Announced a few hours ago on the Google inside Search Blog link to PDF was this little beauty of page layout analysis being part of the quality score within the ranking algorithm. What does this mean in reality?
Many years ago back in 2004, Microsoft created an algorithm that scored links based on their location, type and size within a page, this was called Block Level Link Analysis, and as a result, all links were no longer equal (which is a good thing). It has been believed that Google have used this for sometime, but they have now taken this a step further.
Google claim to be interested in user experience beyond all else (other than making money of course), and this change appears to be a quality control change, but this old bald guy can’t help think that there is huge potential for babies to go out in the bathwater.
So lets grab some snippets of that blogg post by Matt Cutts
As we’ve mentioned previously, 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.
So they are acting on complaints (from their testers) that they want to see content above the fold.
Define Above the Fold?
Two HUGE things there are how do you define ‘content’ and how do you define ‘above the fold’? For those that don’t know, ‘above the fold’ is a term from the newspaper days of broadsheets which were traditionally folded in half. In the news displays, the papers would be placed with the masthead and headline showing out (top half of front page), anything in the printed part is ‘below the fold’ In this case it means the page requires scrolling to read it. The difficulty here is how do you define ‘above the fold’ in a world where monitor sizes vary dramatically, screen resolutions the same, how on earth do you define ‘above the fold’? Sorry Google but that is pretty much an impossible task.
On a photography site the content may be imagery, the content may be delivered by video, so HOW THEN are Google going to define the term ‘content’ Flash, Ajax, there are so many technologies that can render a page devoid of content, yet still deliver an enriching entertaining, satisfying user experience. But is this ‘content’ under the definition which Google apply?
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.
That right there tells me they are going after excessive advertising, which was a large factor in the panda update(s), it is also clearly saying that going forward, such sites will not rank as highly.
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.
Now read this and think, “or make it hard to find Actual ORIGINAL content” so again this appears to be targeting content scrapers (like Google :p ) sorry I couldn’t resist! Back on topic, it looks like they are trying to get original content with a balance between ads & content. I was involved in traditional publishing and a 60/40 mix (with content being 60%) is about as high as you want to go without ruining the user experience, and getting ad blindness, which results in poor advertising ROI. Which is fine, but that single video could have 1000 words on it, all original, all relevant, all content . How will google handle this?
OK Google define ‘Above The Fold’ Please
If you believe that your website has been affected by the page layout algorithm change, consider how your web pages use the area above-the-fold and whether the content on the page is obscured or otherwise hard for users to discern quickly. You can use our Browser Size tool, among many others, to see how your website would look under different screen resolutions.
In short, they fail to tell you what THEY are classing as above the fold, admittedly they are recommending you check this using browser simulators and screen resolution simulators, BUT they give absolutely no reference point with which to gauge where your content sits.
I appreciate what Google are trying to achieve here, but I can’t help but thinking there will be a lot of good, honest websites disappearing from page 1, losing pretty much all their traffic, and revenue, PURELY because again Google has introduced an element that is vague, and doesn’t really stop the spammers (who right now are placing layers of content above the fold to combat this) and so protecting themselves from the algorithm change. While the good old boy watches his really popular image based website go down the pan (along with his earnings) killing not only his website, but his dreams of earning a living from the web, and his faith in Google’s ‘don’t be evil’ mantra.