It's been a while since we heard about a major algorithm update from Google (everyone needs a vacation, right?), but it looks like the search giant is back in full swing with a new one. The latest change penalizes sites in Google's search engine results pages (SERPs) if they have too many ads above the fold (the part of the web page that's visible without scrolling), making it difficult to find the content on the page. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan chatted with Google's Matt Cutts to get the low-down on the update, which it turns out was spurred by several user complaints to Google about arriving at sites with seemingly more ads than actual content. Let's break down what this update means for websites using paid advertising, and how you can make sure your site isn't penalized by the update.
Who Exactly Will Be Penalized?
Google posted that users want to see content when they click through to a website (what a shock!), so websites that dedicate much of their above-the-fold real estate to ads will be penalized, because doing so adversely affects the user's experience. Oddly, sites that use pop-up ads and ad overlays -- in my opinion, the most annoying online ads one can encounter -- are not affected by the algorithm update.
This update is anticipated to affect only 1% of searches globally, but it has already started rolling out. And if Google's crawlers find pages on your website that are breaking the new page layout rules, it will penalize your entire website, not just the offending pages.
Do You Think My Website Is an Offender?
Google stated that they understand above-the-fold ads perform better than below-the-fold ads, and as such only the most egregious offenders should really be worried. An excerpt from its blog says, "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." They also call out sites that have content above the fold, but have that content "persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads."
How Do I Ensure My Website Isn't Affected?
Matt Cutts' conversation with Danny Sullivan revealed that Google is really leaving this decision up to the site owners' good judgment. They aren't providing any tools for users to help identify whether their site has a dangerous ratio of above-the-fold ads to content, but do recommend using other free Google tools like Browser Size from Google Labs to understand how much content is visible to users.
Again, this update is only anticipated to affect 1% of searches, but if your website teeters on the brink of too much above-the-fold ads, you need to make some changes to your page layout...stat! If not for your SEO, do it for your user experience.
Because the update has already started rolling out, it may be too late to save your website from a damaged search presence if it was an offender. But if you update your page layout to have fewer ads above-the-fold, you should see improved rankings in a few weeks. I know, a few weeks is a long time to wait, but Google needs to re-crawl enough pages of your site to ensure that you've made universal changes to your page layout before it can increase your rankings again. And if you have structural issues with your website that make it difficult for Google bots to crawl your content, it can take even longer to remedy your rankings.
So if your site is penalized by this update, get your page layout fixed ASAP, and make your site as easy to crawl as possible to mitigate any damage. The advice Google gives at the end of its Webmaster Central Blog says it best: "Overall, our advice for publishers continues to be to focus on delivering the best possible user experience on your websites." All of Google's algorithm updates focus on rewarding websites that users like to visit, and penalizing those users dislike. If you keep that in mind when updating your website, you'll likely be poised for success in Google's SERPs no matter what algorithm changes they make down the road.
Does this algorithm update worry you? Will you be making any changes to your website to ensure your SEO is not affected?
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