Google Prefers Content on Top in Website Design

Sam Lowe
Posted by Sam Lowe on March 17, 2014

above-the-fold-advertisementsGoogle is at it again and has made an update to its “Top Heavy” algorithm update. This one is another move towards improving user experience on the web and making content more “human-friendly,” not just for machines to scour. Lately, Google seems concerned with the placement of content above or below the fold on a web page. 

What do I mean by "fold?" The fold alludes to old print publications, such as newspapers, where the front page had a center fold, dividing the content in two. Similarly, websites have a "fold" at the bottom of a window. "Above the fold" means you haven't scrolled down to reach the rest of the webpage, and "below the fold" refers to the content you see after you scroll. Good design in both areas are essential for strong user experience, but make no mistake: "above the fold" content is crucial to site performance because it's what visitors (and web crawlers) see first.

Nobody understands websites' virtual "folds" better than Google, so although you might not think a whole lot about where content is placed on a web page, content design can have dramatic consequences for your website's performance in search results. Google's most recent update is especially important to pay attention to because it refines how web crawlers look at content placed above or below the fold. 

What does this update mean for you? It means you should take a closer look at your website and evaluate how your on-page content appears to users, not just to web crawlers. I’m going to give you a little background information on the Top Heavy update and what it means going forward with website design.

Top Heavy Explained

Top heavy refers to a web page with ads or images at the top of the page, pushing content down the page. If you were to zoom out from a top-heavy webpage, you’d see a lot of images at the top and a skinny bit of content down below. 

Google started punishing websites that displayed more ads than actual content above the fold in January 2012. Users had been telling Google that they didn’t like it when content was pushed below the fold, requiring them to scroll more than they thought was necessary. What did Google do to respond? They devised and implemented an algorithm of course! The algorithm punished websites that pushed content down below the fold. Only about 1-2% of searches were affected by this algorithm and its updates.

What This Means For You – Right Now

If you have a large number of ads at the top of your website, you should consider taking them down or moving them to the gutter section of the page. Yes, it’s that simple. Better yet, evaluate the revenue you receive from those ads and determine if it’s even worth keeping them on your site, keeping in mind that users navigate away from your site when they click on an ad. Is that where you want them? 

You should also reconsider having a large image at the top of your page that pushes content down because that format could be penalized by Google, too. Content should always be above the fold not just to please Google but because it’s what users like to see. Don’t believe me? Take a look at what the people at Moz have to say. According to them, content above the fold grabs 80% of our attention. 

Below is an example of a webpage that could be affected by Google’s Top Heavy update. It’s a screenshot from Fast Company’s website and man, do they ever push their content down the page with ads and an image! Their site has some awesome articles, but the design definitely gets in the way. 


What This Means For You – In The Future

The latest algorithm change isn’t causing a major uproar right now but I believe that it’s another sign of things to come. Google has been gravitating toward updates that are user-centric and that doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon. 

Considering recent updates, it appears as if Google is going to start penalizing websites that are gearing their content and layout toward machines instead of users. Don’t panic – your site isn’t going to plummet on the rankings just yet if the site layout isn’t very user-friendly, but you may start to see a steady decrease in traffic over time as more Google updates start to roll out.

Any changes on your website going forward should be made to optimize the user experience. You might be thinking, “Duh, that’s what a website is about,” but you should dig deep and decide if what you’re doing is actually self-serving or not.

In Conclusion

The new Top Heavy update from Google should act as a reminder for what matters in web design. Google has been taking some baby steps and a few larger leaps toward optimizing the web around the user. That’s exactly what you should be doing on your site. Now go out there and get rid of those large images and ads that push content below the fold! 

Optimize your website, inbound marketing

Topics: Search Engine Optimization, Website Design

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