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Too Many Ads Above the Fold? Time to Change…

Too Many Ads Above the Fold?  Time to Change…

A few days ago the “Distinguished Engineer” Matt Cutts wrote about Google’s new page layout algorithm improvement on the Official Google Webmaster Blog.  In a nutshell, if you are overloading ads above the fold on your niche websites, you could be in trouble.  But don’t worry – you can change your ad layout and be back in business!  Today, I wanted to review some of the points that Matt Cutts made, how this affects niche sites, and how to implement these changes in practice.

First of all, I make no claim of being an expert in this matter.  All I can do is try my best to interpret what changes Google has made and give my opinion on how these changes should be implemented in real life.  Here is what Matt said:

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.

What Does an “Excessive” Ad Layout Look Like?

So clearly Google is trying to give users a better experience by penalizing sites that essentially are displaying mostly ads above the fold.  So if your website looks something like this, then you need to change:

This ad layout is very aggressive and essentially gives no content above the fold.  I discussed 5 different Adsense layouts recently and I mentioned that I never use this one, as its a bit aggressive for me.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t go down that road!

The good news is that this recent algorithm change “noticeably affects less than 1% of searches globally”.  I personally have not seen any change in terms of earnings or rankings (as far as I can tell) since this update was implemented.  In addition, its important to note that Google is not saying you can never place ads above the fold.  Its only those sites that are excessive with ads.  Matt says:

This algorithmic change does not affect sites who place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree, but affects sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page. 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.

“Place Ads Above-the-Fold to a Normal Degree”

So, its okay to place ads above the fold, IF you are doing so to a normal degree.  What exactly is a “normal degree”?  Ah, now that’s a good question.  Again, I don’t have all the answers.  But my assumption is that one regular sized ad unit above the fold is probably normal.  Here is an example of what I feel would be ads above the fold to a “normal degree”.  This is also very similar to the ad layout of many of my own niche sites:

A searcher will land on your site, and will be able to immediately start reading the content of your page without having to scroll down at all.  A significant portion of the content is above the fold in this option, and is a fairly standard layout in my opinion.  You could also have the ad unit left justified instead of right justified and still be within the “normal” range in my opinion.  Again, at least I have not been affected, and most of my sites employ a similar layout as the above.

Fixing Sites with Too Many Ads Above the Fold

However, what if you believe your site has been affected by this recent Google algorithm update?  Well, you can always change the layout of your site, and Google will recrawl your site.  Again, referencing the recent Google Webmaster Blog Post:

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.

So, you still have the chance to change the layout of your site, get re-crawled, and hopefully get re-ranked based on the new layout of your site.

Another interesting facet to this update is the fact that Google is many times also guilty of making their own pages VERY top heavy with ads!  A review of this by Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land did a great job of addressing this issue.

Google Adsense Wants My Site to Put More Ads Above the Fold!

On the EXACT same day that Google announced this change, I got an email from Google Adsense telling me I should place more ad units on my site!  Not only that, but they took the time to take a screenshot of my site and highlight the areas I should be placing more ads.  Want to know where they suggested?  Above the fold, left justified.

That’s right Google Adsense wants me to place more ads above the fold!

I would provide you the exact screenshot that Google emailed me, but in order to keep my site private, I have recreated the recommendation that Google Adsense sent me.  Here it is:

This is the same layout I was using on my site.  Google Adsense had highlighted 50% of the width of the page as I have done above.  They were telling me to put an adsense unit here to get the best return.  The funniest part is that in the highlighted area, I already had a 300×250 Adsense unit!  So, I was already doing exactly what they told – which made the email pretty pointless.  However, in light of the recent Google algorithm update, I find it very educational.

Listen to Google Adsense Team or Google Search Team?

At first glance, this email from Google Adsense could mean that the Adsense team doesn’t have a clue what the Google search team is doing.  (Which may be very possible).  On the other hand, Google Adsense may know exactly what’s going on and is in essence telling us exactly what proportion of ads we can use above the fold.

In other words, its totally within Adsense’s policies for webmasters to place ads in the highlighted section above…above the fold – left justified.  However, placing ads above the fold in more than 50% of the content area is probably too much.  You need to have at least some of your content start right at the top of the page above the fold.

What This Means for Niche Websites

The bigger question with all the algorithm updates that Google makes is this: Are niche websites still a profitable and reliable business?  This is something that anyone in this business should be continually asking themselves.  After all, as I have stated over and over again, you are at the whims of Google for the most part in this business.  If they change how they rank sites, your business could be gone overnight; that’s an inherent risk that I have written about very publicly several times.

My answer to that question is that it depends.

If you think that niche websites will be a “set it and forget it” type business that generates passive income for decades to come, you are very wrong.  However, if you are willing to accept the fact that you are going to have to roll with the punches, and make changes when Google makes us aware of changes they are making, then you can still find plenty of money to be made in this business.

Keep a Long Term Focus

Even better yet, if you can focus on a more long-term strategy of producing high quality websites with unique functions or tools – then you will be ahead of the ball game.  I have written in depth about what I consider to be Good, Better, and Best Strategies for Niche Websites.  I still find that post to be very relevant.  You have to adapt, you have to evolve, and you have to focus on meeting the needs of the consumers (searchers).

Overall, this latest change by Google affects less than 1% of all searches, so it will have very little impact on my business I would expect.  However, its just another indicator that you have to be aware of what’s going on in the industry and be willing to tweak your business as you need to.

Finally, these are some of the latest changes that Google has made and I’ve offered my opinion on specifically how to implement these changes.  I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject.  Do you think these changes will have a major impact on the niche websites business?  Have you had any experience with this latest update?  What other thoughts do you have to share on the subject?

103 Comments for this Post

  1. Adam

    Adam

    Will Google penalize itself for excessive ads above the fold?
    They are being very hypocritical here because over the years the amount of ads on the search results pages have been getting bigger and bigger. When you take into account YouTube and Google Places the space for organic search results (the only real content that Google offers) is getting much smaller.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I think they should!

      Or just accept that many other businesses are supported by advertising, just like Googles; and give everyone else the freedom to run their business just as Google does.

    • Josh - Penny Auction List

      Josh - Penny Auction List

      Google penalizing itself? Now that’s funny.

    • Matt

      Matt

      I’m as tired of Google’s antics as the next guy (I actually dislike Google quite a bit) but looking at them plus Spencer’s experiences gives us some idea of the threshold.

      A google search result page has plenty of content above the fold. They just hit the top left across & down the right side with ads. Little menu of content on the left and I see 7 search results of content on my monitor. Mine is a bit bigger than normal, but smaller monitors are at least getting 4 or 5. Going off the image Google sent Spencer, seems like they’re not being hypocritical at all… as much as I’d like to catch them being.

      Seems this is just trying to clean out some of the more aggressive sites. What will be interesting to see though is if Google penalizes the very big players using this. There are a few info-type sites which do millions of uniques per month which use this strategy.

    • Adam

      Adam

      Adam,

      The thing to understand about G is that they have many departments; and that those teams don’t talk to each other.

      The Adsense team is telling Spencer what to do to get more clicks…but they don’t talk to the quality score team…which is the team who’s come up with the guidelines for the ad/content ratio.

      If you’d like to learn even more about this, I have a recorded interview that Spencer can share a link to if he’d like (as I don’t want to hi-jack his thread).

      In the interview, you’ll hear from a guy who has gone through the ringer with G and what he’s learned as a result.

      Trent

  2. DeAnna Troupe

    DeAnna Troupe

    I don’t think this will affect niche websites that depend on sources other than Google for traffic.

  3. Bill Zimmerman

    Bill Zimmerman

    This confused me when this was announced, because I had thought this was already addressed for the most part with Panda. In any case, it’s certainly best-practice to not pound the visitor with ads above the fold, as it doesn’t give a good “user experience” as GOOG likes to say.

    Also I believe the Adsense team and the Search Quality team have nothing to do with each other…that is to say, they don’t seem to work together at all, and that is something I’ve read lots of other SEO’s say as well. You should listen to the Search Quality team :)

    Reminds me of when I was a kid, and my father told me one thing, and my mother another. It’s like they never talked, but do they really work together and just trying to see if I figure it out? In all cases I listened to my father anyway(Search Quality team).

    Bill

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Yeah, I agree. I’m not so sure the 2 departments talk to each other as I mentioned. I think the adsense team is out just trying to maximize earnings without any input from the search team.

      Great analogy by the way!

  4. ryan

    ryan

    Was it clear if this is only for Adsense ads or would affiliate ads potentially create a problem also?

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      This would be for ANY type of ads. Adsense, affiliate, or any other type of advertisements would potentially cause a problem.

  5. Kent Chow

    Kent Chow

    One of my sites are making about $60 n I just removed the roadblock ads layout in ctr theme.

    Do u prefer left or right navigation bar layout, Spencer?

    I gonna play around with what u have suggested. Thanks!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I often use the right navigation bar.

  6. Victor Pidkowich

    Victor Pidkowich

    I have not seen any of these changes, probably because I utilize an less aggressive ad layout than you Spencer. Im certainly glad I stuck with the clean effective placements rather than do the aggressive, hard hitting layouts such as CTR theme and others.

    Also on the note of the two Goog Departments, Iv come across many bits of info that suggest these departments don’t talk to each other very much at all, and often times it can seem like Google as a whole is telling you 2 different things.

    Thanks for the update!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I have not seen any affects on my sites as I mentioned above. However, when in question, its always a good idea to use a less aggressive ad layout.

      Yeah, this latest update from google search and email from google adsense – definitely hints that they don’t talk to each other.

  7. Matt

    Matt

    Great post Spencer, I will be checking my sites to make sure I am not being excessive.

    How many ad units do you generally run on your sites? I am using two 336×280 (top and bottom of content), 160×600 (sidebar) and a link unit for most of my sites. Have you noticed certain ad units perform better or combinations of units?

    Thanks,

    Matt

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I usually have 2 or 3 ad units and 1 link unit. I tend to do best with a 300×250 ad unit in the content

  8. Andrew @ Social Web

    Andrew @ Social Web

    This was a helpful post, and a great comment by Bill re: the relationship between the adsense and search quality teams. I’ve never been quite sure how that works. No matter what, though, it’s pretty funny you got that email right when you did.

    I figured there must have been an algorithm update because one of my sites just moved up for a couple keywords. Hopefully my competitors aren’t reading this post if excessive above the fold ads was the reason!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Andrew – that’s awesome that you are moving up! I did find it quite funny the timing of the email I got.

  9. Dave

    Dave

    Maybe its a good thing. It seems to be knocking out my evil competitors. I am having the best adsense day I have ever had in the best month I have ever had.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Great! I hope you continue to have great earnings!

  10. Kevin @ Social media campaign management

    Kevin @ Social media campaign management

    Hi Spencer,

    Thanks for updating us on this new Google development. We just have to listen to what Google has to say, right? :) We don’t have a choice, but we need them anyway. Cheers, Bro!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Yep, pretty much :)

  11. Sandra

    Sandra

    Thanks for the email and post. I’m short on time, so I’m out of the loop, unless I get an email from someone keeping me up to date. This is good info to know.
    I think I’m usually good on all my newer sites (last few years), but may have a few older ones that are borderline on the number of ads. I was going to make some more Adsense sites this year, so I’ll keep this info in mind. Thanks again for keeping me updated.
    Now on to read the post you suggest on website strategies……
    Sandra

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Glad you found the information useful Sandra!

  12. Bryan

    Bryan

    You should write the Adsense team back and ask for some clarity and letting them know you have a 300×250 ad placed there and would like the specifics of what they suggest.

    I know of some people getting good results doubling up the 250×250 units(side by side). You could try that, and if you’re just going to stick with one ad you should test the 336x 280. It’s the best converting unit in most tests. I believe Google has mentioned that as well on their Adsense blog if I remember correctly.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Bryan – I do have several sites using the 336×280 unit as well. I do like your idea of writing google adsense back for some clarification. Perhaps they have some other ideas!

  13. Mark

    Mark

    Spence

    One of my sites is guilty of the first (adsense) layout you showed. It is a niche recipe site and today had 25 adsense clicks, (not very high amounts as is the case with recipes) It’s number 3 in google for the main keyword.

    Will be interesting to see if this change makes it go down as it’s been there for many months. There are 2 photos above the ads though. Perhaps that will save it.

    The rest of my sites are more compliant.

    Will keep you posted

    • Andre Garde

      Andre Garde

      It sounds like you’re running CTRTheme. It puts 1×2 images at the top, and if you’re running the roadblock layout, pretty much all text content is below the fold aside from the menus.

      If your site does ever drop it might be worthwhile to do a test and see if moving just the images down within the text of your site, in the middle of the article body. That should push more content up above the fold. Then use any layout other than the roadblock.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Mark – thanks for the feedback! As with Google, sometimes we don’t know what exactly is going on “behind the curtain”. However, I would be cautious with that layout based on this most recent update. In addition, Google also tends to roll out changes slowly to different websites at different times based on probably different things like site age, etc. Let us know if anything changes for you!

  14. Tom

    Tom

    Most of my sites have a 300 by 250 in the upper left corner, and a skyscraper either on the left or right side on the same level as the 300×250 ad. In any case, text content is always at the same eyeball level as the 300×250 in all cases, so would those blogs be safe ?

    On a few of my blogs, I put a 728 x 90 adsense unit in the header section, so it is above the fold and text is not seen unless the viewer scrolls down. Maybe I should change those ?

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Tom, if users do not have to scroll down to get the content they want – you are certainly safer than the first layout I showed. Who knows if its “safe”. If you see negative effects that you think is based on your ad layout, you can always change.

  15. Darron

    Darron

    Thanks for the post. One of my main sites took a huge hit. I had an adsense leaderboard under my header, a medium rectangle at the top left of the post and two affiliate ads at the top of the right sidebar. I went from page 1 to page 12 for three main keywords. On the other hand, I have a niche site running Amazon ads and went from position 12 to position 7 for the main keyword.
    Thanks again, I made some changes so I will see if it helps.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Im very sorry to hear that. I always hate to hear when sites take a hit. But it does sound like your ads were pretty top heavy. So, hopefully with the changes you have made, Google will have a chance to revisit and re-rank your site. Best of luck!

  16. Kevin

    Kevin

    I was unaware of the update until I got your email about the post. To be on the safe side, I already made some small changes to a bunch of my sites. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      You’re welcome!

  17. Matt

    Matt

    Knowing all the risks (and rewards) with building niche sites and using adsense as the primary monetization strategy, would you do it all over again?

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Yes. Its a business model that works very well for me and is highly profitable for me. However, it is still very risky and I’m very aware of those risks. I also understand that niche sites is not a good business for everyone. Everyone needs to assess the risks and make an educated decision for themselves.

  18. drew

    drew

    Oops. I was guilty of this. I changed a couple of sites a few weeks ago and loaded up the top with ads. I felt uneasy about it though and changed it a few days later. It just made me feel dirty and sleazy. After I changed it and had less ads, my CTR went up.

    On a related note, my CTR took a nose dive on the 18th. I am down about 70%. I haven’t changed anything. My page views are going up but my clicks have died off. Anyone know why this happens and what I can do to fix it? I was having my best month by far until that point.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Drew – I have not seen anything similar with my CTR taking a dive before. Have you confirmed that relevant ads are still showing on your sites? I guess Im not sure, if you traffic is from the same source (search traffic) and your ad placement hasn’t changed – the only thing I can think of is if the advertisers have changed. ?

  19. Larry Clark

    Larry Clark

    When they say “Ads”, does that mean google adsense? or Affiliate links or what? I got the same letter too. Funny…

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      When they say “ads” they mean all of the above. Affiliate links, adsense ads, amazon ads, ebay ads, clickbank ads, all ads that are not content that users are trying to find.

  20. Janaka

    Janaka

    Thanks for your information. It was very helpful to us. I am a newbie and I am looking for adsense.

  21. Jason

    Jason

    My best ranking adsense site tanked a few days ago. But has already showed a little signs of recovery. I use the standard layout everyone seems to use (link unit under nav, 300×250 in post, side bar – 250×250, bottom of post 468×60).

    My top 4 keyword rankings went from 4 to 10, 4 to 18, 4 to 28, and 12 to 49.

    It’s all good though. Over time, my quality content will raise back up.

  22. Gary

    Gary

    I use a very aggressive adsense layout and I’ve lost about 40% of my traffic and half my income. Funny thing is I seem to have only lost long-fail traffic. My main keywords that I’ve built a lot of links to have mostly held their number 1 positions. Those that have slid have gone to 2 or 3. Anyone else experience this?

  23. Anton

    Anton

    Hi Spencer!

    It’s funny but I always considered the 1st example of ads being too “agressive” ) So on my sites there’s only 1 ad block above the fold, either 336 or 300 width.

    As for other ads – pretty interesting if google will consider the product image with a link to where visitor can buy it as an “ad”, especially for product-related keywords.

    I won’t lift a finger changing anything on my sites, and I think google better remove their 3 adwords ads block above the fold of organic listings :)

    We could get way more traffic!

  24. Loloy

    Loloy

    Thanks for this post, Spencer!

    I’ve read about the latest Google update about page layout and ad placement but I’m a bit confused with what has happened with my sites.

    I have four sites on the first page of Google and all have the same AdSense ad placement. The thing is, two of them went down the rankings at just about the time the update happened and the other two held on to their positions.

    Remember, they all have the same AdSense ad placement layout – a link unit under the header area, a rectangular ad box under the post title with text wrapping to the right, and an image ad on the sidebar. There is sufficient content above the fold, I believe.

    Four sites that have the same AdSense ad layout, two went down, the other two holding ground. I’ve been pulling my hair trying to figure out the reasons behind these…

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Loloy:
      Sounds like the decrease in rankings was probably something other than the ad placement as you stated. Since 2 or your sites were affected and 2 weren’t that had common ad placement – then most likely the ad placement wasn’t to blame. There are literally thousands of factors in the google algorithm, so it could have been quite a number of things.

  25. Muzi Mohale

    Muzi Mohale

    In my case, I find that center justified below title performs better than left/right justified, with content starting below the ad.

    • Chris

      Chris

      That probably won’t yield enough content above the fold then. You need at least 50% content above the fold and if you have a standard site header, there wouldn’t be enough room for that unless you wrap the unit with text.

      I prefer starting the content under the ad as well, but it’s hard to get enough content above the fold (even with a shallow header) in that case.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I agree that that gives a better CTR. But that seems a bit aggressive now in light of the recent change.

  26. New Google Algorithm and Ad Placement | Niche Site News

    New Google Algorithm and Ad Placement | Niche Site News

    […] Today, Spencer Haws has even more information and a highly ironic email to share on his latest post on Niche Pursuits, Too Many Ads Above the Fold?  Time to Change… […]

  27. Chris

    Chris

    Does that second setup only have one unit above the fold?

    I honestly have no idea how that’s even viable, unless you get enough traffic for a 2% CTR to pay off.

    I’ve gone from the CTR theme with push down images to a left sidebar 160×600 (above the fold) and a right justified 336×280 and my CTR dropped to barely 3% today.

    So one ad above the fold must have embarrassingly low CTR.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Chris – Its very viable. You can get excellent CTRs (well above 2%) with that setup. A lot of it depends on the keywords – with some keywords people are in the mindset to click ads, with other keywords they avoid them at all costs. You may be in a low CTR niche.

  28. Sammy@Best Home Business

    Sammy@Best Home Business

    Recently I read an article about how Google is being dishonest by splattering their search page with ads and even favoring Google+ results over others. And then, it advises publishers to display less ads above the fold.

    This is downright hypocritical and its time we take action against it.

    Here’s the article for your reference.
    http://www.facebook.com/SiteSell/posts/282071248520660

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Google does seem a bit hypocritical in this matter…

  29. Dan

    Dan

    It would be nice for the Adsense team to at least reference what the webmaster blog is saying. I had the same experience with one of my sites (them recommending ad placement). Can’t bite the hand that feeds…

  30. Michael

    Michael

    Hi Spencer

    Funnily enough I received a message from Adsense on the 18th of January to add an additional advert to each page. The next day I noticed that the site they were referring to had dropped to the top of the third page. The site in question has always been around the bottom of page one. To my horror I noticed a drop in 5 other sites, they all had 2 336 x 280 at the top but very little content. Sites that had a lot more content with this type of ad placement were unaffected.

    I knew it had to be some sort of algorithmic change, is there anywhere we can keep up-to-date with the latest Google changes?

  31. Sheyi Shobayo

    Sheyi Shobayo

    Spencer, thanks for bringing this to our notice. I will check some of my adsense sites now and see wassp with them. I guess very soon publishers will get other means of monetizing site as adsense and google in general seems to be an ass these days. always update contradicting

  32. Mike From Maine

    Mike From Maine

    I got slapped by this update a couple of days ago. I simply went to all my sites and changed the adsense layout. I’m already seeing my rankings return and my income increase.

    In a way I’m happy about this update because my sites really were pretty ugly with all those ads :-)

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Glad to hear that you are seeing a rebound on some of your sites!

  33. Nawigacja

    Nawigacja

    Google, as usually, is ambiguous and far from providing any details. Matt says: “place ads above-the-fold to a normal degree”. But what is normal degree? Looks like we would have to test it on our own.
    Thanks Spencer for bringing this up.

  34. Mark

    Mark

    My experience – 2 x 250 blocks side by side after title – no change so far so will stick with it until affected.

    My CTR has been so much lower when I just have had 1 adblock with text wrapped around.

    Spencer I note with your layout you could have a 468 banner to right of your header – this wouldn’t push any content down – just wondering why you don’t use that space?

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I certainly could use that, and I have on some sites. But the CTR tends to be pretty low in this space. But, I’m always testing different things out, so if it works well for you…great!

  35. Steve A

    Steve A

    Hey Spencer,

    Sorry if I missed this written elsewhere, but does an image count as content? Is there any way to know for sure?

    A few of my sites have an image next to an ad unit and the text content right below that. Since they are brand new they are still google dancing daily so I can’t see if it’s affecting my rankings lol.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I don’t know for sure, but my thought is that no, its not content. The content users want to see is probably what they searched for – which is typically text written on a page (as opposed to an image).

  36. Shakd

    Shakd

    Great thorough post Spence! Really enjoyed it!

  37. Carrie

    Carrie

    I am not very aggressive with my ad placement and saw no change. It’s good to see I could consider still adding another block without a negative change. Thanks for sharing your results.

  38. Damon

    Damon

    One of my sites also took a hit around Thursday and I couldn’t work out why. Now I know, and I had the CTR theme running. Have changed themes and will rearrange the ads. Here’s hoping!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Hope it turns around for you Damon!

  39. Boris C.

    Boris C.

    Previously in 2011, when i read that too many ads is bad and wanted to start making changes to ad layout, i later saw optimization report in AdSense account which suggested placing more ads. This is when i thought that Google mislead or contradic to themselves and later thought that two departments are “non-synchronous” if you know what i mean.

    To comment on your quesion Spencer asking if this algorithm change will have major impact on niche websites business, i think absolutely that it won’t and only impact on niche websites crammed with ads and run by spammers which will only clean search results from junk that only leaves no choice to Google but to enforce stricter rules and make tons of changes to search algorithm. If there was no abuse, everybody would be happy but as long as there is (and there will always be, because such is life) Google will continue rolling out algorithm updates and we will have to adapt.

    Personally i only deem this update as correct move from Google and i don’t think it is something that we should be worrying about. Balance between visitor value and profit is what it is all about. Life is all about balancing between human values and money, about knowing the borderline.

    “Use it, don’t abuse it!” is one of my mottos.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Great comment Boris. I agree that this update will have little impact for most of us – but its essential to be aware of these updates in order to successfully implement in your sites.

      • Boris C.

        Boris C.

        Correct Spencer, but in short i meant to say that there are more important things we, as publishers should be worried about.

  40. Ray

    Ray

    Nice post Spencer and thanks for the update. I don’t use any aggressive ad placement on my sites so I’m hoping this doesn’t effect any of my sites.

  41. www.OmarAndWill.com

    www.OmarAndWill.com

    Thanks for the Update Spencer! It’s always good to stay in tuned with the Latest from big G.

    -Omar

  42. Davos

    Davos

    What about your site:

    http://www.healthydog-food.com/

    No adds are above the fold.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Im not sure whose site you think that is – but its not mine. Neither is the other one you mention below.

  43. Davos

    Davos

    And:

    http://www.animationschoolguide.com/

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Not my site either.

  44. Michael

    Michael

    Hey Spencer –

    Thanks for this update. A week or two ago I added on extra text link unit at the top of my page and it seemed to kill my earnings. It went from a couple dollars a day on the site to NOTHING overnight. Was super confused. Must have been affected by this update.

    The weird thing is it was just one little text link unit and I only had two ads elsewhere on the page. One on the left and one at the bottom.

    It really wasn’t much and followed your guidelines. However I guess Google didn’t like it so I had to change to follow their rules.

    Oh wells.

    Thanks again for the update.

  45. Mary Chicoine

    Mary Chicoine

    Hi Spencer – I was wondering when someone would comment on this; I saw it on Wordtracker a few days ago.

    I don’t have any adsense sites, but from a purely personal point of view when I go to a website I hate having ads blaring at me from all sides. I find that a turnoff, as I’m looking for information first and moremost. I’m referring mostly to sites that have all kinds of ads (not adsense per se).

    A great post as usual.

    Best regards,
    Mary C.

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Yep, I agree Mary. As a visitor, I don’t like sites that I have to search for the content. As a publisher, I want to make as much money as possible. So, its a fine balance.

  46. troy

    troy

    Do you find that the top ad unit in the content works best when left aligned or right aligned?

    It seems to me that left aligned (right under the title) would draw more clicks because it is where the eye looks directly after reading the title. But I don’t have evidence to support this

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      I agree that left aligned tends to get a better CTR.

  47. Joe Spiezer

    Joe Spiezer

    It would be awesome if you would post some info about Smart Pricing. While you’re busy making hundreds from sites, the rest of us are taking over the #1 spot on google for terms that start out making $1-$2 a click and within a week they are down to making less than a quarter. This happens over and over again… different niches, different adsense accounts. Would LOVE to know how you’re dodging that one that everyone else faces!

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Joe – I have never done anything special or had to deal with smart pricing as far as I’m aware. I will do some research to see if this is a common issue and address it if it is.

  48. Laura

    Laura

    I’ve been thinking that the two ads at the top was a little old, even though I still see sites doing this.

    Spencer – have you talked about the adsense earnings vs finalized earning discrepancies going on? I’ve noticed it for a few months, my most recent was about 11% less on the final earnings. Could this have anything to do with the ad placement?

    • Spencer

      Spencer

      Laura – more likely Google noticed “invalid” clicks, which could be one user clicking multiple ads or other things. Or it could just be discrepancies on between what is reported the day of and what the advertiser actually paid.

      • Laura

        Laura

        Thanks Spencer. These conflicting earning/payments started happening a few months ago, and never really before that. I’ve now seen posts on webmasterworld of other people seeing this happening since about October. Traffic for one of my sites has been increasing (yeah) and I figure that’s the increase in clicks. I’ll just keep watching.

  49. Anshul

    Anshul

    Hey Spencer, funny I actually got the exact same email from AdSense team just days before they rolled out Page Layout update.

    I did run a couple of tests on one of my top earning niche sites straightaway where I removed the two large rectangular ad units above the fold and moved them below the content body and introduced one half banner random ad unit within the content.

    Surprisingly I was getting even more clicks with the new layout! so may be the having big ad units above the fold isn’t as critical for high CTR as many people believe.

  50. Kief

    Kief

    Hi Spencer,

    Very timely post. I just bought a small site but was surprised when I asked the seller about their thoughts on big G’s update…they weren’t aware to my surprise!

    Hope you don’t mind a question here…a bit off topic. What do you think of .co and .info TLD’s? I’ve done some keyword research and found some great exact match domains for these buyer keywords with high exact searches (>1000) with high CPC values ($1.50 and more). Also low-med competition. Do I go for it with these?

    Cheers!

    Kief

    P.S. Gotta figure out how I to get a pic up like the other posters here.

  51. Chris Guthrie

    Chris Guthrie

    Update from me…

    I had built 11 sites right around Thanksgiving of 2011. I used the CTR Word Press Theme with the RoadBlock layout enabled. Since those sites went live, only 4 of them have made it out of the dreaded 200+ range. I have had my suspicions as to why most of those sites were not doing well and believed to be penalized. My theories were:

    1) Too aggressive back linking (UAW articles set to 10/day, MAN articles set to unlimited distributions, both networks set to start distribution 7 days after all sites went live, some using straight PLR content, some using spun PLR content).

    2) Lack of content. Each site was started with only 1 page. Each homepage article being a minimum of 525 words.

    3) Adsense ads appearing on admin pages in the sidebar (contact, privacy-policy, etc).

    4) And once I read this blog post perhaps the appearance of the RoadBlock layout in the CTR theme.

    After reading this blog post I spent hours and hours going through all 53 of my sites to disable ads appearing on admin pages and disabling the RoadBlock layout on the 15 or so sites that are using the CTR WordPress theme.

    Since performing these modifications 4 of those 7 sites that never made it out of the 200+ range are finally starting to rank (still in the 100+ range, but I’ll take it), and my CTR has gone back up to what it was during the month of December (I had seen a 30% decrease in CTR after December 27th).

    I can’t say with 100% certainty these modifications helped my sites. If the modifications didn’t help, it is just a well timed coincidence.

    • Andre Garde

      Andre Garde

      It sounds like thin content is really your issue here, Chris. With only 525 words and one page, unless your article is really damn good ( as in TextBroker Level 5 for example), I can’t see you ranking high for that. Try longer articles like 900-1000 words if you want to do a 1-pager just to get the ball rolling. Then examine Analytics after a month or so to see where you are, to know if you’ll need to add content quickly or not.

      With regards to CTR Theme itself, I’ve changed my thinking and I think there’s nothing wrong with it in this day and age if you use it properly. No Roadblock is a must. Also, I mentioned above that I moved the 1×2 images within the article text to push more content up above the fold. I’m testing this now but I think it will help in the long run, especially if I have a site that makes page 1.

      • Kent @ Niche Marketing Tips

        Kent @ Niche Marketing Tips

        Chris and Andre, be honest, Roadblocker is my favorite and the highest conversation rate. Since there was an update about the ads too agressive above fold.

        I turned off roadblocker and testing out 336 Left and Right and see who would be my winner. :)

        I suggest you guys do decent on-page SEO (as a win-win, it would enhance the user experience too). It saves you backlinking effort down the road.

  52. Don

    Don

    I think this last tweak by the adsense team is in the right direction. I see it as a self cleaning act. If vusitors get confronted with too much ad space in the beginning, web browsing itself could loose some appeal. it reminds me of print magazines that kept developing more and more ad space on their first pages until you had 20 pages of pure ads even before getting to the contents page. Those mags lost a lot of readers over time. Nowadays, the balance is a bit better but the damage to ads as a concept remains in the print business – everyone just flips right by them. Adsense risks getting into the same dilemma – unless they take steps like this one – regaining a balance which satisfies all camps – readers, publishers and advertizers.

    @Chris my testing of the CTR theme made me drop it. I got the feeling google had it tagged as persona non grata.

    • Chris Guthrie

      Chris Guthrie

      I’ve been throwing around the idea of changing some of those themes out for something else. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. The thing is some of my best ranking sites are using the CTR theme… so who knows.

      I haven’t had great CTR with the CTR Theme… I just need to find the time to change it out.

  53. Andre Garde

    Andre Garde

    … and in other news, it seems that the owner of CTRTheme is selling his website and product completely on Flippa. Maybe the new owner will introduce fold-friendly changes?

  54. Jerome

    Jerome

    Thanks for the update Spencer. Had to make some changes to one of my sites but i guess its better safe than sorry……

  55. How to Avoid Smart Pricing on Google Adsense | Niche Pursuits

    How to Avoid Smart Pricing on Google Adsense | Niche Pursuits

    […] they have ads that get clicked more (higher CTRs).  So, optimizing the ad placement on your site (without overdoing the above the fold ads) is actually a good thing from both advertisers perspective and Google’s pocket […]

  56. Miranda

    Miranda

    I am glad to read this! I still am not sure if I would be considered in violation though. I have a 300 by 250 in the top of my right sidebar and a leaderboard below my navigation bar centered. Both of these are above the fold and I have a feature image with each post. All of that is above the fold and you don’t see actual content until you scroll down a little.

    I just changed up my ads too and I actually doubled my Adsense earnings this month so I hate to change it. I guess I will wait and see if SE traffic drops.

    Thanks for the update on this!!

  57. I Hate The New Google Page Layout Algorithm Improvement

    I Hate The New Google Page Layout Algorithm Improvement

    […] layout came from NichePursuits.com and it explains in detail what the new Google page layout algorithm is trying to avoid. This one […]

  58. Aric Jorgan@Swtor Credit Savior

    Aric Jorgan@Swtor Credit Savior

    Luckily for me, I do not use Google Adsense in my site. I only use my affiliate’s ads so I don’t think I will be hit by this algo anytime soon

  59. Michael @ Jet Airways

    Michael @ Jet Airways

    I suddenly face drop in ranking. After doing many changes, i thought may be ad units could affect the raking. There was 3 ad units above the fold in my blog. So, i start digging and after reading your article, i removed 1 unit and now there are only 2 ad units above the fold. I hope this will improve my ranking. By the way thanks for sharing valuable knowledge with us.

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