Exclusive: Google Page Layout Update: The Top Losers

    January 29, 2012
    Chris Crum

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.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.