How Is Google’s Algorithm Update Determining “Ads Above The Fold”?

By: John Vinson - January 20, 2012

Less ads intruding on quality content, it’s a simple concept – right? When the majority of us visits a website, we’re visiting to get something we want. When an obstacle is in our way from the main goal, we tend to get upset. Obviously, Google doesn’t want to feature the sites that make their users upset. Sounds like a simple enough formula.

We’ve seen Google’s answer to the problem of clogging ads above the fold; by way of an algorithm update. The two words that site owners and SEO experts dread like the Ghost of Christmas Future.

As with many algorithm updates, the problem rests with the general and arbitrary information shared to everyone regarding it. Looking at the original blog post regarding the update, I could paraphrase it as such: “We’re rolling out an algorithm update which will penalize websites with too many ads above the fold, it should affect 1% of searches globally

If you’re a user then you’re probably clapping and cheering Google for this update. If you’re an SEO expert, or an owner who’s sole income comes from a website or group of websites then depending on how neurotic you are, you’re either slightly concerned or freaking out.

The reason for the concern is so much of a site’s success is dependent on key points of data, and many times specific numbers, ratios, and trends involving this data. When generalities are used, it’s hard to gauge what is needed in order to be successful.

Which is why so many owners and experts become concerned when they encounter an update such as this one. Questions like this instinctively arise:

– How many ads are too many? Is there a specific number?

– If it isn’t based on the number of ads, is it based on the amount of space they take up? Is one huge ad as penalized as a site with a lot of smaller ads?

– Is there a specific resolution Google uses to determine where the fold actually is? If so, what is the resolution?

– Is Google only targeting Adwords, or is there a collective database of ad networks they’re targeting? Is there a shared element in various ad codes where they’re able to determine what is or isn’t an ad?

Depending on your level of concern, these questions feature an assortment of capital letters and other colorful words. Let’s do a quick visual exercise to dig deeper into this update.

First, where do intersticial ads and pop-ups come into play regarding this update? Really, they’re the Men-in-Black of ads when talking about layout, as they work outside the system. However, they can be just as intrusive if not more so than banners and other page ads.

Which would be considered worse in Google’s update?

This, IGN’s front page which has a single ad that expands to take up nearly half the page (based on where the fold is on my screen) …

IGN front page

Or, Rottentomatoe’s front page which has a banner, video ad, and a background ad? In terms of “being above the fold”, the content/ad ratio isn’t technically as bad.

Rottentomatoes front page

You then have Forbe’s strategy which loads a timed intersticial, an ad that gets its very own page. How is Google viewing this in their new update?

Forbes ad

The matter of intersticial and pop-ups brings a whole new element into the mix. Is Google penalizing sites on ad/content ratio averages, or are they targeting specific pages? Certainly, if they’re only targeting specific pages when they’re penalizing then having interstitials and pop-ups seems like it would be more beneficial to a site than relying on trying to gauge how many ads above the fold is too many.

In conclusion, after all the questioning and worrying, the mantra of Google still rings true – try to create the greatest user experience possible. There is definitely a common sense element at play, but we still don’t know where the line is and if a site is even crossing it.

John Vinson

About the Author

John VinsonJohn Vinson has been a part of the WebProNews and iEntry Network since 2007. Follow WebProNews on Facebook and Twitter. Google:

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  • Christian

    What I love is that the Adsense team will tell you to place ads in key locations for maximum exposure, ie, above the fold near content. Then Google comes out with this saying “we don’t want too many ads above the fold ‘ruining’ the user experience”. Now if that’s not conflicting information I don’t know what is. Adding to the growing hyprocracy of Google, what do you see above the fold on any Google search, paid ads directly above search results and on the right ABOVE THE FOLD. At least practice what you preach Google. You’re getting more than annoying.

  • Lisa

    Man u are not getting wat google says. Of course what google does is right coz they are search engines and they can place ads as its there own search engine and they have a right to. However when a user does they will have some restriction which needs to be understood and its actually for the benefit of users who are visiting sites and not for ads.

    • sr

      Lisa it sounds like you are the one who doesn’t understand. Google tells us that we should look out for user experience, and to not have too many ads on our site because it is bad for the user.

      However, they themselves completely disregard what they are saying, by placing ads before their own “content” which is relevant results. If they really practiced what they preached they would take down their own ads and work for donations or something. But of course that would probably mean they are going out of business. So there has to be some give and take.

  • John

    Google would do better to penalise sites with intrusive antisocial ads than ads that sit quietly in the sidebar.

    E.g. “skip this ad”s, autoplaying audio ads, pop overs, etc.

  • Antony

    it is much appreciable post i got much needed information for improving my ranking


  • james

    after found this post and read it thoroughly to improve my ranking much better than before


  • Weight Training

    I agree with christian. The information is conflicting and too vague.

  • David Melamed

    I read this post expecting answers… not a long winded explanation of the question in the post title.

    Who needs to read through a bunch of fluff to find this last sentence…
    “we still don’t know where the line is and if a site is even crossing it.”

    I feel like I just got the same bad user experience that googles page layout update is meant to solve…
    (i.e. not finding what I am looking for, even though it seems like the info. is there, but having to weed through a bunch of…well… weeds to finally realize there is no value in this post.)

    Google’s next update should find post titles with question marks and see if the post actually answers the question or just expounds on what is already clear in the title…

    I expect better from WebProNews !!!!