Google Page Layout Algorithm Update Should Be Easier To Recover From

    October 15, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Remember the days when you could design your site any way you wanted to, and not have to worry about whether or not it would affect the chances of people actually finding your content in the first place? Those days are over. Design matters. More specifically, if you don’t have a substantial amount of content “above the fold” there’s a chance this will keep you from ranking in search results compared to your competitors who went out with a more Google-approved layout.

On Tuesday, Google’s Matt Cutts announced that Google has launched an update to its Page Layout algorithm. The algorithm was initially announced back in January, and essentially aims to surface relevant pages that have a substantial amount of content “above the fold”.

Has this algorithm update affected you at all since it was originally launched in January? Did this most recent launch have an impact? Let us know in the comments.

Basically, Google doesn’t want to point users towards content that they have to scroll down to find. They want you to get to what you’re looking for as quickly as possible. If you and a competitor both have equally relevant content, but your competitor has it closer to the top of the page, and the user has to scroll down on yours to find it, chances are Google will give the edge to your competitor. That is if the Page Layout algorithm is doing its job. Of course, there are still over 200 signals that Google is taking into account, so it’s entirely possible that you’re doing enough other things better than your competitor that your page could still rank higher. But we don’t know how much weight this particular signal gets in the algorithm.

Google talked about the general philosophy behind the page layout algorithm back in November of last year. “If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it,” Cutts is quoted as saying at Pubcon at the time. “Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?”

Then in January, the actual update announcement came.

“As we’ve mentioned previously, we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience,” 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,” he continued. “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.”

Of course Google does not specify any numbers or limits, and ads can vary greatly in design. Some designs can pull off a substantial number of ads above the fold while not managing to distract too much from the content. This is subjective, and one has to wonder if Google’s algorithm can make the right call on something like design, which is really about perspective from the human eye.

Initially, according to Cutts, the algorithm update from January affected 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,” he said at the time. “If you believe that your website has been affected by the page layout algorithm change, consider how your web pages use the area above-the-fold and whether the content on the page is obscured or otherwise hard for users to discern quickly.”

The most recent update to the page layout algorithm affected about 0.7% of English queries.

An update like this was kind of hinted at, back in the early days of Panda. If you’ll recall that famous list of questions Google thinks you should ask yourself when assessing quality, one fo the bullet points was, “Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?”

That didn’t say “above the fold,” but it’s along these lines.

If you were hit by this update, it should be easier to recover from than some other Google updates (like Penguin, for example). That is, in theory. This particular algorithm takes into account your pages’ layout every time it crawls the page, so you don’t have to wait six months for Google to launch another refresh, for Google to see any changes you’ve made.

Cutts explains in the original January post, “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. 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.”

Even if it takes weeks, that’s still a great deal shorter than the length of time webmasters and SEOs have had to wait for the latest Penguin refresh.

If you want to see how viewers can view your page layout on different browser sizes, Google has a tool for that at browsersize.googlelabs.com. Just enter the URL, and you can see what percentage of users will see different portions of your page. While it is still available, the tool at this URL is actually going away, because Google has simply added it to Google Analytics.

To use it from Google Analytics, navigate to the Content section, and click In-Page Analytics. From there, click “Browser Size”. This will shade portions of the page that are “below the fold”. You can also click anywhere on the screen to see what percentage of visitors can see it, or you can control the threshold percentage by using the slider.

Is Google doing a good job of delivering results in which there is substantial content above the fold? Let us know what you think.

  • http://www.myredpacket.co.uk My Linh Walters

    This is very interesting thank you! I’m slightly confused with this though…how does the new algorithm apply with ecommerce sites selling products, where users of the site are looking for products, and hence product listing should be right at the top of the page so users are not required to scroll down to find. I would think having rich written content at the top would not benefit user experience (which since the previous panda and penguin updates google has said to create a site for users, not search engines). Therefore, could you advise how the recent panda algorithm should be applied to such ecommerce sites (I run a website selling products). Many thanks!

    • Voltara

      The Fact is My Linh, that sites like yours are the targets of the Google updates. Google wants you to pay them for traffic, not get it for free. They want you to pay for clicks rather than pay for SEO. As you say, their claimed ‘quality” updates do not improve the user experience on ecommerce sites. These days, if you are trying to buy something, the most relevant result in Google SERPs is now usually one of the paid links. When Google was criticized recently for lower quality results the fraud Cutts suggested that the paid links may be a better option.

      Can you think of a better way of increasing people’s click rate on the paid links than making the organic results garbage?

      We own, develop and manage ecommerce sites across a wide range of industries. The trend in every industry sector is the same. In every case the current list of ranking sites is greatly inferior to what was there 2 years ago. The pages ranking are a mixture of a couple of lazy industry heavyweights, a few old forgotten pages which have not had SEO attention for the last 5 years, low grade sites made to rank on the keyword and c grade businesses which have happened to fluke some rank.

      Then next week, they reshuffle the deck a bit and cycle the whole industry ’round.
      That way the only certainty you have in your marketing is the glorious PPC campaign you are paying for.

  • http://webbranding.ir webbranding

    This algorithm how does work with sites rtl (right to left) like persian?

    please answer me!

    thank you so much…

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    I don’t understand the usefulness of this tool “browsersize.googlelab”. Is Google suggesting that we shrink the website to be the size of iphones or what? What is Google saying? Can someone explain the relevance of this tool?

  • http://www.freelance-web-design.net/reputationmanagement.html Reuptation Management

    I think that the page layout is not going to be as large of a factor as everyone thinks that it is going to be. You have to keep in mind that there are so many other factors involved in getting your website ranked. For example how long people stay on a website and how many pages they view during their stay is an example. If visitors get bored and think they have seen everything that your website has to offer and clicks off of it right away, that is going to hurt you. Having your website designed around the person who is your target market is the best SEO advice anyone can give. I think that google tries to implement algorithms that reflect results that the user wants which is why there are 200 different factors. The moral of the story is design your site for the user and don’t let google updates scare you!

  • Guy

    i not have any words, only google become totally insane. Every update limit us what we can do with own website more and more.
    But google in their serp displaying LOT ads above fold. Even youtube videos we placing into our sites have now lot of google ads inside (we give them free money).

    We need to find way to stop this insanity!!!!

  • http://www.novaimagem.co.pt Antonio

    And when is Google tell us when we are allowed to go to the bathroom to pee? It is insane the way they are controling us!

  • http://Wredlich.com Warren Redlich

    Why is everyone complaining so much? If you don’t like it then build your own search engine.

    As a user I see why Google is doing this. As a publisher I already try to make my site user friendly. If you don’t care about user experience then Google should downgrade your site.

    • http://www.greyolltwit.com/ Grey Olltwit

      Build my own search engine, now why didn’t I think of that. Now where can I get my hands on as much capital backing as Microsoft and still come in a very poor second!

  • http://nuweb.ie Polfeck

    Intersting… Next change from Google. Adwords only customers will be ranked!!!

  • http://mariana-sangso.blogspot.com/ Mariana

    nothing changed

  • Lisa

    Things are getting a bit silly lately… wonder what would happen if google totally went beserk and dropped 90% of top ranking sites and banned them forever, just for, oh I don’t know, having a picture of a peanut above the fold or something?

    remove all peanut pictures immediately!!!!

  • http://www.wordpressamerica.com dave billings

    It’s 4th quarter folks. Recovery relief for the small business owner won’t come until next year. Google hit tons of websites. Killed off top exposure sites with heavy seo and bumped tons of others back.

    Hard pressed to beleive only “0.7%” were affected. Have to think logically about the time of this years Scroogle. You know Google is favoring large retailers for this holiday season. Do a search and results show PR5+ overstocked walmart targeted large conglomerate websites. This is a FACT on search results that put Bing favored 2-1 over Google.

    Best advise: Boycott Google Adwords & Adwords Express. Set your default browser to Bing and forget Google even existed until next year.

    Step 2 Dump all non related link partners and paid links. So when Google decides to turn the swich back on they will see a reduction in links. Do NOT make major changes to try and get your site back on Google right now. It won’t work! Have tried it first hand. A matter a fact it will hurt you. Especally if you re-submit your fornt page index and sitemaps consistantly. If your search results are doing well in Bing LEAVE YOUR SITE ALONE… Google forums will only lead you down the wrong path. Everyone has something not right with their website to a professional seo. Keyword stocking suffers and spam.
    The key is what works regardless what the critics and Google says.

    Think I am blowing smoke?
    Goto: http://www.bingiton.com

    Sad to see Google playing a fool in their folley by hurting small business in this country for their own personal gain. It’s un-american and dishonest.

  • http://www.zinfo-web.com david

    Nothing changed

  • David Rickman

    Google does not own the Internet. It is time we show them by walking away with our Adsense and Adwords

    I signed up with Bing/Yahoo yesterday and am moving my Adwords campaigns away from Google one per day as I get a better feeling on how to implement them. Bing/Yahoo even have an import tool for your old campaigns.

    I look at it like this; If I don’t have enough money to buy all the clicks I want, it does not make any difference where the clicks come from. Also for my niches, there seems to be less competition with Bing/Yahoo.

    With my Adsense sites, moving them to Bing/Yahoo seems pretty easy and a “no-brainer”.

    As for not being found in Google search, every time they knock one of my sites down I just make another one that fits their new rules and add it to the clutter Google claims to hate. It seems I can rank better with lower quality sites that meet the flavor of the week algorithm updates than with a more robust offerings anyhow.

    As long as the customer finds me that it all that matters. It has seemed like I was working for Google lately instead of putting up smaller, less content, “to the point” sites that would better serve my customers.

    The dumb-heads at Google think that every website has to be some huge authority site that is 10 years old with all the right links from all the right places (and the right anchor text). Often the end user is looking for some information, an address and phone number and some email contact information. That is all – they do not want or will not read dozens or hundreds of pages of “stuff”.

    For niches like mine, if the customer did not find what they were looking for on one or two pages or had to spend minutes looking for what they wanted, that is a failure.

    Regarding this latest update, the Adsense team was advising me to move more ads up above the fold on one of my sites that disappeared this week. At the same time Cutts was warning us that was bad. This is the genius of Google.

    I have believed from the beginning that all these algo changes were about forcing us to buy Adwords (money) and not about content, quality or links. For all of us little guys that have decent web sites and have spent thousands of dollars on SEO to get them found, Google knows we depend on the business we get off the web and have forced many of us to spend more on Adwords as our sites disappeared from the first page to be replaced by garbage.

    For now I do not want to play with the bully on the Internet. I might be the tiniest of fly specks on the web, but I am taking my toys and going to play somewhere else. Maybe it is time for some of you out there to “stand up” and do the same.

    David Rickman

  • Brenden

    I ranked number 1,4,&6 for my main target new update came out I vanished from google. Now I’m back page 3 behind some YouTube channel that takes up 3 pages of. Links

  • http://www.dirtworks.net John Meshna

    Google has no business getting involved in people’s design choices like this. Who the hell are they to make such judgements? If a web site pisses people off and falls into disfavor it will decline on it’s own without intervention and a web site that people like will prosper. It’s not google’s business to determine who wins and who loses.
    If I had the resources I would spend the rest of my days suing Google for their anti-capitalist intervention. If people think government intervention is their problem, just take a look at this shit that Google is into. When a private corporation starts regulating your life and business it’s even worse because you have no recourse. Our regulators in Washington haven’t got a clue what the web is all about and private enterprise and multinational corporations are the new gods who walk the earth, beyond reproach and worshipped by the 1% and protected by their blind followers.

    • Tai Kung

      Who the hell are they?? Google is the master of the internet universe, thats who they are. And you little minnow, what can you do to oppose them. Just a single sneeze and you’ll be blown into oblivion…that’s who they are!!

  • http://bit.ly/yvHLnS Gin

    I have 2 sites and have kept the ads off to the side and bottom or small and somewhat inconspicuous. Basically, just following the recommendations that are set out in the Adsense blog. I did notice how one site, very cheesy looking, hard on the eyes, got first results in comparison to my ‘lots of white space’. concise and factual content got buried. The other site had content, lots, front and center but … anyways, it is a interesting experience and not sure what that message sends.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    What’s Google going to do about content “stuffers”? [i.e.] The Gov. or a large self-interest group when they oppose certain information (truth) and want to bury that information will “create” 30, 50, 100 propaganda sites with skewed content and most always take up all the top rank pages (they know that most people will give-up searching after a few results pages and go away believing the propaganda).
    Seems to me that Google has been caught complicit with these groups to bury “unwanted” content.
    How do the users guard against the Google (and the Bing, the Yahoo, all those search engines that can be bought or coerced)?

  • http://Houses.com.ng Darlington

    Google is just monopolizing the internet, making it difficult for most online business to succeed. They keep making changes to their algorithm, determine how every website should look like… Honestly, Google is just making me get of the internet

  • John

    All hail the Google internet Nazis.

  • zee

    I am following the things which you described in this article. Let’s discuss some points.

    If i get keyword base domain so why my competitor ranking on the same keyword base name.

    If my site is not keyword base and i am doing link building with informative articles or my offical site blog so why i am out of index but my competitor still ranking and they are doing same.

    If i am spamming so other peoples also doing this so why they are ranking and me not.

    If i follow the google by all terms so why my site taking long time or many years to get in top rank.

    Question is we are improving our sites from many years but still google playing. Google have to Elaborate the things so we’ll follow them, why they are ditching after every month.

    In the end i am following all previous thing so google dose change and predict new things algorithm like panda and pengu and say previous things are wrong and we improve algorithm and updating them in that way. It;s shit.

    If someone said don’t use google and remove your sites from google so i have to say that People made Google.

  • http://www.whathalogenoven.co.uk phil

    Why doesnt Google let us know in advance of these algorithms so that we can make the changes before we get hit and not have to try and recover in the first place

  • http://googlecanlickmyballs.com Brill

    we opened the doors to them by letting their spider agents search our web sites. it is time to close the doors. completely shut them down from indexing sites and tracking your business and personal lives. There are replacements for all of these. Take the internet back before it is too late.

    1. Remove google analytics, conversion tracking, delete account!
    – they know what you make and when you make it. time to take this away from them. they are not trust worthy!

    2. Do you use Google Drive?
    – Remove all docs and shut it down. Don’t think they have access to review your information? Think again.

    3. Remove adsense pixels
    – The amount I get paid to run these ads isn’t worth giving them javascript on my web site. Do you really know what they are tracking? Even if you remove analytics they can still track page impressions and clicks. They are pimpin you out.

    4. Recaptcha – almost forgot about this one huh?
    – More code on your site that feeds this data hog. I always thought it was interesting they bought this company. The more I think about it makes me think they can see data passed through contact forms… ect ect.

    5. Google Maps – They can track pages here too!
    – There are replacements out there. More javacript code on your site to track visitors if your not using Google Analytics.

    6. Google + Plus
    – Just realized I’m using Addthis.com and they include the google + plus code in there. It can easily be removed.

    7. Wow… http://ajax.googleapis.com
    – Your ajax, jquery and other code is hosted on google… convient isn’t it? Don’t think that they can’t track were the requests are coming from… think again!

    They can get to your information in a lot of ways. Don’t give them information that they are using against you, your business, and your future.

  • http://Mabuzi.com Kevin

    No changes for me.

  • http://www.world-websites.com World Websites

    I am curious about how these algorithms coming out almost every week can actually affect SERP. Websites use hundreds types of page layouts these days and usually don’t think about them affecting SERP. I would worry more about the dreadful Pandas and Penguins.

  • http://www.myproperty.ph Reag of MyProperty.ph

    Interesting. I wonder if this could affect classified/buy and sell websites here in PH where SERP remains to be dominated by these massive sites, with dozens of sponsored ads above the fold. They survived both panda and penguin and for the past 5 years, I’ve seen them rank without SEO – just massive adwords campaigns (more or less 500K/month). Somehow they became immune to any Google update.

  • http://mountainskiproperties.ru kevin

    Google discriminates against language on sites that are not all English , and if you are not using adsence adverts!!
    we went from a 4milion ranking to 23million after the changes in April and its almost destroyed the business !!

  • http://www.retrieverwebsolutions.co.uk Stuart

    If you don’t like what Google is doing, go to Bing/Yahoo or a multitude of other search engines….. then see how much traffic you get.

    Its like driving a car, if your tyres are bald, you drive too fast or your car has failed its road worthy test, then you’ll be penalised!

  • http://www.cobwebseo.com/ Ajay Jhunjhunwala

    I fully support this algorithm update. Many websites were displaying ads prior to the main content which users wanted to see. Those ads sometimes killed patience of visitors. General people or visitors often experience such advertisement. Few advertisements obstruct users from reaching the actual content. Thanks to Google for taking this issue seriously.

  • Douglas

    I also tell everybody we know to start using Bing. Google’s changes are favoring the people who already have the money to spend on adwords, and punishing those who try to get traffic through SEO.

    They are forcing all of these small businesses to shell out money in order to stay in business.

    Why did we all have to put all of our eggs into Google’s basket? This sucks.

  • http://www.marketsharewebdesign.com Kathy

    Is it coming? Google sites only? They must all look them same, act the same, and be hosted on Google and built with Google software. Reminds me of a couple of cities in my area that are springing up that building codes require them to be built a certain height, with a certain palette of colors. The whole neighborhood looks the same.

    Google is killing small businesses. It’s that plain and simple. Enough is enough.

  • http://cheapboysclothes.co.uk FB

    Yes – nothing more annoying than doing a search and finding a bunch of paid ads at the top of the page…hahahaha. Google – you hypocrites!!

  • http://www.snaketwist.com Shanelle

    I’m excited about these changes! I’m now number 1 in several categories, that I felt I should have been a long time ago. I wish Google did rankings by bounce rates and they would see if people are finding the right site in the top ten rankings on a page per keyword.

    • IMBack?

      Enjoy it while it lasts

  • Alan

    OK for Google, but wrong for everyone else.

    Adds then those stupid Google Places based on location, which make absolutely no sense for large cities, many business types, and city wide searches.

  • http://www.forexreview.ca Mike Reid

    I’m sick of Google acting like they’re in charge of the Internet. Post Penguin Cutts said that Google “wanted webmasters to be free to concentrate on building quality content” – but in reality every week there’s some new requirement from Google as to what THEY want your site to look like. I dream of the day when some new search engine comes along and crushes Google. Ironically, in many niches the Google search results are the worst they’ve ever been. Google as a company is now evil and should be treated accordingly.

    • IMBack?

      You said it.

    • http://www.lotto-game.com Winner

      Hi! Actually there is a new browser on the market and perhaps will grow to get some market share. It is called duckduckgo.com. Provides a clean interface together with a no-tracking privacy policy and offers keyboard shortcuts to navigate and zero-click information sources displayed. My first impression is so great. Clean search results page, no ads and no paid ads at the top. You should give it a try! I used already Bing but, will start using both! Have a nice day!

  • dee

    I hate the new google search I can’t find nothing I used too. I didn’t bookmark the sites either and I hate it. POed

  • dee

    Cool, I love duckduckgo. thank you, I will support that site. Whew, just with one search I found some of what I lost.

  • http://seodium.blogspot.in Amit

    I don’t know what’s Google up to??? They are no. 1 that doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to change the rules of the game. If a user searches something on Google then he/she will definitely dig deep in to search results to collect utmost and most appropriate site or webpage. Look at Yahoo and Bing, they are least bothered about their search results pages. One day will come when Google will made it mandatory for all the website owners and publishers to attach a blogspot account with their websites. Google is really crossing the limits now. It sucks…

  • http://blogging4backlinks.com Anirudh

    Another update? Wow..

  • http://www.theinternetman.biz bill lilling

    Google’s resolution chart only makes sense if you’re catering to the Walmart crowd or bottom feeders. If you have a high ticket item, or are targeting the academic or Fortune 500 crowd for instance… they all have wide screen monitors, and are using them at high resolution. It’s a better visual experience for them to have a wider, deeper page. So what this all means is Google is penalizing many sites for the wrong reason.

  • http://www.sjfpc.com Steven J Fromm

    To me this is much ado about nothing. Once again it is all about content and presenting it to readers in an appealing and interesting way. Advertisements are not part of my approach as providing useful and interesting tax and estate information. So this new announcement will not change anything in my approach to providing new and informative content. Having said that it is always scary when Google comes out with new pronouncements.

  • http://www.traintravelconsulting.com Theodore Blishak

    We have lost our position in most of our searches by key words thanks to Google’s changes.