You have probably heard by now, but Google unleashed a fairly large change to their search engine algorithm last week. They are calling it the page layout algorithm change. At its heart, it really is a continuation of the changes that began with Panda last year. They are continuing to focus on the user experience, and punish sites that do not provide a good experience for visitors.
This change is focused on sites that are delivering ad heavy content above the fold.
“… 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. ”
What is now considered acceptable? Well they are a little less specific about that.
“We understand that placing ads above-the-fold is quite common for many websites; these ads often perform well and help publishers monetize online content. 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. “
They do not describe in any detail what is considered excessive ads at the top of the page. They do say that this change will impact about 1% of search queries.
One thing I read about this update was that if you get smacked by it, even after making corrections, Google says do not expect an immediate rebound. It will take some time, similar to Panda. This likely means it is some score stored somewhere in their database that only gets updated when the entire site has been re-crawled. That could be days to weeks after making changes.
What I would recommend is that you make certain that when someone visits your website, including any page on the site, at least a full solid paragraph, if not more, of content is visible without having to scroll down the screen. That should keep your site safe from this update.