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Matt Cutts announces Feb 6 update of its "Page Layout Algorithm"
Robert Charlton

 9:08 pm on Feb 10, 2014 (gmt 0)

Matt Cutts tweeted an announcement today regarding a refresh of its "Page Layout Algorithm", also called the "above the fold" algorithm.

https://twitter.com/mattcutts/statuses/432940645200588800 [twitter.com]

SEO folks: we recently launched a
refresh of this algorithm:
[goo.gl...] Visible to outside
world on ~Feb. 6th.

Several members here reported seeing changes on Feb 6 in our Updates and SERP Changes Thread [webmasterworld.com...]

Thanks to Danny Sullivan for the alert [searchengineland.com...]



 4:51 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

As I said earlier in the thread we were hit. We have zero ads anywhere on any page. We have a tiny header with our logo & that's it. But I also have zero interest in this thread. A few people have made some good points but others keep banging the same old line. Some are being so pedantic it's almost funny.

In short pointless. Thanks to those who PM'd me, much better conversation :)

Have a nice weekend :)


 6:23 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

I don't think Google has given precise guidelines because that would make it too easy for the spammers to know just how far they can abuse the rules before getting caught.

Actually Google's intentional blurring of the rules makes things much easier for spammers. They just keep throwing crap at the wall until something sticks, whereas a lot of good sites are unjustly penalized because their owners don't know the rules. Obviously when good sites are unjustly demoted, it leaves room at the top for spammers.

This intentional blurring of the rules is one of the main reasons why Google's search results are so bad.


 7:22 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

Obviously when good sites are unjustly demoted, it leaves room at the top for spammers.

Maybe, but we aren't seeing many complaints of sites being demoted (unjustly or otherwise) by the Page Layout Algorithm, version 3. And of the few complaints that we have seen, the victims may well have been hit by something else, such as a Panda data refresh.

Maybe we'd be seeing more complaints here if Webmaster World attracted an Arabic- or Russian-speaking audience:



 7:44 pm on Feb 14, 2014 (gmt 0)

ohno, the sites that have no ads and lost search traffic, that can well be because sites with ads that lost traffic before recovered ranking positions and your site lost them, thus lost search traffic.


 12:19 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

From what I am seeing, it appears that there are two other speculations:

1) The update which affects above the fold layout is not necessarily focusing on ads. It seems there are a number of sites which have only a big image and a main navigation above the fold that have been hit.

2) There is also another speculation that there was another (different) update run on the same day that might have been responsible for tanking sites with no ads on the same day

Another thing what I have noticed when you read Google announcement and links to older posts linked from this announcement is that this algo is "site wide" and that sites should recover as soon as there are enough pages whose layout has been "fixed" and Google has recrawled them. This would mean that smaller sites that got hit may recover sooner as there are less pages to change by a webmaster and then subsequently to crawl and re-process by Google.

Since you have said that not only your site does not have ads, but in fact does not have any external links bar two, I am wondering how does your site layout looks like. Do you perhaps have a big image on the top of the page where above the fold can be seen not much but that image? If so, is this on one page or on every page? Could you change anything in the layout (e.g. smaller photos..) that may result escaping the algo once the site is re-crawled?

Interesting theory, but this would depend on how much was ohno's drop. If it was more severe, I would doubt that so many sites previously caught by the above the fold algo now recovered.

In any case, the "Above the fold" seem to be built in the algo, so changing the site sufficiently suppose to recover it within fairly short time (depending on site size) - and it would be interesting to see if this recovery happened to anyone hit after they do site layout changes.


 2:42 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

@aakk9999 keep in mind that if somebody lost traffic, somebody else gained it. Usually when somebody gains traffic, they do not come here to complain.

They get happy and do not care who lost the traffic they gained.

They also never know why they got more traffic. They probably think they deserved it even it was just some other competitor that lost it.

Other than that, I always heard that page layout update is a Panda factor that gets added to other factors. If you address the layout issue and at the same time address other issues, your recovery may be more intense.

Keep in mind that the page layout is not evaluated continuously. Google has been evaluating in intervals of between 7 and 9 months.

As for Panda updates, John Mueller mentioned that nowadays it is in intervals about 2 months.


 3:11 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

The real problem is we don't know what screen res G is using to determine this page layout algo. What fits on a 27" will certainly display differently at 7" or 3.5"...

A lot of tail chasing... so, if there are reports of traffic loss, please reveal your "generic" layout (use pixels if you like) and let's see what happens there.

I suspect that a lot of the "user dissatisfaction" might be mobile users... which might be a game changer which puts us back to 640x480.


 5:02 am on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

tangor, the problem is having little or no content before your ads.


 1:07 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

the problem is having little or no content before your ads.

There are plenty of high-ranking sites with leaderboards at the top of the page, above the content.


 1:39 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

As do I. No problems at all. Again, why are we assuming it's *one* thing?


 5:42 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

We were hit in January 2012.

Our site was ugly - created with Frontpage in 1998, and remained as such. Even widths of the pages were not uniform. We do have content though, and our articles are typically 800 words+ (not thin content). But we do have banner ads on top, and ads on the left and right columns.

I'd be the first to say our site was really ugly. But our site worked in terms of generating income, and so we did not change it. Before the algorithm hit, we finally made the decision to move to Wordpress. But before we started, we got hit by the above the fold algorithm.

We've moved to Wordpress with a much cleaner template and look and feel has significantly improved. We only have a leaderboard above the fold now. Our ads on the right column are put way below the fold, so as ads in the middle of the content.

Google traffic this week is 69% up the previous week. But it is still way down from the time we got first hit by the above the fold algorithm (our traffic declined significantly after we got the "increase in authorization permission errors in GWT)

I've read before that if you make sufficient changes to your site and no longer ad-heavy, that you'd recover from the algorithm hit. But that did not happen. At one point, we even removed all ads and waited for a month to see some sort of recovery -- but that did not still bring us back the traffic we lost. So we decided to put the ads back.

It was only after this refresh that we see improvements. I'm still cautious though and not thoroughly celebrating. Maybe when I see traffic back at least near the levels of what we used to get, then I will really celebrate.


 6:17 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

alika, did you see any change in user behavior (pages per visit, bounce rate, time on site)? It's interesting to know how the algorithm evaluates the website, by design or data?


 6:37 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

The redesign to Wordpress has improved user engagement - 36% increase in average visit duration; 12% improvement in pages per visit.

But as I said, it's been awhile now since our site moved to Wordpress, but we did not see any improvement until after this update on Feb 6.

From our experience, once you get hit by this algorithm, the only way out if when the algorithm is refreshed -- too bad for us, it was a long time before the algorithm is refreshed.


 6:39 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

If I was Google I would not look at just one metric. That would be too easy for spammers to reverse engineer. Also a single metric could have too many false positives and missed offenders.

I would also remind others that Googlebot is not a human it is a computer program. So it is looking at your code and not at your pretty page.

To make things even more difficult you need to also remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. When Google updates this filter some websites recovers which can drop websites that aren't even being impacted. Other websites can get penalized which will send that traffic to other sites, so just because traffic is up does not mean you did anything for it. Not to mention that Google makes a few hundred updates every year so when one update is announced there are often other changes happening at the same time.


 7:31 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

If I was Google I would not look at just one metric.

Or even one page layout. After all, what a desktop user sees may be quite different from what a mobile user sees.

I have a brand-new site with a responsive layout. It doesn't have any ads on it right now, but if it did, a logical place for an ad would be at the top of the right column (used for section navigation).

Trouble is, on a phone, that column of section-navigation links n moves to the bottom of the screen, below the content. If I had an ad above those links, it would mean a somewhat poorer user experience for smartphone users--but not for desktop, laptop, and tablet users, who'd be able to see the links links just fine.


 8:32 pm on Feb 15, 2014 (gmt 0)

tangor, the problem is having little or no content before your ads.

Where is this exact thing said in Google's guidelines?

The guidance Google gave on this topic was:

As we’ve mentioned previously, 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. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

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 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. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

Emphasis was mine.


 12:43 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

My site took a big hit Feb 7th but returned 100% on Feb 9th, I didn't change a thing.

Solution: Forget all of the "above the fold" lingo and ad placement etc and just look at the actual meat of your pages, the content. If you get rid of everything else but the text portion of your content, and I mean everything including navigation, title, header image, sidebar, etc, and look at only the meat... where is it on your page? It better be visible no more than 50% of the way down the page, 33% would be even better.

Mobile: Google's focus on mobile is only ever increasing so check your site from a mobile device first.


 3:30 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

@EditorialGuy high ranking sites have many pages that rank high and so the ad factor does not hurt them.

Also many high ranking sites have native ads or ads that Googlebot cannot be sure they are ads. The page layout update affects mostly sites with AdSense because Google can be sure AdSense ads are really ads.

Also the page layout factor may be considered when you have too many pages with ads above the content above the fold. So the different layout versions do not matter.

@Alika, moving to Wordpress is fine, but you should also mark your category and tags pages as NOINDEX,FOLLOW because that is duplicated content and Google is not going to send traffic to those pages. The more useless pages you have indexed by Google, the harder Panda will hit you.

Also changing the layout and waiting for 1 month will not result in anything. The Page layout was reevaluated like 4 times in 2 years with spacing between 7 to 9 months. You need to wait for as much time as Google decides.

Until then you may still recover losses caused by other Panda factors that you fix.

@goodroi Right, page layout is just one of several Panda factors. You should also fix other factors.

Anyway, John Mueller of Google already said Googlebot sees pages like the Chrome browser. It may not evaluate aestetichs but it evaluates the layout of the pages of your site to figure if you have substantial content above the ads.

@Ralph_Slate When I say "content before your ads" it is the same as Google says as "part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content"


 6:06 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

Where do you get these first-hand insights? Is it personal knowledge/experience or your best assumptions ?


 9:07 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

@Zivush every week John Mueller of Google and Google Webmaster forum Top Contributors organize hangouts on which they talk about these topics a lot.




 10:09 am on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

Webmaster tools search query data is finally available for the period after this algorithm launched. I've taken a screen shot and combined it with a screen shot from my Google Analytics. (It is all anonymous data.)


Webmaster tools shows the drop in search query impressions starting on February 6th. Google Analytics shows the drop in visits starting at 8:00 AM EST February 7th. I'm not sure exactly what time zone webmaster tools data is for that would account for this discrepancy. However, it makes me more confident that I was indeed hit by this algorithm because the Feb 6th drop on Webmaster Tools matches up with the date that Google announced for this algorithm change.

Looking through the Webmaster Tools search query data, it appears that this algorithm hit pretty much across the board. I've lost about at least two positions on most of the queries for which I was ranking. This is consistent with previous iterations of this algorithm: it appears to hit site-wide.


 3:32 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

many high ranking sites have native ads or ads that Googlebot cannot be sure they are ads. The page layout update affects mostly sites with AdSense because Google can be sure AdSense ads are really ads.

It shouldn't be hard for Google to identify standard IAB ad sizes and display ads served by the major advertising services (including Google's own DoubleClock). Ditto for ads from the big affiliate networks like Commission Junction and widgets from the likes of Amazon or Booking.com.

For what it's worth, I just looked at all the top-ranking corporate sites' pages for a reasonably popular term just now, and all of them had a leaderboard and either a 200 x 350 rectangle or the upper part of a skyscraper "above the fold" on a 768 x 1024 screen. (Two of them also had pop-up ads that obscured the pages.) That's why I think the "Page Layout Algorithm" isn't a big deal--at least if you're the publisher of a big corporate site.


 4:29 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

not at your pretty page

Don't be too sure of that. There are ways to quantify "pretty" these days that would not need a strict code look.

Google has all kinds of tools now that allow you to see how a page will render. Not hard to take the code, calculate where it renders and go off a grid of what people want.

When I worked in DM, all page layouts in catalogs went through a similar quantifying process - but for profitablity. There was a formula as to weighting the value of where things appeared and how big they were and aesthetics (or lack thereof in some cases - see ugly websites as to why) played a big role in how profitable a spot on the page was. It was used to determine where a product would be placed on a page and if a product was successful.

For example, a new product would be placed in what was known to be a profitable spot on a page and, even if it was technically profitable, if it did not reach a profitability level for a product in that location, it could be considered a failure.

These are methods that are a good 50 years old. Now that Google has the ability to "see" a rendered page, I don't think it would be all that hard to take a similar approach to what layouts on webpages will work as well. They would not be looking at profitability, but rather "likeability". Especially considering that it appears they put a lot of research into this a few years ago.

And they would not need to stay just in one standard layout to judge a page. They know, the same as my site knows, if someone is coming from a PC or a mobile device (or even the resolution of said device) and could have adjustments to the layout algo based on that. So maybe you don't get hit on where your site ranks for PC users but you do for mobile users on a certain resolution.

I personally don't think that ads play all that big a role in any new updates to the layout algo these days (though I think it was a major part of initial rollouts and remains a major part to the current algo, just not something they need to tweak anymore). To be honest, knowing how sophisticated it was in DM, ads are a pretty crude measure and Google is too smart for that.


 6:35 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

@hannamyluv Thanks for pointing that out. I was not implying that Google would only look at code. I was more reminding people that just because it looks pretty to them does not necessarily mean that is how Google will see it.

I also would not assume that Google stops at just looking at your page rendering. Google could easily be using CTR and bounce rates as part of their page layout quality formula.

It might be wise in general for webmasters to stay away from IAB standard sizes for any image since those images sometimes trigger adblockers to suppress them. Plus it might be one way for Google to think you have a bunch of ads on your page.


 7:05 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the link.


 7:54 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

It might be wise in general for webmasters to stay away from IAB standard sizes for any image since those images sometimes trigger adblockers to suppress them. Plus it might be one way for Google to think you have a bunch of ads on your page.

Put that in bold. It might be the most useful piece of advice in this thread!


 9:49 pm on Feb 16, 2014 (gmt 0)

@EditorialGuy, I do not think Google is so concerned with high profile sites.

You need to go back in history and notice that page layout update was launched 1 year after a Microsoft search lead accused Google of funding low quality content sites with AdSense revenue.

You may watch this video in Matt Cutts blog on which the Microsoft guy makes that accusation near minute 15.


AdSense became the main target of page layout update, not only because Google admitted they are really funding low quality content, but also because that can be the basis of an anti-trust law suit that may break Google apart separating AdSense from the search business.

So this is not just about the quality of the search results, it is also the Google business as a whole that it is at the risk of being broken apart.


 6:26 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

My site was affected by above the fold in November 2011 !

Lost 50% traffic then, in one hour. In years never recovered until now, this change, February 6th, 2014. I'm 25-30% up, high for top keywords.

Even though it's about 2.5 years too late, I will take an acknowledgement of all the positive changes I made since that penalty, and I hope it sticks around.

Honestly, even with less traffic, no complaints, as my writing & site are proven real adsense earners, through it all, 9 years now.

Edit: quick note. After I redesigned my site in early 2012 using Matt's recommendations, this site, google above fold view tool and removed ads above fold (It was too many, I admit it then and now, I followed adsense suggestions blindly), text naturally moved up. I left site alone and have not touched it since but to add new pages, in that same redesigned early 2012 style.


 9:14 pm on Feb 17, 2014 (gmt 0)

FrostyMug: congrats on the recovery.

Part of what I don't get about this algorithm is that if you redesigned, why did you not see a bump in traffic until the algorithm changed?

After I was hit by the first iteration of this algorithm, I removed all but one ad from each page for a month and a half without seeing any recovery. Googlebot had certainly crawled by site in that time.


 12:25 pm on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

Maybe at that time the algo needed to be re-run rather than being folded in the main algo as it appears to be now?


 3:06 pm on Feb 18, 2014 (gmt 0)

It might also be that the new algo version is correcting an over reach from the previous iteration... ie. lowering the bar a touch, and was not revealed until the new version rolled out.

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