Earlier this month, Google confirmed that page layout is now a ranking factor for its search engine. The update is one of over 500 improvements to Google’s ranking algorithm that are being rolled out in 2012.
Why would Google elevate page layout to official ranking factor status? Consider the following scenario:
You’re using Google to try to find useful information, and somewhere on page one of the search results you click through to a page that looks promising. Except it isn’t: the second you land on the page, you regret that impetuous mouse click. The layout is swarming with distracting AdSense advertisements, making you scroll down a few meters to find the information you want. The information that Google lead you to believe was contained on this page is buried in an obnoxious layout that makes you jump through hoops to discover it. Even if you persevere to successfully find the information you need, you still leave with a horrible experience engraved in your memory about both the website and the search engine that lead you there.
In making page layout a ranking factor, Google is trying to make it up to you. Since the change took effect, Google judges websites with huge image banners or advertisements above the main content as less valuable and relevant. In another words, this algorithm change will most impact sites which have a limited amount of visible content above the fold.
Advice for Websites
Although only less than 1% of search results are directly affected by this algorithm change – so far – webmasters should take the implications seriously. Google’s latest move is just the last in a long line of initiatives that put the user experience first (the recent Search Plus Your World debacle aside). Statistically you will probably escape a rankings dip for now, but if your pages are dominated by ads and other irrelevant information above the fold, your rankings could be next in the firing line.
Not sure if your web pages are aligned with the new ranking factor? Google is helping webmasters to improve the layout of their pages with their browser size tool in Google Labs. As shown in the picture below, you can use this tool to see if your website layout brings the majority of online users a positive and relevant experience.
If your rankings seem to be affected by this algorithm change and you aren’t sure how to fix it, please drop me a line in the comments and I’ll see what I can do to help.