Google Page Layout Algorithm Targets Ad-Laden Websites

Google changes its algorithm to punish Website publishers who dump loads of ads at the top of their Web pages to make more money at the expense of exposing visitors to their content.

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Google Jan. 19 said it has altered its search algorithm to help weed out Web pages that are top heavy with ads and make content harder to find by pushing farther down on the page.

The move is designed to curb the practice of loading the top of Web pages-the section that is known as "above the fold-with ads to increase the likelihood users will click on them so that Website publishers increase their chances for making money.

Google's penalty of such ad-happy Websites harkens back to the search engine's February 2011 Panda algorithm change for punishing content farms for publishing low-quality content, or copying content from other Websites.

Google Search Distinguished Engineer Matt Cutts said the algorithm tweak looks at the layout of a Web page and the amount of content a user sees on the page once they've clicked on a search result.

"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," Cutts explained in a corporate blog post. "Such sites may not rank as highly going forward."

Cutts was careful to note that Google recognizes ads placed above the fold perform well for Websites. Accordingly, Google isn't punishing Websites that place ads at the top of Web pages "to a normal degree."

Rather, he and his team are penalizing Websites that put what they deem an "excessive" amount of ads up top, or simply make it hard to find content on the page.

To wit, he estimated the change would impact less than 1 percent of searches to worldwide. He recommended Website publishers concerned that their Website has been adversely affected by the algorithm change could use Google's Browser Size tool to view their Website in different screen resolutions.

Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan offered plenty more detail on this page layout algorithm, including some clarifications by Cutts.

Google, which has traditionally been secretive about its search changes, has been on a mission to disclose more information than the more than 500 algorithm changes it makes each year.

The company each month publishes a list of some of the top changes it makes, and reported making roughly 30 changes in December alone.

Google is disclosing the changes in the face of the Federal Trade Commission's antitrust investigation into its core business. The European Commission is also scrutinizing Google.