Google Page Layout Algorithm & Penalty

Jan 20, 2012 • 8:56 am | comments (64) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google PageRank & Algorithm Updates

Google Page Layout AlgorithmGoogle announced a new algorithm change that looks at your page layout and if the ads above the fold are excessive, your site can be penalized and downgraded in the search results.

This comes with no surprise to me and others, because 10 weeks ago, Matt Cutts announced that this is something Google is working towards.

Google wrote:

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. 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.

Google released a special tool at to help you visualize if your site may or was impacted by this. Here is how this site looks (click on it for a larger view):

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We seem to be okay, but what about Google's own search results. Well, Google won't let you plug in their own URLs into the tool, so it is hard to tell but I doubt they would pass the test.

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Danny Sullivan, as well as many others, go through the hypocrisy with this new penalty and how Google is doing the exact opposite. Not only that, they recommend to their AdSense customers to place ads top heavy so users click on them. Here is their ad map:

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That being said, the algorithm is out, if you were hit, you would probably know by now. To fix it, remove some of those ads, and wait and wait until Google pushes out an update. It can takes weeks.

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.

Who is affected? Google said 1 in every 100 searches are.

If you read the forums, almost every thread talks about how Google is doing one thing and saying the other.

Forum discussion at Google+, HighRankings Forum, Cre8asite Forums and WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: Advertisers Also Upset With Google's Q4 2011 Earnings Report


Matthew Coughlan

01/20/2012 02:10 pm

So do this add further speculation that the google crawler is a headless version of Chrome? Also, how does source ordered content affect this, if at all?


01/20/2012 02:31 pm

Barry here's another example of almost 100% ad on top fold on a google search for "student credit cards"

Dara Creative

01/20/2012 02:41 pm

Hummmmm very interesting especially the fact that Google's ads are top heavy.  But on that note Google may & most likely won't penalise themselve as this penality is for websites not search engines. Could the difference between search eingine & website be there get out clause for this?

Tad Chef

01/20/2012 03:46 pm

What can I say, I'm not really surprised. There are always two sets of rules for those in power and the powerless.

Michael Martinez

01/20/2012 04:28 pm

Google's search results are NOT included in the Google index.  Maybe the word "hypocrisy" is a little strong when used in this situation.

Michael Martinez

01/20/2012 04:33 pm

So this tool doesn't do any good if your pages have a fluid design that adjusts to browser size and capabilities.

Sick of Google Liars

01/20/2012 06:02 pm

Barry, why do you take Matt Cutts and other Google frauds at face value? You are a good man, you  live by the good ol' Jewish law of decency and morality. Googlers have lied for a long time after each update, now it's obvious. If it was a bad experience in our sites, why isn't it at Google? Search for "credit cards" or "monitors" and see. Users like ads at Gooogle but not at our sites? They are the same ads in most cases: Adwords /Adsense. This is another excuse for Google to take more traffic away and for webmaster to wonder why they got hit (like Panda was.)

Barry Schwartz

01/20/2012 06:05 pm

I am pretty sure I said this in a different way?


01/20/2012 09:33 pm

You know, it's getting harder and harder to keep up with Google. It might be better to just stop worrying about Google and give the visitors the best experience possible. Joe from Backpack and Gear


01/20/2012 11:01 pm

Well, I can tell you that one of my sites, just lost about 60% of its traffic with just 2 ads on any given page. Original content, strong linkage...did it matter? Nop it didn't. SEO? I kinda feel the urge to remove this from my vocabulary. Oh..did I tell you the 60% drop is a number like this:


01/20/2012 11:59 pm

Google, you got to the top by being the best and delivering us relevancy.  If this is what you think is best for your users why don't you take your own advice??

Stop Google

01/21/2012 02:34 am

I think that Google has used or will use this occasion to steal even more clicks from webmasters. Matt Cutts says 1% but he is a Google employee, and I trust as much as I trust Citibank's spokesperson. Barry, remember how Panda hit only "content farms" and then little by little it started to ruin perfectly OK businesses that didn't advertise (weren't brands) ? Then we find out that clicks on ads grew by 34% at Google-com? This could be Google's new season of looting, they are money hungry scum. They never have enough and at this point they are stealing from us.


01/21/2012 06:31 am

Now this is something like users vs ads. Its very clear that many publishers who use the ads is actually trying to do it for money purpose. There is no real content of such like that only, the ones who are genuine will place reliable content and not just for ads. 

Seattle SEO Company

01/21/2012 09:38 am

Interesting that they are basically discouraging advertising in the places they are the most effective.  I wonder how this will affect adsense.  Kind of ironic if it decreases that part of their business. 


01/22/2012 01:20 pm

Hi Barry, Thanks for this post. I, unfortunately, was hit with this. I run 5 websites, and they are all original and quality content, and I ranked pretty high for some competitive terms (only white hat seo). Unfortunately, all of my websites were hit on the same day this algorithm update rolled out. What perplexes me is that I only had 1 single ad above the fold---a large rectangle which was embedded and floated to the left of the content. Aside from that, just 2 other adsense units (below the fold sidebar and at the end of the content). That's it. I have no idea why google penalized my site for this, but I suppose it could have been due to some other javascript above the fold (add this button above the ad as well as a sidebar sharebar like you have). Either way, I've tried to remove the add this in hopes that it helps (but kept the share bar), but my earnings and traffic have essentially halved in the last couple of days. I'm personally getting so sick of Google messing with their algorithm and punishing quality sites along with bad ones--when the search really isn't that bad anyway. Even after this update, some sites above me weren't penalized and have much more poor ad layouts. I can only imagine what the other "500 algorithm changes" this year will include. Perhaps they will include changes such as: 1. No Google outbound links on your site penalty 2 Mention bing on your website penalty 3. Don't have an android or use chrome browser penalty 4. Don't use Google plus enough penalty 5. Have a google search bar on your website penalty 6. If your website is blue, green, white, or gray penalty (just because Matt Cutts hates those colors) 7.  If your website is profitable penalty 8. If you outrank Google for any terms penalty 9. If don't promote youtube on your site penalty 10. If you don't have the phrase "Matt Cutts is awesome" on your site penalty 11. If you don't pray to, and worship Google penalty 12. etc. etc. Personally, I've grown more and more tired of them for the past 2 years as they continue to exert more and more influence, care less and less about what their users say, and generally just act like Big Brother jerks. I think they are falling apart as a company. It's sad really.


01/22/2012 03:11 pm

I'm talking to an attorney about a class action lawsuit. You listen to the advice (written and verbal) of AdSense people. Then your site loses 80% of it's traffic for a single 728 banner.  Serious one part of the company gives advice that gets your site penalized. Google needs to own up to it's action. Or inaction. I think it's also time we contact our members of Congress for a congressional investigation. Also contact the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department I am still shocked one single ledger ad can penalized a site.

Calum Shepherd

01/23/2012 09:07 am

Good article, however hasn't been available for quite some time? I'm not sure that it's a new launch, as the article seems to specify. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it may end up disappearing shortly with the recent consolidation efforts! 

Joe Youngblood

01/23/2012 05:40 pm

It doesn't appear to allow the tool to work on either but does work on Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo. Anyone else find that odd?

Joe Youngblood

01/23/2012 05:41 pm

sigh... anchor text in blog comments....


01/24/2012 05:02 pm

Still not heard of anyone being affected though. Some say it has rolled out already, others that it has not. Any evidence that sites have been downgraded?


01/24/2012 09:36 pm

you didn't read the comments underneath..did you now?


01/24/2012 09:56 pm

Oooh, I read some, but did not see any examples of sites affected. Although not Bennie and yourself as having lost traffic recently.


01/24/2012 10:11 pm

I didn't give the site URL for privacy issue. But I tell you this, having lost almost 50k UV's per day on this update, kinda makes it affected. Also, I've read on many forums sites that lost considerable amounts of traffic due to this


01/24/2012 10:22 pm

Ouch, that is a big hit. Which forums are people sharing sites on? I guess most sites affected are updated already? Really would like to see some examples to get an idea of what is def. not allowed, and what is acceptable.

Search Files

01/25/2012 02:52 pm

I read on forums neslkih that because of this update, some sites have lost a lot of traffic ...


01/26/2012 06:32 pm

I got hit by this algorithm and lost a fair chunk of traffic to my site, but you know is it worth even trying to fix this anymore. I've started wrapping adds around text and using  smaller add units but after reading various threads, people who already have this type of add wrap on their sites are still reporting getting hit by Google. I feel like tearing my hair out, just how many hoops do we need to jump through to get our sites up to scratch for Google. And even when we think "hey my traffic is on the way back-up" BANG, another algorithm is rolled out and were back to square one. This is so disheartening and probably just going to get worse with each new wave of algorithms rolling out. I am not a happy bunny. 


01/31/2012 04:39 pm

I dislike GOOGLE more and more.  There is nothing you can do at any point in time that might effect your site.  As another poster said.  They have us jumping through hoops.  There should be a worldwide petition to boycott this bollo$$s They are too big and control too much of the market and they can do whatever they please.  I hear about returning quality results but not from what I see. Google can only think a site is quality by computer code, they penalise good sites, promote other sites beneficial to them.  Nobody knows what goes on inside that place.  It's like Willi Wonkas Chocolate Factory You can spend a whole year SEO'ing your site for a small google change to come along and kill it.  When did good results become about this and about that.  It's all about content, that's basically it and google couldn't tell you what good content even looks like, it just takes a guess at the best of times.

Peter Watson

02/03/2012 05:24 am

I have a feeling that this was actually rolled out at the start of Jan 2012 and not on the 19th as Matt Cutts suggested.


02/03/2012 10:50 am

I agree. Google is the search engine, the Adwords listings are bound by quality guidelines themselves anyway. Of course, if you can build your brand to be as strong as Google, you do not need Google (Google does not need search referrals!) and then you can do whatever you want with your site.


02/06/2012 05:46 am

more over you must have some good PR pages linked to google otherwise penalty and if dosent' have your default opening page as a google and if they detect this PENALTY

daniel moss

02/09/2012 05:54 pm

This is so ultra-hypocritical of google, who's on site,, is nearly 100% ads for many product searches now, eg: credit cards, televisions, etc.

Stathis Katinas

02/09/2012 06:57 pm

Looking at this is obvious why the CTR of the top ranked pages on Google is about 18% and the rest follow with lower numbers.


02/09/2012 07:26 pm

I don't know why anyone gets worked up over how Google operates. If you ever thought for a second that they're anything but a typical, self serving business, you're a fool. They don't have to be honest, fair, nice or play by the rules they bind their users to beyond what the law requires. And when the law gets in their way, they have lobbyists and campaign contributions (bribes) to fix that.Stop crying over how Google is evil and unfair and play the game like they do. Exploit them the way they exploit their users and every shred of content they can suck into their little search engine. Only play by their rules if it has an advantage for you or you can't figure out how to get around them. Google doesn't play fair or run an honest operation. No big companies do, it's why they're successful.  Give Google's rules/policies the same disregard that Google gives to it's users, it's competitors and the content owners whose property it uses to generate 95% of it's income off of.


02/09/2012 08:27 pm

Nobody really cares about Google.

Adarsh Thampy

02/10/2012 01:37 am

Thank God. Finally Google wakes up to clever MFA sites. Spammers would find ways to overcome this. But for now, MFA sites are going to take a big hit

Goose That's Loose

02/10/2012 02:09 am

It doesn't sound like you were hit by the ads update, but one of the other updates which took place in January.

Jonathan Bentz

02/10/2012 03:08 am

This seems to be effecting sites that have lead gen and are image heavy above the fold, also. Not just sites that are ad heavy. Hopefully there is some type of change to adjust for visual content heavy vs. ad heavy. I'm sure its possible for them to figure out. 


02/10/2012 06:09 am

They are really acting like idiots; Google act with complete freedom to do updates, force new T&C's down our throats and do best to confuse the hell out of everyone. Arrogant and stupid. And they still act like they are doing you a favour if you every actually speak to Google directly.

David Carley

02/10/2012 10:38 am

Firstly thanks for this tool:, good to see how many users can see all the nitty gritty of a webpage. There is hypocrisy from Google, what's new, but at least they are helping to remove websites purely set-up to leverage money from ads alone - they're pariahs of the web.  Naturally in the ideal world all website's would be geared up to offer either good clear information or an easy process to purchase required goods, but hey, I believe that's wishful thinking.

chris swaap

02/11/2012 05:24 pm

I came to the same conclusion

A UK web design company

02/12/2012 07:30 pm

We have totally unique content and use absolutely "zero" adverts anywhere on our website and yet we were hit by this....! We are still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but I suspect that our homepage video was mistaken for an advert, and we lost almost 95% of our traffic. We have made several changes to try to recover but are still waaay down in the rankings, we went from near the top of page 1 to the bottom of page 9. Does anyone actually know how many places this algorthmic "penalty" drops you by? Also does anyone know how long it takes for them to remove the restriction (penalty) after you have resolved the issues on-site?


02/13/2012 01:12 am

I wonder google aspect is changing day by day! itself is full of ads provided. why it have to ban site for promoting ads? If that website is for ads only? how advertising agency's do? have any idea _

Ram Babu SEO

02/13/2012 02:46 am

i must keep this new to make some of my new websites look be straight with this .. 


02/13/2012 06:45 am

I abandoned google long ago, if they send traffic then it's nice, if they dont then whatever. The internet would be a better place without adsense and without google trying to dictate everything but not using their own rules. Think about those youtube ads that pop up in the middle of a video, how is that for user experience?

Shane O'Donnell

03/12/2012 07:33 pm

Hey, did you ever get to the bottom of this Page Layout Algorithm & Penalty for your site, we're a web design company in Ireland and we've had the same problem, but we have no ads on our site either, altho we do have quite a few images above the fold. Did you guys ever get your traffic back?

Gary Hess

03/16/2012 05:37 pm

His website crams keywords hoping to rank for anything and everything. He is exactly who Google was trying to target. " london web design company Design company web Ecommerce & Website Designer | web design quotes London Essex freelance web site designers uk shopping cart sites in Southend on sea Websites Designer" is exactly what it says on his page. How does he expect *not* to be penalized.


03/20/2012 05:38 pm

Hi Shane, we did a lot of work carefully checking web master tools for 404 errors and went through Google's index for our website removing and 301ing any old pages we had forgotten about or low quality pages, and fixing links to pages that are not there any more etc, and have filed for reinclusion explaining to google what we have done. I do think that the main problem was to do with the Page layout algorithm and the video on our homepage, because it was set originally to auto play, but we changed it to a flash file with a link to play the video. I suspect that Google mistook it for an advert, and slapped a penalty on our site. We will see...


03/20/2012 06:47 pm

 wow, thanks for pointing that out, it was a very old footer tag right at the very bottom of the website. We have now removed it. You must have sat and read through tons and tons of code to find that little line....

Thomas Harrsion

03/26/2012 04:14 pm

I think you are all forgetting that adverts are a source of income for websites that provide a free service.

Jan krestansky

04/19/2012 09:46 pm

 Hi designs online, I have just checked your website and I think maybe you have little content I mean text content above the line....hope this one helps I don't like youtube ads coming up either !!!!!


04/19/2012 09:52 pm

 Hi I just hope one day facebook will take the power off from them ..... down with the monopolization


04/19/2012 10:07 pm

 it has already affected my ad-sense income :(

Brandon @ Seattle Organic SEO

04/19/2012 10:49 pm

Sorry to hear.  I've heard they're hurting a lot of adsense clients recently.  


05/04/2012 01:55 pm

Noway I can ignore Google!

Barry Schwartz

05/16/2012 10:44 am

Thank you mr cheap cars.

Brian Parnall

07/07/2012 05:02 pm

Do as we do not as we say


10/11/2012 06:12 pm

Sounds like a bunch of web spammers crying.

Danil Podg

10/12/2012 04:57 pm

Google will never remove their adwords from the header! As always they just want simplify dominate everyone in the market. There are no spam sites that ranks in Google search are remains on the internet, they all was removed by Panda and now they want to move a good sites as well. What wrong with my Wikipidea header banner!? Guys don’t allow them to kill your sites, fight for this! If they just forcing us to remove the ads, How about the constitution, where it should protect my freedom, what next they are going to move? Step away from this suggestion! The competition for humane learning machines is continue, don’t help them to create this robot, you can’t compete with this after. Why do we need to adapt for every robots change in “GooCle algorithm”?

seo consultants

11/28/2012 11:46 am

Why do we need to adapt for every robots change in “GooCle algorithm”?


10/24/2013 05:54 pm

only google allowed to have 99% browser window banner!


02/12/2014 04:43 pm

Google might not let you put their domain in the form, but you can take a screen shot and put it in


02/13/2014 03:24 am

You can give the users the best possible experience, but get no traffic because of Google's constant changes to the algorithm. Search results are a lot WORSE over the past three of four years. Less relevant, more big business and just requiring more time to search. Google does not listen and keeps making it harder for small business to get into the organic results and forces them to AdWords. I believe that is the strategy and it has been working. From a company that initially really supported the small business area, they have now become like the rest of the large multi nationals. It is very disappointing.


02/13/2014 09:45 am

my website is hit by Google Page Layout Algorithm last 4 day the penalty is no quires run in webmaster last 7 days....impression is nil..


05/23/2014 10:16 am

Barry is throwing a 404 error

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