Last week google announced its latest algorithmic tweak; a page layout algorithm improvement that looks at the amount of ad space above-the-fold (the portion of the site that is visible without scrolling down) on a web page. If ad space is deemed excessive, your site may be penalised and downgraded in natural search listings.

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In the words of Google’s Matt Cutts, “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.”

Many websites overload the page space above the fold with ads, as more money is to be made from placing ads higher on the page. Google even states, “by moving ad units buried at the bottom of your site to a more prominent location above the fold, you’ll generally see an increase in performance“. The eCPM (effective cost per thousand impressions) for above the fold units is noted by Google to be approximately 80% higher than below the fold units.

Google states that it will are not be punishing all sites that simply place ads above-the-fold. Instead it will be looking at sites that choose to load the top of their page with an excessive amount of ad space, resulting in relevant content being pushed down the page.

According to Matt Cutts the algorithm change will only affect only 1% of search globally. If your site has been hit by the change and you decide to ammend you page layout, Google will automatically re-crawl your pages and hopefully restore your website to a more favourable ranking.

It should also be noted that the new page layout algorithm punishes entire websites for placing too many ads above the fold, even if there’s just one offending page.