Google SEO: Content Above the Fold
Impact of internet ads on user experience
When it comes to Google SEO and website content, two words that should be given high priority on every webmaster's SEO checklist are: user experience.
This should come as a welcome sigh of relief for internet content providers who are exhausted from chasing after Google's hundreds of algorithm changes and updates per year, tired of spending more time on what seems like SEO trickery than compelling content, and weary of trying to figure out what Google really wants.
Simply put, what Google wants is to provide a five-star experience to its users by serving up the most relevant, high-quality pages. And one thing that detracts from this user experience is excessive internet ads above the fold. In fact, as of January 2012 Google's Page Layout Algorithm penalizes sites of this nature - about 1% of sites according to their figures.
Why user experience matters
As Google's algorithms are attempting to become more human-like, webmasters, content providers and internet writers need to shift their focus back to where it never should have strayed from in the first place - the user.
This is not to say that other factors that impact Google rank and click-through should be neglected. Search engine optimization falls under two big umbrellas:
- Road signs to find a website
- Destination - the website itself
"Road signs" include items like a website's URL, title, headings, description, keywords, keyword phrases, and legitimate backlinks. Road signs are important in helping Google "find" a website, but the destination - the content and the user's experience - matters too.
Think of it this way: Driving along the highway you notice quite a few billboards for a restaurant claiming to have the world's best pancakes. Eagerly, you follow the signs only to discover that the pancakes are actually horrible; you vow never to return to the restaurant. Google is as concerned about the pancakes and restaurant as it is about the billboards that led you there in the first place. User experience matters!
One aspect of creating a great user experience is to provide content above-the-fold. After all, the reason a user clicked-through to a site was to find information matching their search query, NOT internet ads.
What does above-the-fold mean?
Above-the-fold is newspaper lingo for the content that literally appears above-the-fold on a printed newspaper. When referring to a computer screen, above-the-fold is everything that is visible without scrolling.
As one can imagine, this varies widely depending on computer screen sizes and screen resolution settings.
Don't let internet ads crowd out content:
Keep in mind that Google is penalizing an excessive amount of ads above-the-fold, not all ads. Although Google does not quantify what is meant by excessive, it may fall under the category: "you know it when you see it."
Obviously, if internet ads crowd out content to the point that scrolling is required to find any information, then rest assured, Google will penalize the site. Website owners should look at all their pages (any of which a user may enter through) from a user's perspective. Give them some of the information they are seeking at first glance, not clutter; create compelling content; turn them into repeat visitors.
Try it out >>>
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Google's browser size tool helps visualize above-the-fold content
Google browser labs has created an incredibly easy-to-use, yet powerful tool that helps anyone visualize the percentage of computer users that will see a given portion of content above-the-fold. It's as easy as entering a site's URL and clicking go.
The percentage that is shown within the contour lines indicates what percentage of users will see the content. For example, 90% means that 90% of users will see everything within that contour line and above.
Web page with two internet ads
Example 1: 90% of users will see the entire Disney banner ad, the article's heading, about the first paragraph of text, the majority of an image related to the content, the author's photo, and about 1/4 of a second ad. Notice that 50% of users will additionally see a couple more lines of body text, a little more of the image, the majority of the second ad, and white space (the orange-shaded area).
Web page with three internet ads
Example 2: 90% of users will see the entire banner ad for Netflix, the article's heading, about the first paragraph of text, most of the Oklahoma ad, the author's photo, and about 1/4 of the publishing ad. Notice that 50% of users will additionally see a couple more lines of body text, a little more of the Oklahoma ad, the majority of the publishing ad, and white space (the orange-shaded area).
Google engineer, Matt Cutts: content crowded out by ads
Forward video to 19:45 for discussion regarding above-the-fold content & ads
Updating page layout
Site owners realizing that their visitors are receiving an ad-heavy, content-light first impression can adjust their page layout so users can readily find the information they are seeking.
It is important to note, however, that page layout changes should be implemented sitewide, not just to one or two pages. Additionally, it can take several weeks for Google's searchbot to crawl enough pages to evaluate the page layout changes.
Google engineer, Matt Cutts, explains,
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. ... On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.
In other words, be patient!
On a final note, as new pages are added to an existing site or created for a new site, let the user's experience be the standard for content decisions, never forgetting that the first impression of content above-the-fold matters!
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