What Google's "Above Fold" Update Means for SEO

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Google's 'Above the Fold' Algorithm Means For SEOIn an ongoing effort to help users find higher quality websites in search results, Google has launched an algorithmic change that looks at the layout of a web page and the amount of content that is visible once users click on a result. This update is said to impact websites where only a small amount of content above-the-fold is visible.

What Google's 'Above the Fold' Algorithm Means For SEO

In an ongoing effort to help users find more high-quality websites in search results, Google has launched an algorithmic change that looks at the layout of a web page and the amount of content that is visible once users click on a result. This new algorithmic update is said to impact websites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or when relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads.

What does this mean for website owners? In a nutshell, if you maintain a cluttered website above the fold - to the point where site visitors are not able to locate the content that Google has promised they would find - then you risk annoying Google users, and thus Google. And, as we all know, Google doesn't take to well to websites that annoy them. We're talking penalties.

Why the Change?

As I alluded to above, it all comes down to user-experience. If search engine users aren't happy, Google is not happy. Google has said to have received numerous complaints from their users who have become annoyed with not being able to find their desired content after clicking on a listing. Personally, I can relate to this. I cannot begin to count the number of times that I've landed on a website, only to utilize a "Control+F" (find) to locate the information I was originally looking for. Needless to say, this leads to a poor user-experience to which Google is now trying to avoid.

Google is quoted as saying:

"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."

What to Do if You Find That Your Site Was Affected

According to Google, this algorithmic change will noticeably affect less than 1% of searches globally - that's less than 1-in-100 searches. However, if you believe that you've been affected by this recent algorithm change, consider how your pages use the area above-the-fold and whether the content on the page is obscured or otherwise hard for users to discern quickly.

If you decide to update your page layout, consider using Google's Browser Size tool, among others, to see how your website will look under different screen resolutions. Find the solution that works for you, and roll with it.

How Should You Move Forward?

First things first, do not just sit back and ignore this update... not if you value your site's high rankings! As an Internet Marketing professional, it is my recommendation to be proactive. Pool the resources of both your design and marketing teams, and create an adequate solution. The goal is simple. Satisfy Google's need for a high quality user-experience by ensuring that each pages' most relevant content is found above the fold.

Furthermore, if you haven't given much thought in the way of user-experience, I'd strongly suggest that you start. Google is hell bound on delivering the best possible search user experience and, as this update proves, that means taking care of their users even after the click. Google has said that this is one of over 500 improvements expected to roll out this year. I'm not a gambler by any means, but I'd wager that "user-experience" will be the basis for more than a few of them.

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17 Comments:

  1. I am a fan of this algorithm update, but I do question the long term ramifications that are implied. I just don't like the idea of Google dictating how our sites are to be designed.
    By Anonymous Ben Javid on January 26, 2012
  2. Ben, I completely understand your concern. I had a similar thought. However, what other options are there? Those website owners who value their Google traffic will need to play by Google’s rules. It’s as simple as that.

    Thanks for reading!
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on January 26, 2012
  3. Hi Karl, great write-up! Thanks for the thorough review, and for mentioning the browser tool. I’ll have my designers look at this immediately.
    By Anonymous Anonymous on January 26, 2012
  4. Thanks! And, thanks for reading!
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on January 26, 2012
  5. "Google has said to have received numerous complaints from their users who have become annoyed with not being able to find their desired content after clicking on a listing."

    Hmmm, I wonder if they've started to receive numerous complaints about users who have become annoyed with not being able to find their desired content within search results - the above may help but it's rather hypocritical; I see more adverts than ever on some Google SERPS, and usually when a Google+ result comes up it's pointless too. Which means I disagree with this comment "Google is hell bound on delivering the best possible search user experience" - it used to be true, but I'm not sure it is any more.
    By Anonymous Alex H on January 27, 2012
  6. Alex, I sure wish I could disagree or disprove your claim, but you make very valid points. My only additional comment is that as a whole, I believe Google is determined to deliver the best possible search user experience. Like you, I too am not convinced that they have 100% succeeded on this front, or that certain other aspects couldn’t be improved (ie: Google+ integration). However, one cannot argue with Google’s overall effort in making a better searching experience. In my opinion, this latest algorithmic change is the step in the right direction, regardless of what else they might be failing at.
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on January 27, 2012
  7. I agree it's a step in the right direction, it's just a shame they've made two or three steps in the wrong direction. ;)

    The only thing I'd say Google are hell bound on at the moment is making sure everyone signs up to Google+! If the search user experience declines slightly at the expense of getting more sign-ups, I think they'll be happy with that.
    By Anonymous Alex H on January 30, 2012
  8. Again, can't disagree with you!
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on January 30, 2012
  9. One other thing that came to mind that might add some perspective on this change is that by encouraging website owners to boost content above the fold and place everything else below, mainly ads, Google is indirectly limiting their own revenue. Let's not forget that advertising is Google's bread and butter. Their Adsense program brings in a lot of revenue for the company... revenue that will likely take a hit if ads are no longer front and center on websites.

    This alone leads me to believe that user experience is high on Google's priority list.
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on February 03, 2012
  10. "above the fold" makes sense! I personally encountered many bad user experience when i didn't find the content i was looking for, thanks for the Google algorithm update & thanks to Karl too :)
    By Anonymous George Lucas on February 09, 2012
  11. Hi George! The more I think about it, the more I agree. This was a good move on Google's part. Thanks for sharing!
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on February 09, 2012
  12. FINALLY! Somebody has explained it properly! Seems like a good move for once. Thanks Karl.
    By Blogger Gareth Morgan on February 21, 2012
  13. Hey Gareth, thank you. I'm happy to have helped!
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on February 21, 2012
  14. My site was hit by this algorithm, I reduced the ads. Site has been re-crawled many times. However, rankings haven't recovered so far. How long will it take, or will it ever recover?

    My site had authority ranking for couple of years for main keyword. Now up to 10 places drop in rankings (for many keyword phrases). Traffic is reduced to half. I would've reduced ads had Google warned me beforehand.
    By Anonymous Anonymous on February 23, 2012
  15. By my understanding of this algorithm change, you should have seen your website bounce back by now. This is of course, unless the 'Above the Fold' update wasn't the (only) reason for your website dropping out. You may want to look at other past updates and see if any make sense.

    One other thought is to review your basic optimization strategies. It is possible that you removed well-positioned keywords (even if they were listed within the text-ads you were displaying, they'd still count) from the page. If this was the case, simply look to re-add them.
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on February 23, 2012
  16. The good google giveth and the good google taketh away. While they may have made this algorithm change that could hurt some businesses they are also experimenting with a new feature where advertisers can put opt-in boxes right on the SERPs. This means google users can join your list without having to go to your site.
    By Anonymous Kaleb Phillips on February 24, 2012
  17. Hi Kaleb. Thanks for commenting!

    I did see the feature to which you speak of. However, when I seen it, it was for a paid ad listing on the Google search results page. Search users could subscribe to the website's newsletter without even clicking-through to the site. Certainly, this is an interesting idea. It's as you say, Google gives and takes away.
    By Blogger Karl Ribas on February 24, 2012

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