In January 2012 Matt Cutts, who at the time was Google’s very own Darth Vader, announced the Page Layout algorithm update. In short this update became known as the ‘Top Heavy Update’ because of its focus on websites that had unnecessarily heavy advertising above the fold or solicited very little content to the user when they landed on a page. If your site was (and is) very ad heavy above the fold or pushed important content down the page in order to make space for lots of ads higher up the page then you could find yourself on the wrong side of the law. It makes sense and was reinforced by Cutts in a Google Blog post , stating that “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“. We always reiterate it – Google’s first interest is their user’s experience when searching for content. Therefore Google will always bring out updates which will help to improve this experience and keep searchers coming back.
Unlike other updates, if you were penalised you did not have to wait until a subsequent update to the change. If you were to rectify the issues in regards to your solicitation of content to users Google’s algorithm would reassess your site upon their next visit….which seems awfully kind of them but don’t expect an instant return to the glory days, it can take a little while. Best not to be penalise in the first place.
There have been a number of subsequent updates to this algorithm although Google did not state how far reaching these updates were (the original algorithm impacted around 1% of searches).
It’s not just about ads
The main focus of this algorithm appeared initially to tackle websites that utilised the above the fold content to generate revenue from advertising – funnily enough there is a great article by Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Land from the roll out in January 2012 which allocated a portion of the article to claiming Google as a hypocrite considering their use of Adwords in search. Anyhow, yes the update seems to be focussed on preventing the pursuit of revenue via adverts from ruining the user’s experience of a website. However, as above, the core of the Top Heavy Update is Google encouraging webmasters to think more carefully about how they can put the user first. It is in everybody’s interest. If a website offers a great user experience they are more likely to convert visitors into customers and Google is able to provide users with search results that offer the greatest value for the user. Believe it or not, at the time a lot of webmasters were not focussing on the user and whilst that may still be the case with many websites there has definitely been a change in mindset in how to display content to users in the years since the roll out of the Page Layout algorithm. A fairly recent example of this is the discounting of tabbed or accordian content on sites due to the fact that it is not displayed to the user straight away.
Therefore, even if you do not have any advertising on your site, this update can teach a valuable lesson in how Google wants websites to provide content to their users. Simply put, the user should be able to find the content that they are searching for quickly, easily and without having to scroll excessively or work out where the hidden content is!