We recently helped a friend of the company with some information about one of Google’s Algorithm (Algo) changes/updates. The Advertisements Above the Fold factor.
This is what we had to say:
Any Google update is designed to prevent low quality websites ranking (or rather rank high quality websites first). The “advertisements above the fold” layout Algo is an example of a use of block level analysis which we have known about for a long time. The Algo can see what is a side bar and what is main content so that it can discount useless stuff and rank you for the main content. See below
Now what Google says is that if you have too much space above the fold (a term from newspapers meaning what you can see when the paper is folded) full of adverts or useless items that they are not going to rank you as well.
If you are worried about having too many ads above the fold, put your URL in here and see how much content you can see compared to ads. If you wanted to be ultra careful I would say both 1st party and 3rd party banners/ads should be included in your assessments. So even your own internal ads may be a negative factor should they dominate your page above the fold. http://browsersize.googlelabs.com/
Consider this: what should YOU have more of on the screen when you open the site? Content? Navigation? Ads? What percentage seems right to you?
As for our customers? We tend not to design a site with ads built into the layout too prominently as a design factor rather than an SEO one, but we do have a few sites that use internal linking banners (or 1st party ads) heavily on their site and we have seen no significant drop in traffic for those sites. However even those ads are designed to sit well below secondary navigation and other side bar features, and we are always beating the drum for original content and quality pages which helps our customers in search engines.
To worry about ‘ads above the fold’ for SEO reasons should be secondary to worrying about why there ads above the fold for user reasons, and taking up valuable site content real estate in the first place. Ask yourself is what you have really what a user wants to see? Is that really how you want your business perceived. If the first thing someone sees when they visit your website is a mass of advertising and banner ads, would you be pleased?
“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.”
Our advice to designers is just keep putting content and users first and you will be fine. Consider moving ads further down the page, and increasing the size of the main content area.