SEO Glossary / Google Top Heavy Update

Google Top Heavy Update

What is Google Top Heavy Update?

The Top Heavy Update is a page layout algorithm update by Google that aims to downgrade websites showing too many ads above the fold. It was released in January 2012.

Announced as the "Page Layout Algorithm Improvement," the Top Heavy Update demoted websites with excessive ads at the top part of the page and those that made it hard to find the actual original content. Websites that did not have much content “above-the-fold” provided a poor experience to the searchers, and Google addressed the users’ feedback.

Here’s how Google described this update in their announcement:

"This new algorithmic improvement tends to impact sites where there is only a small amount of visible content above-the-fold or relevant content is persistently pushed down by large blocks of ads."

Here’s a brief history of the Top Heavy update:

  • 19 Jan 2012: Google algorithm change designed to improve page layouts and user experience was launched.
  • 9 Oct 2012: Page layout algorithm update.
  • 10 Feb 2014: Page layout algorithm refresh.

Why is the Top Heavy Algorithm Update Important?

The page layout algorithm allows Google to provide search results with the best user experience for searchers. After all, Google always wants to provide the highest quality results to its search engine users.

The update also forces websites to be more judicious and moderate with the ads they place on their pages, which makes the web better for users.

How to Avoid the Page Layout Algorithm Penalty

1. Don’t Place Too Many Ads Above the Fold

Google explains that it is okay to have some ads above the fold because these ads perform well and help publishers monetize online content. Specifically, Google says this update does not affect sites that place ads above the fold “to a normal degree.”

Unfortunately, there’s no specific number of ads – or a prescribed ad-to-content ratio – that will always work no matter what. Instead, you need to use your best judgment about what will provide a quality user experience to your audience.

2. Distinguish Your Main Content and Make It Easily Findable

With this update, Google specifically addressed the issue of when it’s hard to find the actual original content on the page. Many websites would try to boost revenue by placing their content below a sea of display ads, to the point where a user had to scroll down to find the content they actually came for.

To avoid the impact of the page layout algorithm, you must ensure your page content is not “lost” in the ads and is available above the fold, at least partly. In other words, don’t place the main content on a page below your ads – users should easily be able to find the content they came to your web page for as soon as they land on it.

3. Focus on Delivering the Best User Experience

It should go without saying, but your website will usually see the best traction in Google when you focus on delivering the best possible user experience. So, how can you do this?

Beyond the obvious – not going overboard on ad placements above the fold – there are plenty of intangibles that can improve user experience. These may include providing higher-quality content with better research, more images, a faster page loading speed, a more tailored layout for mobile users, and so on.

Ultimately, focusing on user experience is a general recommendation from Google that goes beyond the page layout algorithm. If website visitors are happy with your website, Google will be too.

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