Google Updates Algorithm to Target Pages with Too Many Ads
Yesterday, Google announced that they released an algorithm update that factors in "the layout of a webpage and the amount of content you see on the page once you click on a result." The algorithmic change is targeted towards sites that have too many ads located at the upper-hand part of the page (also known as "above-the-fold.") This means that if someone visits a website and that user doesn't see a lot of content right away because of excessive ads, then the site could see a drop in traffic, because of this new update.
What's with the change?
Apparently, Google has received a lot of complaints from users having unpleasant browsing experiences due to the imbalance between content and ads. According to a blog post by the search giant:
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.
Of course, this doesn't mean that all sites that have above-the-fold ads will be affected. As previously mentioned, only those that have too many advertisements at the top of the page will take a hit. Google mentioned that this update will affect less than 1% of global searches, or less than one in 100 searches.
Additionally, the search giant told Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land that "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 to check if your site is safe
Sullivan further reported that Google would not be providing any specific or official tools for webmasters who want to check if they're using excessive ads. Instead, Google recommends that people use the Google Browser Size tool, to see how a page would look like under various screen resolutions.
Of course, you don't have to be too technical about it. In the same way that you write content for people and not spiders, you should also position ads for users and not advertisers. Take a quick look at your site right now. Do you see the main content right away, or are ads pushing your content down? If it's the latter, then you may want to update your site's layout accordingly.
If your rankings took a hit because of this algorithmic update, then change the layout of your website, and wait for Googlebot to crawl the page again. To further explain the process Google said:
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.
In their blog, Google mentioned that their ultimate goal is provide users with the best possible browsing experience. The search engine also advised publishers "not to focus on specific algorithm tweaks." Google furthered that the update is merely one of over 500 changes that they're planning to release in 2012.
Image credit: Search Engine People Blog on Flickr