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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




 12:28 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)


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.


 12:55 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

steve8383: how does it look using Google's browersize tool? It may look fine at your resolution but not at an average user's. I'd say keep all ads out of the 95% area using that tool and probably no more than one ad within the 50-60% block and see if that makes a difference. Unfortunately that likely means making a change that makes the site less monetized and waiting several weeks. I have a site where the content doesn't start until the 10% of browsers range with one ad block in the 90% area and it didn't get hit, but that may be a factor of the keywords it ranks for not being in the 1% affected. My intuition says if you got hit, get the ads out of the 90-95% area and try to move some body copy as high on the page as possible...and wait.


 1:49 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks Rob:
The browsersize tool indicates that the leaderboard ad on my forum would be viewable at the 99% range. It's position is identical to the leaderboard ad here on this forum (pubcon ad at the moment), which is fairly standard forum placement and doesn't interfere with content or ability to navigate the site.

I think I will have to take it down for a while and see if I get the traffic back without it. Of course, it so happens it is also my highest revenue producing ad unit.

What really irks is that it seems to be the forum ad placement that has dragged down the rest of the site which is largely ad free. While there are several hundred handcrafted largely ad free pages of great content on the main site there are tens of thousands of forum pages with the leaderboard ad so I suppose the sheer volume of these that tipped the balance.

I could probably accept it a little more if the penalty was page based rather than site based and it was only the forum pages that suffered.

And while I'm semi ranting, surely Adsense and Search need to talk to each other one day about their conflicting advice.


 2:06 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

So I log in to Adsense and find this message delivered today:

"At least 2447 of the pages on <my website> are running less than three ad units. Adding any of our top performing units (336x280, 300x250, 728x90 or 160x600) to prominent sections of your pages will substantially increase your ad impressions and overall revenue.

Across the pages we analyzed, you could potentially add at least 7694 units on <my website>"


 5:14 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

heh, yea, but below the fold.

AdSense and Search don't talk to each other. We've seen ample examples of that.


 5:58 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'm still not clear if we have a per-page demotion, a per-website demotion, or a per-search-term demotion. In other words, did only some pages lose traffic, or did every page? A different question would be, did only some search terms lose traffic and other search terms pointing to the same page maintaining their previous level?

Can anyone who has seen an impact from this update clarify what they see?


 7:31 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Adsense and search not talking to each other is a good thing.


 9:13 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Just wanted to post an update. My site saw a traffic and revenue drop of about 15% on the day of the announcement. The site had three ads above the fold: A 728x90 banner at the top center and right, a 300x250 right sidebar banner ad and a 336x280 in article ad.

I removed the 728x90 banner ad, and moved the 300x250 banner down a notch.

The site recovered, and actually increased traffic after two days. It is a very busy site with lots of traffic and updates.

While I cannot say with 100% certainty that the drop and recovery was because of Google's algorithm change, it is likely that it is related to it. It could have been something else though, like a reduction of page loading time or a glitch in search engine rankings.

The site looks a lot cleaner now which I personally like. Heck, I would not have a problem removing all ads if I could find a different business model. Unfortunately though, ads it is, for now.

Marketing Guy

 9:31 am on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Heck, I would not have a problem removing all ads if I could find a different business model.

Sell text links - they're much more discrete and user friendly! ;)


 4:32 pm on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Matt Cutts Offers ATF Clarification


(which wasn't a whole lotta clarification, but as I suspected, it does sound like size matters)


 4:51 pm on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

steve8383 -- Have you checked the positions of your affiliate offers? It may be the affiliate ads on the site, rather than the 728x90s at the top of your forum pages, that are causing the issue. I'd be surprised if it's the leaderboards since they are used by thousands of top sites (e.g. news sites).


 5:36 pm on Jan 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks for that link, netmeg. Here's an excerpt, which I did find clarifying to a degree:

...it's not a numbers game. Google hasn't written their algorithm to punish sites with, say, 20 ads above the fold, as opposed to the site owner who only has 19 showing. No, from the Cutts/Google perspective, the algorithm alteration inspects pages to see how the space, especially above the fold, is being used.

In fact, Google isn't concerned about the number of ads at all. Instead, they just don't want these ads however many are appearing above the fold taking up too much space.

According to the article, this information came from a video chat, and the video itself is being reviewed for QA and if it passes may be posted online.


 5:51 am on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)


Fairly sure it can't be my affiliate offers. It's a travel based site so I offer lots of hotels and tours. Typical page is written description details mixed with photos, maybe an embedded video with a simple text link to the booking page of the site I am affiliated with. The (affiliate) text link is more often than not well below the fold.

I've currently disabled my leaderboard adsense on the forum pages. Also realised that I have another 728*90 between first and second post (also disabled) plus a third as a footer. So, when a thread is new and has no replies there may be 3 ads within the fold. When a thread has several replies (as most do) it doesn't look so ad heavy.

Hopefully, my rankings will come back now I've disabled the ads. I'll report back.


 6:12 am on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

The response is so ambiguous most webmasters are left to their own to determine an issue.

I don't understand why Google couldn't create some type of Ad Alert within their system for publishers that would sent the webmaster a message when Google's definition of "ad space size violation" has been exceeded.

At least that way publishers would have real, tangible information to deal with.


 6:21 am on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

At least that way publishers would have real, tangible information to deal with.

Where's the money to G come from in the provider spot? The guys bidding for adspace, or the barns on which the ads can be placed?


 6:26 am on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

IS there anything else important going on as well as this change? I have noticed large multi-subject sites gaining on smaller niche sites, and there seem to be a lot of unmaintained sites in the SERPS (that may be just my recent searches).

My usual reaction to losing ranking has been to wait, and its always gone hack to normal in the past. Given all the unknowns is that the best reaction (except for sites that are clearly very ad heavy above the fold).


 3:30 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

Reading the Matt Cutts article and the link on that page, it does sound like the criteria is just how much space the ads occupy. No mention of what type of content needs to be on the non-ad part of the page and no mention of how images are treated.

That makes sense really because it would be very difficult for any automated process to distinguish between different types of non-ad content. And to penalise the use of pictures wouldn't make sense either.


 3:39 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

To further confuse things, it sounds like the latest Panda "refresh" coincided pretty closely with this ads-above-the-fold thing. So if you got hit, it could be ads, or it could be Panda. Nice move, G.


 4:21 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

@netmeg, I thought exactly the same, why roll out 2 changes at the same time? Surely they want to monitor the effects of each seperately? It looks like the Panda refresh started on 13th / 14th Jan, so if your site escaped this date, then its likely that the 20th was the ad algo hurting you - thats how I am seeing it with our site until someone confirms otherwise.


 5:32 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

speedshopping wrote:
@netmeg, I thought exactly the same, why roll out 2 changes at the same time? Surely they want to monitor the effects of each seperately?

I'm sure they have access to the individual scores assigned to each page and domain by the various parts of their algorithms. They probably don't need to keep an eye on the SERPs like the rest of us.



 5:42 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

You're probably right Ryan, but announcing an algo change (page layout) to webmasters on a specific day in an attempt to help is completely pointless if they have mixed it in with another algo update to confuse matters...sigh - anyone got an official date yet? lol.


 8:53 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

In an attempt to answer Tedster's earlier questions:

This appears to be a page level penalty. I have three main templates on my site: homepage, templateA, and templateB. The home page still ranks for my brand and is getting just as much traffic for it. I did not lose site links. TemplateA has about 200 pages. Referrals that were ranking for this template went up since this algo launched. TemplateB has thousands of pages. Rankings tanked for pretty much all keywords that I can see that land on this template.

On Saturday I adjusted the ads on TemplateB. It used to have a 728x15 link bar below the header (above the content) and 336x280 large box to the left of the content. Now it just has a 300x250 medium box to the right of the content.

My site has not recovered one ounce of traffic, even with the drastic ad changes I made (CPM is half what it was). I was hoping to see traffic recover within a couple days as googlebot recrawled the pages. It doesn't look like any of my pages have recovered. Has anybody seen any sort of recovery based on ad layout canges yet, or is it too early to tell?

I also have a new theory about how Google is measuring content. It may be the ratio of content space to ad space that triggers it. Content can be text or images, but not white space or template items that are the same from page to page. If that is the case, I can see why my site might continue to be hit with only a single smaller ad, my content consists of a form that users can fill out. TemplateB may be content-free above the fold despite the fact that 80% of my visitors interact with the form.


 9:10 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

I suspect the limit might be that at the max the ads can not take up any more space then the content.

That's partly based on my the last conversation with an Optimizization Team member who mentioned that if the (side bar) ads ran down the page past the end of the content, I might want to remove the ad block. Seemed that was more important if the ad was on the leftthan on the right. We were talking about a 160x300 block at the time. Maybe they knew what was coming down the pike.

In general though I wonder how, or if, they take ads like Kontera or other in-content links into consideration?


 10:14 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)


If the main criteria is space, as seems to be the case, then the likes of Knontera and Vibrant are almost no part of the equation.

Don't get complicated, it's space, only the space occupied by ads which is relevant.


 10:29 pm on Jan 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't get complicated, it's space, only the space occupied by ads which is relevant.

Yeah maybe.

The more I think about this thing, the less it bothers me.


 1:54 am on Jan 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks tons for the clarification link. One great tidbit of insight there. For instance, if what he says is true, it shouldn't matter nearly so much if you have two 160x600's peeking from the last couple lines of the first screen (something we were personally very concerned about). As website designers, we just need to give readers a good reason to scroll down.

Although still ambiguous as to where the fold is. The description didn't indicate if he held the visual-aid 8x11 paper portrait-wise (perhaps symbolizing the entire webpage) or landscape (perhaps symbolizing just the first screen (i.e. above the fold)).

If we were to take him literally, and assuming the latter (landscape), and just do some quick math: 2 - 3x3in sticky notes = 18sq.in. divided by a 8.5x11in (93.5sq.in. total) means that 18/93.5 = 19.25% is too much? Wow, that is a pretty low ratio. However, if we assume the former then it makes a lot more sense that they simply don't want the total ad space excessive at the top, but still doesn't give us any idea what they consider too much... or the fold. Perhaps it will be a sliding scale of negativity based on the ratio. 0% ads 0 demerit, 20% ad ratio = 20% demerit, 80% ads = 80% demerit, etc.

I sure hope they can recognize things like, that with multi-column table formatted pages, text (or ads) which are 2/3 of the way down the source file can actually be viewed as the top of the 3rd column on the page. Eventually users will get USED to NOT seeing ads at the top and the heat map may change overall.

Hehe, I wonder what they would do if you started every page with your logo followed by 40+ BR meta-tags thus shifting ads and EVERYTHING below the fold? So what if _I_, and G's home page, LIKE a lot of white space - penalize me? Amazing how no one is allowed to place ads at the tops of pages except G now. Or what if you made your logo at the top of every page 1200x800? Or how about Non-clickable or Subliminal "ads" in your background art instead? Great for purely branding.;) (Aw shoot, did I just accidentally start a new marketing craze again?) Hey, [insert favorite pizza or soft drink name] are you listening to me here?

Anyway, there's just SO many things that can throw them off, that I don't think this change will work well.


 3:19 am on Jan 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the placement of ads on any site's pages given as an option for buyers on the AdWords side? I think it's also a feature that publisher's who display AdSense are encouraged to make use of - are penalties being dished out for using that system?


 7:11 am on Jan 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hey, WOW! This new algo REALLY IS working properly! When you search for "Search Engine" on G the top SERPs (at least for me) are dogpile (my all-time fav ...:), bing and wiki. On the entire whole first 2 pages only google's /cse is listed from their domain. (Look quick before they "fix" it.)


 3:29 pm on Jan 27, 2012 (gmt 0)

Google has never ranked themselves #1 for "search engine"


 8:05 pm on Jan 28, 2012 (gmt 0)

I see a site, with two adjacent 336 units above the fold, in the middle of the page, ranking on first page for a very popular keyword. However the ad code is different.

<script type='text/javascript'>
eval(ez_write_tag([[336,280],'something here']));

Not sure, how come this ad code is different. Could it be that Google couldn't detect this ad unit?

There are other ad networks present as well.


 1:20 pm on Jan 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Has anyone reported any site that has recovered from the page layout algo on Jan 19th following ad change and recache?

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