The Google search ranking algorithm undergoes hundreds of changes every year. Some minor, some major. The Page Layout Algorithm is a major one. The target is web spammers and shady search ranking optimization types – but honest publishers need to make sure they’re not accidentally breaking the new guidelines.
As the name suggests, this part of the algorithm helps Google rank pages based on the way they look rather than just their content.
The update is designed to lower the rankings of sites that make users wade through too many ads to find the content. A common layout of this type of site is two (or more) enormous ads dominating the top part of the page, with the actual content pushed so far down that it’s invisible to many users without scrolling.
Before the Page Layout Algorithm, the automated Googlebot wasn’t able to “see” when ads obscure the content for a human visitor. Now that it’s in place, it’s said to be affecting 1% of all searches. That’s quite large but not quite on the scale of the Panda update of last year.
It’s still OK to display ads above the fold – that’s almost always the best performing location and is actually recommended by the AdSense team. But it’s not OK to use so many ad blocks that the content is hard to find – or worse – that the ads actually look like the content, leading to unintentional ad clicks.
That kind of situation could cause problems for your AdSense account as well as your rankings.
For most design layouts this means one 728 pixel leaderboard ad or a rectangular 336 or 300 pixel ad above the fold is OK. With a clever design you might even be able to get away with both a leaderboard and a rectangular ad displaying in the top part of your site.
Since ranking penalties are being applied to those sites where no or only a tiny part of the content is visible above the fold, you need to make sure it’s very obvious where the start of your content is.
The engineer at Google in charge of such things, Matt Cutts, says once a website that has been penalized for breaching the new guidelines has revised its design, it will take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process the new layout and for the new layout to improve the site’s search engine rankings.