Page Layout Algorithm – Google Update

google page layout algorithmGoogle released the latest update to their search algorithm yesterday (19/01/2012), an update that looks at page layout and the content that appears after clicking on results. Cunningly called the ‘page layout algorithm‘.

The new algorithm is designed to penalise sites which cram the top of their pages with advertising, making content hard to find. Matt Cutts talked about this last year and many believed this already happened but Google have now confirmed it as part of their search algorithm.

The Google search algorithm is becoming increasingly intelligent as Google fine tune what they classify as ‘useful’ results. We believe there will be many more changes in 2012 that should shake up SEO as we know it. As we always say though – anybody using traditional, ethical SEO will not be affected. Everything taught on our SEO course is ethical and guarantees long last rankings and not quick fix solutions that end up failing. Our social media course has also now become important as Google have incorporated Google+ into search results while Bing are working with Facebook. The mashup of search engines and social networks means that the two skills go hand in hand for a modern SEO.

This update is in response to complaints from users who say they click on results and then struggle to find the content they’re looking for as it is covered by ads. This is all about quality of content ‘above the fold’. Ie. is the content at the top of the page what the searcher was looking for or did they first have to navigate their way through advertising or unrelated content?

Matt Cutts states that this should not affect websites with a ‘normal degree‘ of top page advertising – after all that’s the real estate that advertisers pay the most for and that generates the most clicks. Instead the update is designed to penalise sites that take above the fold advertising too far. This update also has no affect on pop up advertising, only static on-page ads will be included.

The algorithm update should only hit a maximum of 1% of websites so unless your site is seriously overwhelmed with ads then I shouldn’t worry.

Google recommend using their Browser Size Tool to check how much content appears on your page depending on screen size. We diligently entered our site into the tool and found that 90% of internet users can see the full width of our pages as well as the first chunk of content. Despite not having advertising (making it a seemingly pointless task) we have come up with something interesting. Google will not let you check its own site using Browser Size.


Good old trustworthy Google are keeping something hidden. I decided to make a quick mock up of the Browser Size tool and place results from Google over the top. Here’s what shows:


According to Google’s own tool, 5% of internet users do not see any content above the fold when searching. That’s pretty bad by Google’s standards. Now you could say that Google are only punishing sites with excessive above the fold advertising and so three ads in one frame is hardly over the top, but if the aim of the update is to ensure that searches find the content they are looking for as soon as they click on a site, without having to scroll, then Google has failed.

Here is the ratio of ads:content for a search on Google using a 1024 x 768 resolution window:


That’s hardly great for the business that has just condemned other sites for having too much advertising above the fold!

If Google’s aim is to get you to content as quickly as possible then why do they also recommend AdSense users place ads near the top, put their own ads at the top of searches and begin YouTube videos with ads? This does smell strongly of ‘you’ll be punished for ads, unless their ours’ and is the sort of self-promotion Google are coming under fire for a lot recently.

Unfortunately, this algorithm update only looks at top-heavy advertising. No punishments for excessive advertising or misleading advertising (ever tried to find a ‘download’ or ‘play’ button on a website and realised you have 5 options – 4 ads and 1 real?) which would be nice to see in the future. After all – forcing websites to push their ads lower down the page will just make them come up with more clever ways to get people to click on them.

The end of pop-up, pop-under, overlay and misleading ads is hopefully on the way!

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