What is the Page Layout Penalty?

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Many of our Dallas web design clients are curious about the so-called page layout penalty, which is applied to websites that are deemed by Google’s page layout algorithm to have low quality, ad-heavy layouts. Announced in January 2012, the page layout algorithm penalizes sites that have “top heavy” layouts crammed with ads. If too many ads are “above the fold” (the part of the page that is immediately visible to the reader without having to scroll down), then that page may incur a page layout penalty that negatively affects rankings.

Why is there a Page Layout Penalty?

Why does the page layout algorithm exist? According to Matt Cutts of Google, it is to improve user experience; like other algorithm updates, he said, page layout algorithm is about helping users find more high quality websites in their search results. Here is his explanation:

“We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.”

Who is Affected by the Page Layout Penalty?

Sites that do not offer the user enough content above the fold could be penalized by the algorithm. “Sites that don’t have much content ‘above-the-fold’ can be affected by this change,” Cutts confirmed. “If you click on a website and the part of the website you see 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.”

While this may sound like an instant penalty for websites that have any ads above the fold, Cutts assures responsible, quality content-generating webmasters that there is no need to panic. “This algorithmic change noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally,” he said. “That means that in less than one in 100 searches, a typical user might notice a reordering of results on the search page.”

Bouncing Back from the Page Layout Penalty

If your website is in this 1%, there is still a way to bounce back. One way to tweak your website if it has been affected by the page layout penalty is to change the screen resolution size, so that more content appears above the fold without displacing your ads. Cutts recommends using the Google Browser Size tool to see how your website would look under different screen resolutions.

Page Layout Penalty: The Bottom Line

The bottom line on the : Ads are fine, so long as they do not dominate the above the fold area of your web page and you have enough quality content above the fold to keep a proper content-to-ad ratio. Google is not discouraging webmasters from monetizing their websites; they simply want user experience to stay the top priority when SEO is even a remote concern. If you fear that your content-to-ad ratio is not where it needs to be, and you want to add more quality content so that your page does not incur a page layout penalty, you may consider hiring a firm that specializes in creating high quality content. Contact the Dallas web design professionals at Crest Media to request a free website consultation.


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