It’s “Top Heavy 2″ As Google Rolls Out Update To Its Page Layout Algorithm

google-g-logo-2012Another week, another update to part of Google’s search algorithm. This time, Google announced a refresh of its Page Layout filter that it first announced back in January, or what’s often called the “Top Heavy” update.

Updates, Updates

It’s the fourth Google update in the past two weeks. The rundown so far:

The Latest On Top Heavy

The head of Google’s web spam team Matt Cutts announced the update today on Twitter and called it “minor,” saying it noticeably affects 0.7 percent of English-language queries:

The link in Cutts’ tweet points to Google’s original post about the Page Layout algorithm from January, which explains the algo thusly:

We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change.

If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

Our own story from the initial release also has more information: The Top Heavy Update: Pages With Too Many Ads “Above The Fold” Now Penalized By Google’s “Page Layout” Algorithm.

On the latest update, Google tells us that it is now live globally and no, it doesn’t have more specifics to share about how the filter may have been changed since it was first launched in January.

Getting Caught & Freed By Top Heavy

While officially the filter is called the “Page Algorithm” update, we and others have taken to calling it by the more descriptive “Top Heavy” name, since it focuses on penalizing pages that are top heavy with ads.

This is the second confirmed refresh of this particular factor in Google’s ranking system:

  • Top Heavy 1: Jan. 19, 2012 (impacted less than 1% of English searches)
  • Top Heavy 2: Oct. 9, 2012 (impacted 0.7% of English searches)

There may have been other refreshes of Top Heavy that aren’t confirmed, of course. We have asked, but Google won’t confirm if there were others. We number updates here for common reference by others and only for those that are confirmed.

For Top Heavy 1, the impact was said initially to be less than 1% of global queries. Google also told us today that it was about the same for English-language searches. That compares to an impact on 0.7% of English searches from Top Heavy 2.

The update means those who were hit by Top Heavy before potentially are now freed, if they made changes Google recommends. Those hit by it with the latest update will have to make changes and then wait until the next refresh of Top Heavy. The articles below explain more about how this type of filtering cycle works:

Google has promised more alerts for webmasters about its algorithm changes, and that’s certainly playing out over these past two weeks.

Postscript (October 10): Visualizing The Top Heavy Impact

There are a number of services that aim to show changes in Google’s search results by tracking a set of keywords and measuring the volatility in which pages rank on a day-to-day basis. We have images from three services that help visualize how a Google algorithm update like Top Heavy can change search results. The images below are from, in order,, and MozCast.




Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Features: Analysis | Google: SEO | Google: Top Heavy Update | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Matt Grudge

    There is no rule for top heavy and this is one of the main problem. Google Adsense department is much better , they provide heat maps to users where to place ads. This means to say that they should also define clearly what top heavy ads really means for them (with illustrations as well).

    This would be very helpful as end users will use this information to balance the presentation of ads within their content.

  • Matt Grudge

    Not all adsense websites are bad. Some websites really need a source of income to continue running their businesses in the Internet. A good example is Audacity software in sourceforge. They run adsense on their pages and their software is free.

  • Matt Grudge

    IMHO, even without worrying about whether I will get penalized for this or not, I think of my visitors. Personally most of my websites have small images in the header (height around 50px at most), the purpose is to show more content above the fold. I also noticed (from direct A-B Test that I’ve done), I have lower bounce rate with small images above the fold. It helps faster loading also.

    What worries me a lot of today is that even if my site is great (technically from my own perspective) it loses 80% of unique visitors from recent Google updates.

  • Dean Paul

    The results in my niche are complete TRASH. A one page Squidoo lens numer 3? Seriously? Way to deliver “engaging” content Cutts. I swear his mother dropped him on his head when little. Done with these IDIOTS.

  • Dean Paul

    No they arent smart at all. Simple, they want to push adwords to the max and until everyone quits using them to search they continue the GREED

  • Dean Paul

    You cant be serious. The Serps are AWFUL now

  • Dean Paul

    Improvement? All I see now is GARBAGE on first page in my niche

  • Carlton Bryant

    I am very curious if anyone has any experience with Adsense for Games and if this plays a role with a whole top heavy 2 update or if it is exempt.

  • Atul Sharma

    Thanks for the information…

  • Android app reviews

    Yeah, +1 to him

  • Markus Eichler

    I assume or am pretty sure that there was NO update in between! One site of mine was punished on Jan. 19. when Top Heavy 1 rolled out. Over 50% loss in traffic. With this update Top Heavy 2 traffic came back at about 50%.

  • Dean Calvert

    My point is are they going to clean this kind of mess up? talk about above the fold hahaha

  • Rohit Gupta

    The whole exercise of tweaking to please Mr. Google seems to be far-fetched sometimes. Layers of algorithms under covers. Providing maximum value will be my only priority. It prevents me from headache (though it can give me heartache).!

  • Fionn Downhill

    Does anybody know how they determine what an Ad is? They cannot penalize images that belong on the site that would be silly. So I wonder if the criteria is anything image, text etc that links to another site or off the site? Does anybody know or have experience with this.

  • Fionn Downhill

    That is what I think but cannot confirm

  • Susanna Miles

    They don’t really care about the webmasters. Realize fast that all they care about is the user of their SE because it’s the searchers experience that drives income for them. I’m not sure what the solution is now, but we need to change the way we monetize online if we want to satisfy both users and our bottom line. In the end, we will all have better (if not harder to manage) businesses.

  • Susanna Miles

    I find this weird because their first Panda update (or one of the first) penalized that site because of their scraped content. Here’s the thing though – regular people LOVE Ehow! You have no idea how many networking meetings I’ve been to where people say “go to if you need to know how to do something”. SO, even though google says “scraped content is bad” what comes before that is whether or not the user actually likes the site. It’s quite terrible because a lot of people say they steal content and then rank higher than the site they stole from. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, how terrible!!!!

  • Susanna Miles

    I don’t think it’s so cut and dry for them to say this site is good this site is bad. Put ads here, not there…etc.

    The algorithm probably looks at ads in relation to a lot of other metrics and info about the page/site.

    With that said, I too have wondered if they think images with links to pages on your own site are bad. I doubt it and don’t think it’s an issue… at least not for this update.


    yes now soon we will see

  • Laurel LaFlamme


  • CandleForex

    Ok let me get this, google penalizes other websites for having ads “above the fold” but when I search for something on I see ads on the google results page that i would consider “top heavy”.

    Hypocritical ..maybe I don’t see google penalizing itself for having top heavy ad result pages.

  • Gregory Jewell

    well, disgusting Matt..

  • CandleForex

    I see what your saying. However how many people do you know even use a 1024×768 resolution?

    I for one wont work on a monitor with less than 1680 X 1050 resolution.

    Some of the time though I use two 22″ monitors each at 1680 X 1050 resolution. Most of the time I use all three 22″ monitors each at 1680 X 1050 resolution.

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