Do you stuff lots of ads at the top of your web pages? Think again. Tired of doing a Google search and landing on these types of pages? Rejoice. Google has announced that it will penalize sites with pages that are top-heavy with ads. In other words, websites with a bunch of ads will be pushed down lower in search results.
Top Heavy With Ads?
The change — called the “page layout algorithm” — takes direct aim at any site with pages where content is buried under tons of ads.
From Google’s post on its Inside Search blog today:
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. 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.
Google also posted the same information to its Google Webmaster Central blog.
Sites using pop-ups, pop-unders or overlay ads are not impacted by this. It only applies to static ads in fixed positions on pages themselves.
How many ads should I have on my website?
How can you tell if you’ve got too many ads above-the-fold? The head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, said that Google wasn’t going to provide any type of official tools similar to how it provides tools to tell if your site is too slow (site speed is another ranking signal).
Instead, Google is encouraging people to make use of its Google Browser Size tool to understand how much of a page’s content (as opposed to ads) is visible at first glance to visitors under various screen resolutions.
But how far down the page is too far? That’s left to the publisher to decide for themselves. However, the blog post stresses the change should only hit pages with an abnormally large number of ads above-the-fold, compared to the web as a whole:
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.
Check out this video published by Google to help direct site owners in their advertising efforts to make the most out of their ads.
Impacts Less Than 1% Of Searches
Clearly, you’re in trouble if you have little-to-no content showing above the fold for commonly-used screen resolutions. You’ll know you’re in trouble shortly, because the change is now going into effect. If you suddenly see a drop in traffic today, and you’re heavy on the ads, chances are you’ve been hit by the new algorithm.
For those ready to panic, Cutts said the change is expected to impact less than 1% of Google’s searches globally, which today’s post also stresses.
Fixed Your Ads? Penalty Doesn’t Immediately Lift
What happens if you’re hit? Make changes, then wait a few weeks.
Similar to how last year’s Panda Update works, Google is examining sites it finds and effectively tagging them as being too ad-heavy or not. If you’re tagged that way, you get a ranking decrease attached to your entire site (not just particular pages) as part of today’s launch.
If you reduce ads above-the-fold, the penalty doesn’t instantly disappear. Instead, Google will make note of it when it next visits your site. But it can take several weeks until Google’s “push” or “update” until the new changes it has found are integrated into its overall ranking system, effectively removing penalties from sites that have changed and adding them to new ones that have been caught.
Google’s post explains this more:
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.