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Google & Top Heavy Algo Filter

     
11:01 pm on Jan 30, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Back in Jan 2012 Google released the Top Heavy Algo filter which targeted sites with too much advertising above the fold. To avoid the filter it was recommended that the ratio of content to ads should be increased to improve the viewer experience.

An extract from Google Webmaster Central Blog at the time said:

So sites that donít have much content ďabove-the-foldĒ can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesnít have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the siteís initial screen real estate to ads, thatís not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.


There is an either/or in those comments which I interpret to mean its not just about having too many ads, it can also relate to sites that don't have enough text to engage the viewer.

It's now Jan 2015 and are we any closer to knowing, with any degree of certainty, answers to the following?

- Is content simply anything that is not advertising? ie.. graphics, YouTube video placements, search boxes, widgets, navigation bars/columns and text are all considered to be content?

- Is there a tipping point where the screen real estate given to ads is too much?

- Is there a tipping point where there is not enough text?

- Are different screen resolutions a factor in how the filter is triggered?

- Has anyone seen any published illustrations/examples that clarify when this filter might be applied?

All responses appreciated.
3:27 am on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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- Are different screen resolutions a factor in how the filter is triggered?

- Has anyone seen any published illustrations/examples that clarify when this filter might be applied?
They put out a tool to demonstrate graphically what area of a page was considered "above the fold" at different screen sizes/resolutions. I hadn't visited it for a very long time and it returns a 404 now, so they must have moved on - or moved the tool. (?)

Since the purpose of the filter was to try to get webmasters to deliver the content that visitors came to the page to see with less obstruction between the top of the page and that indexed content, my guess is that navigation and search boxes obstruct as much as ads - for pushing content down the page. Even though site structure elements are a necessary part of the page. Graphics and videos could be, if that is what the traffic is coming to see. Since the tool is gone, maybe that filter has less importance. (?)
10:56 am on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Is content simply anything that is not advertising? ie.. graphics, YouTube video placements, search boxes, widgets, navigation bars/columns and text are all considered to be content?


I would be interested in anyone elses thoughts on this one. When I made my sites responsive, I kept the full menu instead of having the clickable icon to open the menu in small screens.

The result is that on smart phones, the initial screen will be all menu. Am I wrong in doing this?
It is made worse because I increased the distance between clickable points for small screens.
1:13 pm on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What if there's a big popup ad that covers most of the screen, even if there's a lot of good content underneath it but above the fold?
8:13 pm on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What if there's a big popup ad that covers most of the screen, even if there's a lot of good content underneath it but above the fold?
I would use "Fetch as Google" in GWT to see how they see it, and use the ol' page speed test to see what it says, though it is known to give misleading responses in my experience. It gives the "Awesome! This Site is Mobile Friendly" when I know it is not at all mobile friendly.

Try it on a mobile device yourself and see how it works for you.
8:30 pm on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I seem to recall reading somewhere that the filter is applied, or not, depending on the static design elements and pop-overs, overlays etc have no effect.

Not sure if that is true or not. But if that is the case, then the whole purpose of having the filter "to improve the viewer experience" wold seem to be a nonsense.
10:21 pm on Jan 31, 2015 (gmt 0)

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usually the big popup ad pops up quickly enough to interfere with attempts to see the content underneath.
2:26 am on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I seem to recall reading somewhere that the filter is applied, or not, depending on the static design elements and pop-overs, overlays etc have no effect.


That stands to reason (sort of). A user can get rid of an interstitial by clicking an "x" or a "Skip this ad" message, or by waiting 10 or 15 seconds for the ad to go away. As long as the underlying page is easy to navigate and has content above the fold, the user can easily find the content that led him to click through from a Google SERP.

In other words, an interstitial can be mildly annoying (depending on how much the user hates ads), but it won't cause confusion or ongoing frustration. Once the ad disappears, the annoyance factor is gone.
9:47 am on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In other words, an interstitial can be mildly annoying (depending on how much the user hates ads), but it won't cause confusion or ongoing frustration. Once the ad disappears, the annoyance factor is gone.

A fine point that I can only partially agree with. I think that some of these interstitials are outrageously annoying... in the same spirit as the ads blending in at the top of the page.

The annoying interstitials either almost dodge you as you try to click the "x" or else having a built in delay that has caused me to bail a number of times.

While I'm much more sympathetic to subscription requests to good newsletters than I am to irrelevant ads, almost all of them seem to have problems getting the timing right. The worst of them ask you to subscribe to a site before you've had a chance to take a look (or while you're in the midst of reading the paragraph that's supposed to hook you). Quite often, I'm already a subscriber to the sites that interrupted me, so the annoyance also turns out to be an unnecessarily insult.

Agreed that I can generally find the content on these pages once the heavy gray veil is lifted, but, if the ad is not good, and most of them aren't, I actually don't forget the annoyance factor.

I think the solution may lie in providing ads that are relevant enough, good enough, useful enough, and short enough that I actually want to watch them. It has happened. They'd almost have to be custom made for the product or the niche audience.

These aren't really replacing the old deceptive layouts, btw. Those, I'm happy to say, seem to be mostly gone. This is a new set of annoyances, though, brought to you by the same deceptive, opportunisitc mindset as the top-heavy ads... and mostly I'd like to see them vanish, even though I can eventually find the underlying page content if I'm patient. More and more, they're appearing over good content.

Also, a mechanical question to add to my complaints.... Are these interstitials harder to detect than similar overlays that are being used to display images and other useful content? Since there's no one place in the timeline for the interstitial, it may be hard to pinpoint it as an offender, while also letting more desired displays get by.

There's room, I feel, for a company to make actually useful interstitial ads. I don't think there's room for a company that tricks you into clicking the wrong thing on a page.
1:26 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In other words, an interstitial can be mildly annoying (depending on how much the user hates ads), but it won't cause confusion or ongoing frustration. Once the ad disappears, the annoyance factor is gone.†


How is this different from scrolling down past the ads to find the content? In annoyance comparisons, it is much easier to scroll down past ads than it is to click the fake x. And waiting for the ad to disappear takes way longer than scrolling.
1:58 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesnít have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the siteís initial screen real estate to ads, thatís not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.
I have no idea how important the "Top Heavy" filter is today, but I fail to see how a Pop-Up ad obstructs the content less than other ads.

Offering a "skip this ad" or an "X" to click is not less aggravating than requiring visitors to scroll past ads. If the purpose of the filter was to deliver the content to visitors sooner, interstitials and full screen pop-ups aren't really doing that.
4:36 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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How is this different from scrolling down past the ads to find the content? In annoyance comparisons, it is much easier to scroll down past ads than it is to click the fake x.


Google apparently doesn't agree. I don't either, but to each his own. :-)

Another thing to keep in mind: Interstitials come and go. Google has no way of knowing whether a given page will have an interstitial ad tomorrow, the next day, or the month after. (For that matter, a reader in one location might get an interstitial ad, and a reader in another location might not.)

A more intriguing question is how the "top-heavy algorithm" comes into play with responsive design. For example: If a page is top-heavy in desktop view but dumps the excessive ads when viewed on a smartphone, does the top-heavy algorithm downgrade the page's rankings across the board? Or does it affect only the page's desktop rankings?
6:15 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I have no idea how important the "Top Heavy" filter is today


The problem with this filter - and its related update - is that the update run only 3 (?) times since it was first launched in 2012. Many sites hit in the first run of the algorithm have not fully recovered.

One of my sites did a partial recovery after the 2014 update, but only got back 20-30% of the lost traffic. We did a major overhaul of the site design, moving from static to Wordpress. Still waiting for another update to see if we can get back to where we were before in 2012.

To me, I'd be interested to know the answers to the above questions to see other possible measures we could still improve on the site to stand a better chance at fully recovering lost traffic
6:16 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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toidi wrote:
How is this different from scrolling down past the ads to find the content? In annoyance comparisons, it is much easier to scroll down past ads than it is to click the fake x. And waiting for the ad to disappear takes way longer than scrolling.

Toidi is absolutely right. These big popup ads are far more annoying than most ads that trigger the top-heacy penalty.

Google's failure to penalize sites that tend to show these big popup ads is another major flaw in their search results.
7:32 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google's failure to penalize sites that tend to show these big popup ads is another major flaw in their search results.


Google uses the term "Page Layout Algorithm," not "Anti-Advertising Algorithm," and interstitial ads aren't part of the page layout.

Should Google go beyond the "Page Layout Algorithm" to penalize such things as interstitial ads, video ads that start playing with the user's permission, advertorial (even if it's correctly disclosed), and other types of advertising that some people find annoying? That's a judgment call, and it's also a different topic altogether. The "Page Layout Algorithm" is a specific algorithm with a narrowly-defined purpose.
8:19 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Appreciate the input so far, but can anyone comment on the questions in the OP?
9:24 pm on Feb 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Appreciate the input so far, but can anyone comment on the questions in the OP?

austtr -- I doubt that anyone except a Google engineer can give definitive answers to those questions. For such a situation, probably the best recourse is to fall back on common sense. In this case common sense suggests that you simply have a decent amount of good relevant content above the fold, without any distractions or obstructions such as big popup ads. If you do this, then there would be no justification for Google to impose a penalty. If you still get a penalty anyway, it implies a defect in Google's ranking algorithm, not a defect in your page's layout.
10:24 pm on Feb 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Just look at any Google search result page to find a sample of what not to do on your site.
11:58 pm on Feb 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If you do this, then there would be no justification for Google to impose a penalty. If you still get a penalty.


The Page Layout Algorithm isn't a "penalty," at least not in Google's use of the term "penalty." Also, at the time the Page Layout Algorithm was introduced, Google said that it affected only a tiny percentage of search results. (I think it was "less than 1 percent"), so it probably isn't worth getting het up about unless you're pretty sure that you got crazy with ads above the fold.
9:22 am on Feb 4, 2015 (gmt 0)

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So does anyone have an opinion on what to avoid with small screens. You obviously dont want the first screen to be filled by an advert, but what about the screen being filled with navigation?
8:32 am on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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...but what about the screen being filled with navigation?

That sounds to me like a large drop-down or mega-menu. I myself would avoid having a screen being filled with navigation, but that's because, IMO, a screen filled with navigation is too much navigation... too many choices for the user, and most likely too many choices semantically for Google.

In terms of the above-the-fold algorithm, which is what concerns us here, I just saw a John Mueller video that suggests that Google can generally sort out the difference between content from the site and "random ads above the fold"... even where the content is in a slider displaying only samples of content from the site.

Here's the video, and I'll time-stamp it to where John is just being asked a question, at 58:18, about the effects of a slider in relation to above-the-fold algo effects....

English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout
Jan 13, 2015 - trt 1:02:15
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p1igrDVqC0&t=58m18s [youtube.com]

From the video...
JOSHUA BERG (58:18): So do you think the above-the-fold algorithms, like a layout-type algorithm, is going to take much of a hit there? Or will that only get tripped if certain other low-quality indicators might be there as well?

John Mueller (58:35): Usually that's more of a problem if you have things like random ads above the fold... no actual content. When you're looking at a normal website and the slider contains samples of the content from the rest of the site, that's not an ad... that's like a part of your content... and that's not something where I'd say is a problem from that point of view.

I would think that a menu would be even more clearly part of a site than random samples of content revealed by the slider.

Again, though, to repeat... I would tend to avoid too much menu and too many choices for other reasons. YMMV... but I am talking about a different aspect of the algo, not above-the-fold here.

Also, note... John is suggesting here, more clearly than I've seen stated before, that Google can distinguish between ads and your content.
8:41 am on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Is there a tipping point where the screen real estate given to ads is too much?

In answer to the OP in this thread, in my opinion it's not simply a matter of area, though that is one factor. My own additional observations are that I think that Google can spot deceptive uses of text layout or blended color meant to confuse the user... and intentionally confusing the user can be a heavy negative.

Just look at any Google search result page to find a sample of what not to do on your site.

Speaking of which, Google's ads in the SERPs are now more distinguishable than they used to be (they were disgraceful before), but the bright colors that are distinctive are also now designed to draw the eye more (eg, the yellow "Ad" label and the rich snippet stars in the ads), and Google is playing with this tradeoff. It's probably true that a bright colored label that says "Ad" gets more clicks than an ad without the bright color... just because the color pulls the eye.

Is content simply anything that is not advertising? ie.. graphics, YouTube video placements, search boxes, widgets, navigation bars/columns and text are all considered to be content?

Is there a tipping point where there is not enough text?

I can't say for sure, but my observation is that text helps a lot, enough text to keep you interested for a while.

I've been forced to deal with sites that had very large photos on the home page, and that's made me uneasy, but we didn't tank because of those photos. I always push for a fair amount of clearly visible text... and I try to get some of it up above the photo. On a big photo page, I'm talking about at least 200 words. My preference is more. It's generally hard to convince a client that we're not Dell or Oracle or Samsung or Sony or the Tahiti Tourisme, and we can't do what they do, but those sites seem to have modified those big images. They've toned them down from full screen images to less than giant images blended with content text, generally a better mix.

Note that inbound link juice injecting authority into a page helps a lot. This is not new; it was true a dozen years ago. But text may be seeing a resurgence.

In gallery pages, btw, I've observed that the pages that do best in image search do well because of their text content first, and then the quality of the images, and/or lots of buzz about the subject.

In terms of screen real estate, though it's tempting to crab about Google, I wouldn't complain about Google's ads without first checking out Yahoo and Bing. ;) On, say, competitive travel terms, they are truly disgraceful.

I have more than one client who traces big drop in business to the new Google top-heavy layout some years back. It's Google's site... they don't have to rank competitively... and for all we know there may be enough visitors who like the ads more than the serps in the highly commercial areas that Google is simply satisfying popular demand. Visitors may like that many ads... we don't know for sure.

Note that for query [search engines], Bing is ranking #1 in Google search. Bing's beautifully photographed home pages are probably a big plus. There's a point where there are other factors beyond the percentage of text. Note that there's also lots of inbound linking to the Bing home that I'm sure compensates for the relative lack of text... and the photos are likely a consistent draw. I suspect that, competitively, though, if you were also trying for some medium tail rankings on that page, that at least two hundred words of text at the bottom might help.

On text pages, btw, I tend more toward the range of 800 to 1800 words... so I'm making concessions for the clients wanting to use big photos to impress. I feel that series of questions in the OP have no one answer. Lack of deception... intent... is probably extremely important. Most above the fold penalties were given to pages that tried to trip us up, to pretend they were giving answers when they really wanted to shunt us off to ads.
9:46 pm on Feb 5, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Thanks RC....

Appreciate the time you put into those last two posts.