that will be the case but after the uproar around Panda I feel they will start small and ramp up the number of queries affected rather than start big and tweak to let some sites come back to the top 10.

tedster




msg:4410429
 9:09 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

steve8383, is there anything about your layout that might make it challenging to see the content when a page first loads?

backdraft7




msg:4410450
 10:37 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Maybe 1% in the end, but during the roll out, we all get clobbered for a few weeks. This has been the case non-stop for the past several years.

tedster




msg:4410487
 11:56 pm on Jan 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@robdwoods, I guess neither of us knows for certain and that's the bottom line. It's a pleasure discussing a fine point like this with someone who is so level-headed. Thanks for you contributions!

steve8383




msg:4410493
 12:28 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

tedster:

No there isn't really anything that makes the content hard to find imho.

I have a header with logo that incorporates 6 small tabs to important sections of the site (106px height total). Content starts straight below this with a nav bar to the left featuring further links to internal pages.

I've been racking my brains and the only thing I can come up with is I also have a forum as part of the site. Under the forum header I have a 728*90 Adsense block which is fairly standard placement. Even that though is only about 10% of the area above the fold at my resolution.

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