Exclusive: Google Page Layout Update: The Top Losers

    January 29, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Update: With the Searchmetrics list, we encouraged you to take it with a grain of salt, but Matt Cutts said the following about it in a Tweet, implying that it’s fairly flawed:

@CCrum237 thanks, I appreciate it. P.S. Liked the picture on http://t.co/bNW4dxAz but think that list is definitely… noisy. 4 hours ago via web · powered by @socialditto

Original Article: Back in November, Google revealed that it was testing algorithm changes that would examine what appears “above the fold” on web pages. It raised a number of questions about the kinds of hoops webmasters would have to jump through.

Last week, the changes were officially announced as the “Page Layout” update, which looks at the layout of a page and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result.

Was your site impacted by the Page Layout or “above the fold” update? Let us know in the comments.

Upon announcing the update, Google “Distinguished Engineer” Matt Cutts wrote:

Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. 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.

We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. 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. This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

Following the announcement of the Page Layout update, Matt Cutts hosted a Google+ Hangout where he clarified it a bit. As my colleague Chris Richardson recently reported:

“It’s not a numbers game. Google hasn’t written their algorithm to punish sites with, say, 20 ads above the fold, as opposed to the site owner who only has 19 showing. No, from the Cutts/Google perspective, the algorithm alteration inspects pages to see how the space, especially above the fold, is being used.

In fact, Google isn’t concerned about the number of ads at all. Instead, they just don’t want these ads — however many are appearing above the fold — taking up too much space.

In the hangout, Cutts demonstrated with two yellow stickies on the top of a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, indicating that even if this space was just one big ad it is too much and could be impacted by the algorithm change.

Cutts said, following the hangout, “I’ll try to review it to make sure I didn’t say anything too wrong. If things look good, we might be able to post the recording.” So, you may get to watch that in the near future.

The new update goes after a specific element of what many took to be an issue related to the Panda update (which, by the way a data refresh on that was confirmed this week).

One of Google’s “questions that one could use to assess the ‘quality of a page or an article,” for example, was: “Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?”

So, excessive or big ads at the top, may still get you in search visibility hot water. And speaking of that, SearchMetrics, which within the industry is well-known for providing data on losers and winners (in terms of search visibility) from the Panda update and other Google updates, has provided us with a top losers list from the page layout algorithm change. Here’s that list:

Page Layout Losers

Some interesting names on that list, no? Facebook. Twitter. Yahoo. Amazon. MySpace. LinkedIn. YouTube. Aol. Sprinkle in the porn sites on the list, and it’s quite an interesting mix. I don’t associate sites like Twitter or Facebook with having too much non-content above the fold, so it’s very interesting that such sites would appear on the list.

Granted, this is just the analysis of one firm, so take it with a grain of salt. For that matter, Google makes algorithm tweaks every day, so it’s also possible sites were impacted by other changes.

Twitter and Facebook are particularly interesting entries, considering Google’s “Search Plus Your World” which gives greater prominence to Google+ content. Twitter, of course, was complaining about Twitter results not ranking better.

Notice that EzineArticlces – a past victim of Panda, which still to this day has quite a few ads above the fold, isn’t on the list. Here’s a look at the top of one of their article pages.

EzineArticles ads

There are 11 ads (Google ads, actually) that are visible just on this part of the page. But the article isn’t too hard to find, so I guess it’s OK.

“If you take a look at the loser list, then you see some losers who used lots of Adsense. Interesting is that ezinearticles.com didn’t lose this time,” a SearchMetrics spokesperson tells WebProNews.

Are you surprised by any of the sites on the losers list? Has your site been impacted? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://www.wedgeim.com web design

    Lets face it Porn and facebook are kinda the same, both addictive and both can make you go blind!

    • http://fullfreesoftware.net Luka

      Facebook should be closed as soon as possible

  • http://www.replica-sunglasses.co.uk/mens-sunglasses/ Lisa

    The concept of adds placing on top is not new and its again back to the basics. Its like user experience comes into existence.

    • http://www.seotop.in.ua/ SeoTop

      Lisa, my few sites were affected too. By the ways there weren’t any adds at all!

  • Jim

    My website was positively effected from the algorithm change, just so everybody knows – Google’s change is not all bad. I am now grateful that I am earning what I feel I deserve for all the hard work that I put into my site.

    • John

      Well done…. that is until the next Google update where google says well if you have 3 or more ads above the fold you will get penalised…
      The trouble is that big boys like FB, TW and other big sites have enough money to redesign their website to accommodate the “new” algo requirements.
      To the normal people who have to make money out of the ads the hard way it is not that simple!
      They will probably come up with an idea to put pretty much nothing in the top part of the page and the important stuff below the fold and of course along with the ads!

      • Gary

        Em I don’t think Facebook or Twitter are concerned with Algo changes that Google makes, they can fight their corner. FB and Twitter take no notice of Google

  • Steve

    The hypocrisy never ends with Google. My site was hit, and most likely it was for following their advice about putting more ads on my site using their heat map. Thanks for the warning.

    After 7 years this new penalty has given me the kick in the rear I needed. I spent the last 3 days removing all the Google ads from my site. I will find other ways to generate the $1000 or so dollars a month. I do not have time to get out the measuring tape and look at 10,000 pages to guess on what is acceptable for the Google bots.

    Since I already terminated AdWords a year ago due to the never ending click fraud, I really have little use for Google anymore.

    • Peter

      Let me know when you find the alternative that will make you 1000 a month even after google penalizes you in search results for daring to venture off its plantation…

  • http://www.valutakurserne.dk Jimmy

    My website was effected by the update in November, it went from about 3000 hits a day to about 1300 hits a day.

    But I don’t think that my ads are in the top, agreed one of them are in the top part of the website.
    But after reading this post, I just might move the ad down under the converter.
    Or should I just leave it.?

  • http://gadzetgallery.com him

    Hi, I read your post…..could you please look into my website http://gadzetgallery.com and let me know if my page layout is OK acc. to google standard??

  • http://www.gbepackaging.com Tony

    Yes again our traffic has dropped to almost nothing in fact if not for our steady repeat customers that we have had for years we would be out of business. Our site is selling packaging supplies for 40-60% less than the other 150,000,00 packaging distributors on the web but Google does not see that as important in this economy.

    Every customer we have loves our low pricing so I wonder why is Google trying to put us out of business. They may not be aiming directly at us but our traffic has dropped about 85%

    All we can do is sit on our hands and wonder why they are the self proclaimed web police. They created ADWORDS and now to control them we are toast. We have no ADWORDS and every customer that finds our site just raves about how they wish they had found us years ago but Google has another idea. Also the Google +1 button I placed has no clicks at all. Thousands of orders each month but our customers have no time to click buttons they just want to order and get back to their customers and jobs.

    Some of us use the web for business and to save money. What an out of date concept.

    We can save you money even if Google thinks you should be reading lots of content. We all have 20 jobs to do today exept at Google.

  • http://dailyprayer.us Mason Barge

    I think this change is great. I always try to build webpages that I would like to visit, and if you follow this rule, you won’t have a huge mass of advertising at the top of the page, anyway.

    I think all the people complaining about losing traffic are going to find that fixing the problem lowers their bounce rate.

    As a user, when I click a Google search result and hit a page full of advertising, I usually click back anyway. So the rule really tends to remove a nuisance.

  • http://www.calculatorsoup.com Edward Furey

    I’m losing about 30% of Google search traffic to a calculator website since the Page Layout update. Based on a week’s worth of data and historical trends, I am convinced the site was penalized. I assume it was for ads unless I am missing something else. During a season when visits should be up by more than 10%, traffic from Google dropped by more than 20% starting Thursday January 20th.

    I tend to think the calculators are similar in value to an artist or video site where greater than 90% of the page value is in a small space and you don’t really need multiple pages of text to get your point across.

    The layout of pages in question is intended to keep 95% of the value of each page — the calculator forms — accessible, with minimum scrolling. Using Google Browser Size I’d say it does this for greater than 90% or 95% of users depending on the page. The main value is easy to find. For an example see this calculator page. In my opinion, any textual content on calculator pages only holds 5% to 10% of the page value; people come for the calculators. Users might read content at first but they keep coming back for the calculators.

    Obviously I disagree with how the updates have assessed my websites although, I can agree with the core logic. Therefore, I’ll be reworking page layouts over the coming weeks. Of course I can rearrange ad space and top-fill with more content. My real hope is that regaining traffic doesn’t require excessive text above the fold, and/or the calculators, obscuring the real value.

  • http://www.dailynewsbreakingnow.com Thomas Anthony

    Hello and thank you for the article. Hhmmm… If judges need to “recuse” themselves from judgement they have an interest in, then…. . Sometimes you just have to wonder. I would have to wonder WHICH (advertising company’s) ADS cause a problem above the fold. Just my cynicism, sorry.

    Thomas Anthony

  • http://www.localsearchspecialist.co.uk Local Seo

    3 of my clients sites were positively impacted by this latest change, however its a shame most of Googles first “search results” are adverts.

  • http://hirudov.com Ventsislav Tsvetkov

    For me no changes at all. Adverts are my smallest source of income anyway, so I am ready to remove all ads if they consider their number for the next updates.

  • http://www.electric-reviews.org Mark Demers

    It`s kind of hard to think that YouTube would be on the list because Google owns it and it`s a very popular site that people just punch up directly instead of searching for a certain video first – (they go to you tube and then look for videos) at least that`s what I thought.
    Anyhow my website was impacted (I believe it was for having adds above the fold)and I finally found the probable problem and fixed it. It`s been a couple of days now and my search position has returned now.

    Nice post and have a great day.

  • http://claz.org classifieds

    The whole idea looks good. But as an idea. In general, quite often you get tired of the fact that advertising on some sites, more than content. The question is how will be implemented. It may be that the kick will be those sites that are just advertising, not looking at the fact that there is great content.

  • http://www.hedgehogdigital.co.uk/ SEO Bedford

    99% of my clients don’t use ads so nothing to worry about there, but I’ll have to go through some of them and revise their content above the fold.

  • Keep on Wrecking the Internet

    And our Schizophrenic Search Engine spews out yet another round of algorithm changes designed to make webmasters go crazy trying to follow what Google wants.

    As I read my AdSense E-mail telling me to add in another Ad Unit surrounding my content.

    When Goggle’s right and left hands start coordinating I’ll listen to them. Right now I think they just need to get back on their meds!

  • Sahith

    Trust me, One day Google comes up with a Panda update like “Punish all sites with links in the Comment section”

    LOL, imagine where will you be then?

    Google is messing up with its core business these days, soon they realize it.

    P.S I was not effected by any one of the panda update though, i just wanna say “ITS NOT A GOOD SIGN”

    Internet is just becoming “No Freedom, and its not funny anymore, not anymore”

  • http://watchandwatchesales.com/ fine watches for sale

    my site was really impacted by this new Page Layout by Google

  • Tim

    “We would never penalize competitors, we always play fair and ethically.”

    Matt, who are you trying to chide here? Google has gone after competitors tooth and nail and we all know it. Google’s “Do no Evil” mantra is and always has been a farce.

    The Panda updates and these types of algorithm changes have done nothing to make search better…in fact it’s quite worse. Google continually penalizes small sites and people who do good work and reward the spammers and scammers.

    Is Google going to penalize their own site for the ad layout changes? I didn’t think so.

    Google search continues to decline and eventually I hope it becomes the companies death knell. Google doesn’t care about users or web publishers…it only cares about the bottom line.

    By the way Matt…Google has gotten rich off the backs of small content publishers who you continually ignore and lets be honest here…reputable companies have a dialogue with it’s customers and users and yet the largest entity on the internet “Google” goes out of it’s way to make sure they can’t be contacted.

  • Jose Rizal

    This comment doesnt sound like its from Matt Cutts

  • http://www.webpronews.com/ Chris Crum

    It’s been deleted. Beware of Fake Matt Cutts comments. We’ve already spotted (and gotten rid of some here at WebProNews, but it’s also happening at other sites. Matt’s been tweeting about it.

  • Matt Cutts

    thanks Chris, I appreciate it.

    P.S. Like the picture but think that list is definitely… noisy. We would never penalize competitors, we always play fair and ethically.