Google Page Layout Algorithm Update (Ads Above the Fold)

The Page Layout Algorithm Update (Ads Above the Fold) is a change to Google’s ranking algorithm that was rolled out worldwide on June 19, 2012.

This algorithm change only affected 1% of all worldwide search requests and was implemented to further enhance the quality of search results.

Within this update, Google now paid attention to the balance between content and advertisements in the directly visible area (above the fold) of a website. The website could be punished if the balance turns out to favour the ads.

(“Above the Fold” is a term commonly used in the printing-industry and describes the area you can see on the screen, without having to scroll down.)

This update focuses more strongly on the user experience on a website and thus holds more weight as a ranking factor.

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.
– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

How does the Page Layout Algorithm Update affect websites?

If a website experienced a drastic loss of Visibility in the search results, in the weeks following the algorithm change, it may have been punished. Another indicator could be if the website also has multiple recurring ad-blocks on every page.

Drastic Visibility loss probably due to a Page Layout Algorithm penalty. Shown here with the help of an event pin in the SISTRIX Toolbox

Should you quit showing advertisements entirely?

No. These days, almost every website has advertisements on their pages. Mostly they are shown prominently on the page in order to create an adequate income. This is and will stay completely legitimate.

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.
– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

Which balance of content and ads is harmful?

Google does not offer up exact numbers. That is why it is important for website operators to make their actual content visible and identifiable besides the ads. And, most importantly, do this “above the fold”.

Here we have an example of a bad balance between content and ads, where it is more difficult to identify the real content of the page because of the position of advertisement-blocks:

Red: Ad-Block, Green: Content. The Twitter feed in the right sidebar is not part of the “actual content“ of the page
Red: Ad-Block, Green: Content.
The Twitter feed in the right sidebar is not part of the “actual content“ of the page
If you use Google AdSense, it is recommended not to go beyond the maximum allowed number of 3 ad blocks per page.

What can I do after my page has been punished by the Page Layout Algorithm?

If you are sure that the page received a penalty due to the Page Layout Update, you should improve the layout of the page accordingly.

Google explicitly states that a layout change is noticed by their crawler and will be considered – provided that enough pages show this change.

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes.
– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

– Matt Cutts, Distinguished Engineer

This means that you should change the layout of the entire website and not just that of the landing page. Google also states that the effect of such a layout change may take a few weeks to become noticeable.

How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.

– Matt Cutts, Google Engineer

Additional information about the page layout algorithm