Matt Cutts has gone too far this time! I am outraged over this ridiculous move by Google. They are clearly playing favorites and providing special assistance to certain websites. Of course I am referring to Google unfairly helping ignorant webmasters who were not capable of figuring out that page layout is important despite the months of public signals by Google and the public discussion on it.
I have been enjoying a distinct advantage over my competition by having a better page layout. By keeping ad space to a minimum and maximizing the perceived value of my pages I have been able to gain more backlinks. It is no secret (or maybe it is) that people tend to link more to valuable pages and avoid pages overly filled with ads.
For many years webmasters have known that a user decides in seconds if the webpage is good or if they should bail out. With such a small window it always made sense to me to keep my headers small so the user could immediately see valuable content. This has allowed me to make more money by keeping visitors on my site instead of losing them immediately because they thought I was a spammy ad filled page.
If I had any doubts about page value being important they were erased when I did pro bono work on multiple panda sites. I came across many observations but the biggest one was a webmaster that went against my instruction and doubled his adsense space above the fold. His logic is that he lost traffic so he had to double his adsense to keep his revenue steady. What happened is that he scared away his remaining traffic and ended up with no revenue.
I don't care if Google is directly measuring content above the fold. I know that stuffing ads above the fold drives away users, backlinks and site partners.
Here are my actions going forward:
-Revisit my network of sites & client sites to see if any of the headers can be reduced to bring more content above the fold.
-Revisit top traffic pages to make sure they do not have too large an image at the top of the page, just to be safe.
-Continue to embed ads into relevant content below the fold. This move tends to also improve the CTR & ad engagement levels.
-Check out the site preview via Google serps to see one possible way Google might be judging how much content is above the fold.