Google’s New Page Layout Algorithm Penalizes “Above-The-Fold” Advertising – A SPN Exclusive Article

On Wednesday, February 23, 2011, a category 5 hurricane named “Panda” swept through the Gulf of Google devastating businesses large and small alike. The hurricane was reportedly named after one of Google’s engineers.

So what was the reason for this catastrophic and “game-changing” update? Well, according to Google:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which are low-value, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites – sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on. It is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.” (Source: Google Blog)

Mission accomplished. Anyway, in the aftermath of the Panda update, there are 11 important SEO facts I’ve learned based on my own personal experiences, the experiences of my clients, and from listening to top SEO professionals across the Internet.

The above passages are from an article I wrote last July titled, Google Panda Update: 11 Important SEO Facts You Should Know.

In item #7 of the 11 SEO facts I wrote:

7. Avoid Excessive Advertisements or Images

“Be mindful of having too many advertisements on any of your pages, in relation to “meaningful” content. There seems to be a direct correlation between the number of advertisements on a page (especially above the fold advertising), and the overall ranking of a page. Make sure you have plenty of quality, relevant content to balance out your web pages.”

Well, now it’s official. On January 19, 2012, Google announced that it will penalize sites with pages that are 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. (Source: SearchEngineLand.com)

Google’s Hypocrisy

Danny Sullivan (SearchEngineLand.com) said on the same day that Google’s web search team announced this change, he received a message from Google’s AdSense team encouraging him to put more ads on his site.

Can you believe that?

Think about the hypocrisy for a moment. When you perform a search on Google, the first thing you see when they return your search results are above-the-fold ads. But yet, they want to penalize you for the above-the-fold ads on your site.

That’s typical Google…Do what we say, not what we do. Hey, Google! What about our user experience when we do a search?

Quality Content Matters

So what does all of this mean? It means play by the rules or suffer the consequences. It also means the content on your website matters more than ever before. Not to be redundant, but I have to go back to what Google said when explaining Panda:

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites-sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites- sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on. It is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.”

So what constitutes high-quality content?

Like everything else in life, when it comes to quality, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In other words, what constitutes quality to one person, might not necessarily be quality to the next person. You know the old saying…

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

What does that mean? It simply means, what is useless to one person might be valuable to another.

For example, my idea of “quality” content is to write useful “how-to” articles, (minimum 800 words) or blog posts that explain how to market your website better. I strive to create the type of content that not only helps people – but also content that other quality websites will want to link to and share with their visitors. My experience and results has taught me this standard satisfies Google.

Your idea of quality website content might be to write sales copy promoting your products and services. And while there’s nothing wrong with doing that, it’s not exactly the type of content that quality websites will want to link to. While it may do a fine job of promoting your products – (which is what it’s designed to do), it doesn’t necessarily build a relationship with visitors – the type of relationship that will compel them to return to your website over and over again.

And while I prefer to write articles, quality content can take many forms including, videos, e-books, newsletters, press releases, podcasts, seminars, or a variety of other formats. But whatever form it takes, make sure it’s the type of quality other websites will want to link to and share with others.

Google And Relevancy

But it’s not enough to just publish quality content. Your content also needs to be relevant to the overall theme of your site. Google places a tremendous amount of value on relevancy. So do everything you can to make sure your pages are as relevant as possible and accurately reflect your site’s actual content.

Why am I making such a big deal out of relevancy? Because Google does, that’s why. This is what it says on Google’s Technology page:

“Co-founder Larry Page once described the “perfect search engine” as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” We can’t claim that Google delivers on that vision 100 percent today, but we’re always working on new technologies aimed at bringing all of Google closer to that ideal.

When you type a query into the Google search box, your query is sent to Google machines and compared with all the documents stored in our index to identify the most relevant matches. In a split second, our system prepares a list of the most relevant pages and also determines the relevant sections and bits of text, images, videos and more. What you get is a list of search results with relevant information excerpted in “snippets” (short text summary) beneath each result.”

Did you notice how many times Google used the word “relevant” in the above paragraph? And while Google may not always return the most relevant search results 100 percent of the time, make no mistake, relevancy does matter when it comes to website rankings.


Consistently getting back relevant search results is often an exercise in futility. Think about how many times you have searched for something, only to click on the link to find out the website’s description didn’t come close to matching up with the actual content on the page.

Maybe you landed on a web page that was nothing but one long sales letter trying to sell you an e-book of some sort. Or perhaps, you landed on a page that tried to force you to give up your name and e-mail address in order to receive some free report that had absolutely nothing to do with what you were searching for in the first place.

Like I said, consistently getting back relevant search results is often an exercise in futility. But nowadays, you can benefit by NOT being part of the problem – but rather, the solution.

David Jackson is a marketing consultant and the owner of Free-Marketing-Tips-Blog.com – Powerful, free marketing tips to help grow your business! http://free-marketing-tips-blog.com

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David Jackson


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  • On my new blog top thirds I have a big video with an optin on the sidebar, in order to run a blog like a biz you need email ptins or you die..

    It’s called a semi-squeeze.

    my actual blog content is in the lower half..
    so would I suffer under these rules?

  • Only if you have little-to-no content showing above the fold for commonly-used screen resolutions. Also, the change will impact less than 1% of Google’s searches globally.

    In either case, since the change is already in effect, you’ll know soon enough if your site has been penalized.

  • I think this is a good move, and one that is long overdue. There are too many sites that just exist as containers for advertisments, and perfectly fit the description, “sites which are low-value, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”

    I see more of these bogus sites being built every day. Look at the requests in the freelance jobs market for “someone who can build be an adsense website in a niche market that can earn $100 per week.”

    I do not think this is hypocrisy on the part of Google. When you use Google, you expect to see ads, but when you go to a website, you expect content. In fact, I would be prefer if Google would give higher rank to sites with no ads at all.

  • When I use Google I do not expect to see ads. I expect to see recently updated results relevant to my search. I do not like seeing results from 2009 and 2010, which is what I get when using Google.

    And if Google is reading this, what happened to the quality guidelines for Maps local search? When searching maps, every last stinkin’ result on the first page breaks every guideline rule. Yet there they sit right on the first page! SPAM, SPAM, SPAM! Pages and pages of it in numerous different topic search queries and categories. Hypocrisy!

  • David; another great, informative article many people can benefit from as usual!

    Item #7 is spot-on … I refuse to stay on any blog / site that has excessive ads and images, as it’s saying to me the blog / site owner don’t know what they’re doing and merely throwing crap on the ceiling to see what sticks.

    Those blogs / sites make me run away as fast as I can within 10 seconds or less. Alot of people enjoy those types of blogs / sites, so I just say more power to you.

  • I think Google still has a ways to go to deliver relevant search results. Often, a top search result links to a page of links to other websites, with no content of use on the page itself. Another common occurence is page one duplicate results, where Googles Adwords will show a supposedly relevant advert, followed by a #1 ranking identical link.

  • I offer a 41 page e-book for around $6 bucks on a single page website.

    The entire page is an ad but so what? The e-book contains quality content with legitimate advice on (yeah, I know) starting an online business.

    Panda shmanda!

  • Quote: “I offer a 41 page e-book for around $6 bucks on a single page website. The entire page is an ad but so what?”

    That’s a legitimate site, and should not be penalized.

    The problem is “bait and switch” sites which only exist to make money from adsense (and other) ads when an unsuspecting user is looking for real content. These sites feature minimal content, which had been plagiarized by ghostwriters who took it from other sites, encyclopedias, etc, and simply reworded the text to squeak by copyright censors.

    Of course, Google is partly to blame for the existence of those sites in the first place, since the only reason they exist is to make money from Google adsense.

  • This means that quality content is content that a minimum of 800 words?

    For relevancy
    What about if an seo contest blog and articles that are contested are not relevant to the niche blog? What will aggravate seo blog?

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