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Google’s “Page Layout Penalty” Algo Tweak

Posted by Michael Bloch in web marketing (Saturday January 21, 2012 )

Google is starting to whack more web sites that have too many ads above the fold (ATF).

Acting on complaints from users who land on sites and find they need to scroll down a fair way to see the actual content, Google has announced an “algorithmic change that looks at the layout of a webpage and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result.”

Google acknowledges it’s not unusual to have ads above the fold and this is an important part of monetization for publishers, but it will penalize sites that go OTT on ATF.

G,(specifically Matt Cutts) says the tweak noticeably affects under 1% of searches globally.

Some webmasters run their monitors at very high resolutions, so may be unaware of the problem. Mr. Cutts encourages site owners to make use of their browser size tool to see how a site looks under various screen resolutions (it is an interesting tool – give it a whirl).

Here’s the top 5 monitor resolutions used by visitors to my sites, collectively making up just over 50% of traffic:

1280×800 – 13.80%
1366×768 – 13.24%
1024×768 – 13.21%
1280×1024 – 7.19%
1440×900 – 6.94%

If your site has been slammed by the “Page Layout Penalty” and you make changes to address it, be aware that it may be a while before your fixes are reflected in your rankings. How fast it occurs will depend on a variety of things, including the number of pages on your site.

According to Mr. Cutts, “It can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.”

So, like Panda, this is a change that works on prevalence of certain issue occurring on your site and as with Panda, “bad” content can also affect the rankings of “good” content.

While some have pointed out Google itself is guilty of putting a ton of ads above its content (organic search results) – as you’ll sometimes see after running a search; I think this is a good tweak as it is entirely about making the experience for the reader a better one. That is assuming of course G sorts out what are ads and what is content accurately – but that really isn’t too hard, even for a bot.

You can read more about the Page Layout Penalty here.


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