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Matt Cutts Announces "Above The Fold" Algorithm Launch

     
11:48 pm on Jan 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

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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...]
11:25 pm on June 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@deadsea do you happen to have an exact time that you notice the drop?
10:26 am on June 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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The first hour that looks down is Jan 19th at 1900 GMT. It drops hourly over the next 4 hours. It is down to its final level by 2300 GMT.

Here is the graph (in EST): [i.imgur.com...]

Edit: I realize I labeled 1900 GMT as 1800 GMT on the graph.
12:33 pm on June 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Thanks deadsea, very similar to what I experienced.

On the surface it appears a very straight forward update and one that can be easily fixed. However in reality that isn't the case.

I too haven't recovered, despite only having one ad on the page. I'm wondering if those sites that cannot seem to recover, actually share anything in common. My suspicion is that sites with low text content above the fold AND an ad (mine is 300x250) are struggling.

It would be useful to figure out, exactly how they're calculating the penalty. (wouldn't it always).
9:40 pm on June 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Same for us: Jan 19th, 2100 CET (12pm in Mountain View, California).
No recovery despite complete redesign.
11:58 pm on June 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I've read a few articles by webmasters of webmaster type blogs, claim to have been hit and then had sudden recoveries after making the suggested changes.

But I'm wondering whether their entire post was fabricated, so that their 'advice' has more punch.

Has anybody here at WebmasterWorld recovered? Or do you know anybody who has?
5:24 pm on June 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

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No sudden recovery here. My traffic has gradually crept up to about 3/4 of what it was before Jan. 19, from an original drop to 1/2. But the increases have been gradual, with small ones that correlate to the Penguin/Panda updates, similar to what occurred last year whenever Panda was run. My other site that wasn't hit Jan. 19 has increased about the same, so I attribute the increase to Penguin/Panda, rather than any kind of recovery specific to the above-the-fold problem.

I removed all above-the-fold ads within a week or so after Jan. 19 and replaced them with one below-the-fold ad only.
5:42 am on July 13, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Has anyone tried removing ads all together? Recovery after ad removal would confirm if the drop was related to ads, if no recovery then something else is wrong.
9:54 am on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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We recovered on October 9, 12:00pm. Traffic went up by 40%... (to previous levels).

In short:
January 19: Google announces "Top Heavy" (Above the fold) update... our site goes down by 40% at once (exactly 12:00)

October 9: Google announces "Top Heavy" update... our site goes up by 40%, exactly at 12:00

FYI: We removed the ads at the end of January, and constantly moved them down a little (by a few pixels), each month.

My personal conclusions:
- It is a site wide penalty
- Google ran the update just once after 9 months
- I believe that all the changes that I have made to the site during the past 9 months did not have any influence at all. Removing the ads and waiting probably would have done the job. However, I cannot be too sure, because I added content as well, sightly played with ad position and removed ads from pages that had thin content.

Can you share your experience too, so that we can compare and optimize?
10:52 am on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@guggi2000

Just seeking clarity.
Did it drop 40% then return to full traffic? Or did it drop 40% then increase 40%?

If the latter, you would now have 84% of your original traffic.

For you to completely regain former traffic, you would have had an increase of ~67%
11:09 am on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@Shaddows it returned to full traffic, 40% down and 40% up of the initial traffic.

I thought it would be too complicated to get into the math.
Thanks for pointing it out.
11:16 am on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I thought it would be too complicated to get into the math.

Please, always get into the math ... We need way more of that around here again. It's been dropping for years and is definitely missed by some of us.
11:18 am on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I lost 40% of my traffic on January 19th, and gained back about half of what had been lost on October 9th. In my case, the ad layout was not very different at all. I still have some ads above the fold (one or two depending on the page). My ads are in prominent positions (often to the left of the content where users see them first). The main (interactive javascript) content is above the fold in a brightly colored area to make it obvious to users.
3:35 pm on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I didn't see any increase at or after October 9th on two of my websites that were effectet on January 19.

Although I removed 33% of the ads and placed the rest below the fold in February (I'm only using AdSense thus since February only two AdSense block below the fold).

In my case the two affected websites are Flash game websites. On the play game pages there is a short description and the Flash game itself above the fold. Below the fold I have other games (thumbnails and short descriptions).

Makes me wonder if Google conludes that a large flash movie of 728x530 above the fold might is not userfriendly (as there is almost no txt) and perhaps 'thinks' that it could be an ad.

For Flash game websites this wouldn't make any sense. You The visitor doens't want to see the actual game on a "play ... game" page below the fold. Because then the visitors needs to scroll down to see the content (the game) he is looking for. And the whole above / below the fold thingy is all about visitors not having to scroll down to see the content he is looking for. :P

But then again, at this moment I don't see any other option.
7:38 pm on Nov 8, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Adsense sent me a message telling me that 67% of my ads were below the fold. It went on to tell me how much more money I might make by moving them above the fold.

And then it said moving them up would not detract from a good user experience and referred me to a video that showed many different recommended ad placements.
11:31 pm on June 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

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UPDATE: Google: Our AdWords Ads Wouldn't Trigger Page Layout Penalty

In January 2012, Google announced the page layout penalty and then updated it in October 2012, it basically sets to penalize sites with too many ads, too much in the way of your organic content.

As I covered at Search Engine Land, the question was posed to Google's Matt Cutts about Google penalizing their search results page because there are so many AdWord ads pushing down the organic search results.

Matt responded two ways, the second more interesting:

(1) Google doesn't index their own search results.

(2) If they did, the ad to organic results ratio and layout would not trigger a page layout penalty.
[seroundtable.com...]
Full SMX interview with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan here : [searchengineland.com...]
12:32 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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Matt Cutts just tweeted a comment onto the above article :

an important point missing from the write-up is looking at all the pages on the site, not just single pages.
7:11 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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If they did, the ad to organic results ratio and layout would not trigger a page layout penalty.


So....it's fine to have 80% of your visitors see 90% of above the fold content as ads? OK, Matt.
7:26 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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His statement makes me think that the ratio they are looking at is:

Amount of ad space above the fold / Total content space on page

Instead of what I had assumed earlier:

Amount of ad space above the fold / Amount of content space above the fold
8:50 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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His statement makes me think that the ratio they are looking at is:

Amount of ad space above the fold / Total content space on page

Instead of what I had assumed earlier:

Amount of ad space above the fold / Amount of content space above the fold


If a page is predominantly made up of ads above the fold (for most screen resolutions), then it strongly suggests the purpose of that page is to sell ads. If the purpose of the page is to NOT sell ads, then it's a poorly laid out page.
9:50 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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So, according to what Matt said:

  • Take the height of your ads / divide by the height of your page when fully rendered. Match the SERPs ratio, and you should be fine.

  • The ratio (for a 3 block, heavy popular phrase ad block) is 0.2

  • The ads on a google SERP take about 20% of the overall page height as measured by Chrome.

    If that's true...

    Unfortunately I decided that reading posts was a little easier with a wider 'template'. So all my content is now 'shorter', therefore my ratio is higher.
  • 10:22 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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    Take the height of your ads / divide by the height of your page when fully rendered. Match the SERPs ratio, and you should be fine.

    The ratio (for a 3 block, heavy popular phrase ad block) is 0.2

    The ads on a google SERP take about 20% of the overall page height as measured by Chrome.


    If that is what Matt Cutts is suggesting, he's breaking one of the most fundamental rules of what creates a good user experience i.e. summarise the content of the page above the fold. Just seeing a block of ads above the fold is a very bad user experience.

    And if it's true that the actual length of the page is important, expect to see even more filler-rubbish populated on pages just to get ratios down....
    10:50 am on June 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

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    So my nice powerfull dedicated server that cost $$$ and makes the site uber quick makes no difference to my ranking. AAAGh. I thought site speed was important? seems you just need to make sure its not absolute dog only.
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