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There are lots of rabbit holes to go into when it comes to Google algorithm adjustments.
One of my faves (after the unsolved riddle of Fred) surrounds the 2012 Google algorithm change on page layout and the above-the-fold trend.
Like the JCPenney link-building incident, there are still plenty of individuals who speak about this Google algorithm modification – you just have to know who to ask. But you don’t have to go diving into the past, we’ve got you covered here.
This piece will teach you all you need to know about Google’s page layout algorithm, how it has developed over the years, and what it means to you today.
The advent of a high-quality user experience and more complex on-page SEO may have seemed premature in the aftermath of 2011 Panda revisions, but Google made it official on January 19, 2012: the page layout algorithm was here.
The page layout algorithm upgrade targeted websites with too many static adverts above the fold. These adverts would compel readers to scroll down the page to view information.
Google stated this algorithm will affect fewer than 1 percent of websites. But, 1 percent of those sites impacted were compelled to build a better user experience.
This update didn’t contain pop-ups or overlay advertising.
Page Layout/Above the Fold Google Algorithm Update Timeline
Here’s a short picture of how the algorithm has evolved over time:
Google implemented the first-page layout algorithm upgrade, commonly known as “Top Heavy” or the above-the-fold algorithm update, hitting sites that featured too much advertising above the fold.
Matt Cutts, then head of Google’s webspam team, revealed on Twitter that the page layout algorithm had been modified. It impacted 0.7 percent of English inquiries. The upgrade also provides a chance to websites affected by the initial Google algorithm deployment to possibly recover.
Google published an update of the page layout algorithm on February 6, 2014. Cutts didn’t discuss the effect on search results this update will have on websites. While there was a refresh, it seemed Google just reran the algorithm and updated its index.
John Mueller of Google stated in a Google Webmaster Hangout at the 48-minute mark:
“That’s very much automated in the sense that it’s probably not live, one-to-one. We simply would remember this, thus, we know precisely what it looks like. But it is something that’s updated automatically. And it is something where when you alter those pages, you don’t have to wait for any manual update on our side for it to be put into account.”
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After Mueller’s statement, it appeared evident that Google would catch up on changes to your website and modify ranks automatically after indexing your site.
Google’s Gary Illyes also acknowledged the page layout algorithm is still a serious concern, in March 2017:
With four adjustments to the page layout algorithm, it may seem like a substantial shift, but fewer than 1 percent of sites were impacted by each of the updates.
These adjustments only impacted those who had an excess of adverts, to the point where user experience was poor, and it could benefit their site to re-think their web design.
Cutts discussed it further:
“This algorithmic modification does not affect sites that position advertising above the fold to a reasonable degree, but affects sites who go far further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it impossible to identify the real original content on the page.”
As a website owner, I can understand where some individuals would have been offended. When it’s your page, with your advertisements, you’d think you should be allowed to structure it as you want and not be punished.
Besides, posting advertising is how many of us maintain our sites lucratively. Lots of prominent ad slots will draw in more revenue… But, at what cost?
Some members of the WebmasterWorld forum observed an impact:
One forum member reported they were struck by the initial algorithm upgrade on February 7, 2012, and witnessed a 40 percent decline in traffic. They shared this image:
Another member reported it took them two years to recover from the initial algorithm upgrade.
The reality is that consumers won’t want to visit a site if they feel berated with adverts. They’ll become upset and hunt for whatever they were looking for – whether it’s birthday party ideas or professional golf guidance – someplace else.
Companies would instead post advertising below the fold on a big site (or compete for just a few spaces at the top) then display them as one of many banner ads on a low-traffic site.
This adjustment benefitted the site owners, the advertisements, and the viewers.
What is it about Google algorithm upgrades that toss all of our meticulously constructed, tried-and-true, SEO methods out the window?
It’s easy to be caught up in the mass excitement of website redesigns, and content rewrites, only to suffer from a penalty months later. All because of one Google algorithm update?
While just 1 percent were harmed, what if you were in that 1 percent? Let’s take a look at recovering from the page layout Google algorithm upgrade effectively.
First things first, the above-the-fold space depends on what screen resolution your audience is utilizing.
For example, a user on their phone might see a different above-the-fold area than if you’re viewing from your laptop.
So, before eliminating any above-the-fold adverts, utilize the Screen Resolution Tester Chrome addon. (Fold Tester is another free application you may use to evaluate your layout visually on the desktop.)
You may also check Google Code’s blog article that digs deep into the above-the-fold screen testing.
Google also gives an illustration to demonstrate what Google is searching for in the above-the-fold area:
If you do get slapped with a penalty owing to too much advertising above the fold, you’ll have to wait for the Googlebot to recrawl your page. The good news is now that Google makes modifications in real-time, you no longer have to wait until the next algorithm refresh occurs.
The Final Impact of the Page Layout Algorithm
Dealing with a Google algorithm change like the page layout upgrade might seem like plunging into a pit of continual site design modifications over and over again. While I’ll be the first to agree that this change may have appeared harsh, Google’s message was clear: They prioritize user experience.
Removing advertisements above the fold shouldn’t mean limiting your income. And, if I’m diving deep into the rationale behind this algorithm modification, it appears Google was establishing the framework for a mobile-only index.
Google told us to assess advertising above-the-fold on all screen resolutions, including mobile. With a reduced screen resolution on mobile and plenty of advertisements, consumers would have to scroll down 5 to 6 times more than on a desktop. Without advertisements above the fold, customers have a better experience on desktop and mobile.
The fact of the issue is: Google’s page layout algorithm upgrade was created for the user, not the webmaster. It’ll pay you in the long-run to be careful about your ads.