It seems that every time that Google unleashes even the slightest tweak in their inscrutable algorithm, it becomes the talk of the town. For those of us in the Internet marketing business, it just as well should be, since our very survival hangs in the balance every time the folks over at Google switch things up. The latest algorithm change, albeit without a cutesy name like "Panda," focuses on one aspect that many of us may overlook—page layout.
Now for most of us, as noted by Matt Cutts on the Official Google Search blog, our sites will not take a hit the way that many well-trafficked sites were pummeled after Panda. Basically, Google, in its Holy Grail quest to create the ultimate user experience, will now look unfavorably toward sites that are papered with ads when a user first arrives. Cutts explains:
"…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. 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…"
While it's probable that you won't be the target that Google is after, it does help to reassess your strategy with your page layout, especially the very first home page that users will see. Is it easy to navigate? Can a user get to the meat of your site—the content—as soon as she clicks on a link directing your website? Are the ads placed on your website in a balanced way, with most of them placed below the fold?
Some SEO experts, like Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan, take issue with Google's new change, pointing out that Google's own searches pull up top-heavy ads before any of the "real" user searches come up. Regardless, as Internet marketers, we must keep in mind that we are seeking people—not ads—to buy our products and services. And too many ads, whether or not they are above the fold is and always has been a turn-off for users.
For an excellent overview of balancing ads in your page layout from a design perspective, check out this Smash Magazine article.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031[at] gmail[dot]com.