If you noticed a shift in your organic search rankings on Google over the past week, you are not alone. Many websites reported changes in their organic rankings, some good and some negative. Google has confirmed the reason for these changes; a core algorithm update to Google’s search engine.
Google announced a new algorithm update on January 19 that it will start applying to search results. Simply called, the “page layout algorithm,” it’s having only a small impact so far (less than 1% of searches, according to Google). Still, the new update is causing a bit of buzz and confusion.
The page layout algorithm looks at websites and examines their ad content. Sites that have too many ads above the fold receive a penalization in Google’s search results. The philosophy behind the update is that pages with top heavy ads obscure the content of a webpage — negatively impacting user experience.
In a few ways, the page layout algorithm is similar to the Panda update. Like Panda, the page layout algorithm is more like a ranking factor, in that once you are penalized by the page layout algorithm, you will have to wait until Google decides to run the algorithm again to have your site reconsidered — the penalty will not disappear right away.
Because the penalty applies to the entire website, not just the particular ad-heavy page, many webmasters are nervous. However, there are reasons why this new update is only affecting less than 1% of search results. For starters, pop-ups, pop-unders and overlay ads are not counted by the page layout algorithm. In addition, Google recognizes that the top of the page is valuable space for advertisers and is important for the revenue of many sites. You can still place ads above the fold without being penalized. Google is only looking to punish websites who take their ad placement to excessive levels.
As such, there is a good chance this update will not affect you. Just be sure to layout ads on your web pages in a responsible manner that keeps the user experience in mind.