Google and the Ads above the Fold Algorithm Change
Google announced a change to its algorithm on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 involving page layout and the placement of ads. The purpose of the change, according to the Google Webmaster Central Blog, was to punish websites with excessive advertising “above the fold”. At first glance this probably seems like a good idea. Nobody likes to sift through search results for a somewhat relevant result, and then when you click over to that page you are assaulted by a barrage of ads that make it impossible to find the content you are really looking for. Google says that the change will only affect 1 in 100 searches. Matt Cutts, Googles SEO guru says that no one who uses “ads above the fold to a normal degree” will be affected. But if you think about it from the web designer’s perspective, how much is “a normal degree”?
When Google speaks, SEO consultants and search engine internet marketing professionals need to listen. The problem in answering the question of what is “a normal degree” is complicated by the mixed message and what some may even call hypocrisy on the part of Google. The image below shows some sample Google search results from my laptop. The red highlighted areas show ads, the green highlights show search results. You be the judge if that would constitute excessive advertisement above the fold.
So what exactly is Google’s definition of excessive advertising? Do they intend to penalize themselves? The hypocrisy has been noted in many blog posts that are critical of this latest change. Some examples are this post on webmonkey.com, and a little more strongly worded response in this blogstorm.co.uk.
Google has every right to change their algorithm. As they have so often pointed out when they have been questioned, competition is only a click away. It is noteworthy that there seems to be growing vitriol expressed every time Google makes an algorithm change. The changes seem to be coming with increasing frequency. Many of the changes lately, though not this one in particular, seem to be Google forcing a change that benefits Google in the name of making search results more relevant. This has led to a growing questioning of motives and actions of Google that speaks to the question of eroding trust in Google as the guardians of their own motto, “Do No Evil”. There was a time when Google was a trusted, seemingly neutral, trusted indexer of the web. There is a growing feeling that the important job of indexing the web is no longer being performed by a trusted, benevolent force. And that should be a problem that Google should worry about.
If you have a website, and you are concerned about better search engine rankings, Google is still, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the biggest game in town, so you have to play. If you want to be successful you have to play by their rules, regardless of any arguments about their fairness. This means now if you have advertising on your front page, keep it below the fold if possible.