Google’s Mueller clarifies layout algorithm

Google’s John Mueller recently clarified in a tweet that Google’s layout algorithm is generally not about ad count. This is a more detailed explanation that improves on eight years of SEO advice on the layout algorithm.

Background information:
What is the layout algorithm?

This is a brief explanation of the algorithm.

The SEO community correctly interpreted the layout algorithm as penalizing websites that had too many ads above the waterline. This is what the advice from Google has focused on.

Google’s page layout algorithm announcement in January 2012 read:

“Rather than scrolling the page in front of a multitude of ads, people want to see the content immediately.

… If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first does not have a lot of content visible above the waterline or devotes a large portion of the initial site screen to ads , it’s not very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as high in the future. “


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This statement emphasizes advertisements and was preceded by the following:

“… we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s hard to find the actual content, they’re not happy with the experience. “

The normal amount of ads is correct

Immediately thereafter, Google recognizes that it is acceptable to serve ads above the waterline.

“We understand that placing ads above the waterline is quite common for many websites; these ads often work well and help publishers monetize online content.

This algorithmic change does not affect sites that place ads above the waterline to a normal degree, but does affect sites that go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive or excessive degree. that make it difficult to find the actual original content on the page. “

This statement does not give a specific number of ads that could cause an algorithmic problem. It simply indicates that a “normal degree” of ads above the fold is fine.


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Some people may need the definition of “normal” to be clarified for them.

But I think most people can tell the difference between what is normal and what is excessive.

Content visibility above the fold

John Mueller’s tweet was made in response to a question about the actual number of acceptable ads above the waterline.

John Mueller tweeted his response:

Mueller’s answer gives a further nuance to our understanding of the layout algorithm. According to John, Google’s layout algorithm is generally less about the number of ads and more about the difficulty of finding the content that users expect to see.

“It’s usually not a question of the number of ads, but rather how well people find the content they are looking for (what was ‘promised’ in search) when they visit a page. “

What Mueller seems to be saying is that the algorithm doesn’t necessarily count the number of ads, but rather examines how difficult it is to find the content that users expect to see.

This way of explaining the layout algorithm fits perfectly with the purpose of Google’s original ad regarding this algorithm, especially when it explains:

“… we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s hard to find the actual content, they’re not happy with the experience. “


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Going forward, it’s probably best to focus less on the number of ads at the top of the webpage and more on how easy it is for users to access content.

Related: Bad ad usage practices that can hurt your SEO

Is Google cryptic and ambiguous?

I’m sure there will be some who go on to say that the layout algorithm advice is cryptic and ambiguous. Many would prefer a simple statement that X amount of ads occupying X percentage of pixel space is the line not to cross.

There is nothing ambiguous in the advice so as not to make it difficult to find the content. My opinion is that if a person thinks it is ambiguous then maybe search marketing is not the right solution for that person.

SEO is rarely black and white

The SEO community likes to add hard numbers to algorithms. They therefore recommend strategies based on percentages, such as the percentage of anchor text that equates to a “natural” distribution of backlinks or a percentage of keywords on a webpage to avoid over-optimization.


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The problem is, what isn’t natural in one industry is perfectly natural in another. In any case, percentages and numbers are almost always guesswork or based on correlation studies that are inherently untrustworthy.

Many times SEO is all about taking all the available information you have and making your best guess.

As much as we try to create best practices, we have to recognize that there is a lot of gray between black and white from what we know about Google algorithms.

And that’s okay because most things in life are like that.

Google’s layout algorithm