[HOW TO] Avoid Google’s Ad-Layout Penalty

Google's ad layout penaltyGoogle announced a new addition to its ranking algorithm in January 2012. The new algorithm factor watches for low-quality content with “ads above the fold.” This type of layout means that your site has several ad units at the top of a Web page, and your readers are forced to scroll down to see any content. This layout is generally a poor user experience, so Google has decided to devalue sites with too many ads at the top of the site’s Web pages.

How Do You Know You Have Ads Above the Fold?

It’s easy to identify if your website falls within this layout penalty. Open your website in a browser and navigate to a page that contains ads. Can you see content without scrolling? Do ads clutter the content, so readers are forced to find the content among too many ads? Typically, a website with this issue has a large Adsense block at the top of the page, and other Adsense blocks in the right or left navigation panels. The ads stand out before the content, and these sites are the types of pages Google is targeting with the new ad-layout algorithm.

How Do You Fix the Problem and Avoid the Penalty?

The simple solution to fix the issue is to remove the ads above the fold. Move large ad blocks to the center of your content, or you can move them under the first paragraph. If you have ads in the left or right navigation panels, move them below any navigation links, so content is shown before the ads. Go back to each page and check for content above the fold instead of the ads.

After the layout changes are made, Google crawls and reevaluates your search engine position. Site owners have reported that it takes two or three months to see a change in rankings after the layout changes are made. Remember that losing search engine position can stem from several issues, so make sure your site follows Google’s quality guidelines before expecting a change.

If you still do not see a positive ranking change after moving ads, ensure your pages have high-quality content, and avoid keyword stuffing and over-optimisation. Clean up any pages that might not be of use to a reader, and use Google’s Webmaster Tools to check for any errors on the website pages that might cause Google to devalue the site.

In a Nutshell…

To future-proof your site from negative fluctuations resulting from Google algorithms such as this one, focus on your readers, Google will rank your web pages accordingly.

Have you been affected by Google’s Ad layout algorithm? Share below…

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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