Google page layout update for digital publishers

 In the past week, Google’s head of spam Matt Cutt’s announced a refresh to the “Page Layout” algorithm update on Twitter. Also known as the Top Heavy update, it is set to affect less than 1% of both English and non-English  search queries, having gone live on February 6.

This post will briefly review the background, SEO implications and website best practices for digital publishers and sites in general who rely on ads for monetising content.

What is the page layout algorithm update?

The page layout algorithm update is the consequence of downgrading a website pages search rankings with too many ads above the fold and deemed distracting for users to read the page.

Google’s release of this algorithmic update first came about on January 19th 2012, as a result of initial tests and complaints brought up from user’s difficulty in navigating to content found on publisher websites. This week’s refresh is the page layout algorithm’s third update.

Sites using pop-ups pop-under or overlay ads are not impacted by this. It only applies to static ads in fixed positions on pages themselves. Well I guess you’re asking yourself now, well what are some examples?

As you can see in the image below, ad heavy sites contain pages which try to take every single opportunity in monetising their site, hence diluting the topic focus of the content page in question.

heavy ad landing page

Here’s an an actual example of a site posted by Felix  of how a site with too many ads above the fold can look like.

above fold ads

My investigation towards larger digital publishing and news media sites/content networks, has shown that this issue does not exist at this stage.

Key indicators and best practice recommendations

Whilst there haven’t been many complaints/news of publishing sites being impacted, if you have recently experienced a drop in traffic or organic search visibility and think it might be as a result of this update, my suggestion would be to take the following two approaches:

  • Review the website’s design and page aesthetic - Realistically self diagnose and ask yourself, “Does my website actually have proportionally more ads than content? Do the ads, block the ability for both search engines (from the source code) and users to effectively navigate throughout the site?”.  Use tools like Google’s broswer size tool or screen resolution extensions to determine the whether or not you are actually displaying more ads than you are supposed to and take a top skim through the sites source code.
  • Review the sites page speed  - Have key site speed stats recorded before and after adding the additional codes for displaying adds, and assess whether it has caused a lag in page load time and code bloat. Page speed is a key indicator of a websites user experience/performance, in addition to playing a small factor in assessing a website’s relevancy. Optimise the page speed through various methods such as externalising JavaScript, reducing the file size e.t.c in order to maintain the sites existing user experience.

Overall if your users have difficulty in finding the content they are looking for on your web pages, it might be worth either reducing the amount of ads displayed on the website, or actually redesigning your website.

Make it easier to find the content of your web pages and do not plaster your pages with third party ads. Instead align the content you are producing with the services or products you ultimately want to sell, in order to continually monetise reader relationships for the long term.

Credit: Mequoda “What is audience development

8 years experience in SEO & Content Strategy, with half of that time working in agency startups (or newly created divisions), developing and improving SEO and content marketing service processes. Being an SEO is who I am, digital (content and/or media) publishing is where I want to be.

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