Simsi - 9:14 am on Nov 25, 2012 (gmt 0)
I thought the idea of this "Ads Above The Fold" update was to penalise sites whose goal appeared (to Google) to be simply to refer traffic elsewhere. That's a subtle difference to penalising sites for just having ads in prominent positions and relates as much to content/ad relevancy and quality of content itself.
I remember reading once the theory that not giving the visitor the answer they wanted was actually better for CPC ad revenue! I would imagine this update also has something to do with addressing that.
Also, thinking about the relevancy of ads above the fold and how that relates to a user interacting with a site, it only really makes sense to have them there if the content tells the visitor something that would induce them to click one. IE: "These XYZ shoes are the best I ever bought" accompanied by an ad specifically for XYZ branded shoes.
If a visitor hasn't even scrolled and they are clicking an ad and the content doesn't directly act as an inducement, there's probably only one rea$on you'd want someone to leave the site anyway, so it's hardly a quality signal IMO.
If one's adverts were 100% relevant to the content and not just in the same ballpark, I think a site with ads above the fold would probably be more likely to avoid this penalty.
I haven't worked with generic 3rd party ad platforms (nor do you say if you are using 3rd party ads to be fair) but I don't know how feasible it is to display an advert for XYZ branded shoes when you are reviewing XYZ branded shoes. If it's not very feasible, then I'd say this could be a problem and might explain why generic ads like these were penalised more than sites with targetted bespoke ads.