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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  • Nauman Lodhi

    Ethical webmasters need not to worry about this update.

  • Carlos-Sousa

    This seems to be a good update for people who really provide good content. If your page has mostly a bunch of ads, it should be penalized without question.

  • alanbleiweiss

    Actually that’s not necessarily true. Ethical webmasters could very well be impacted. Ethics and “Google’s interpretation of page layout related quality” are not one in the same.

  • Kevin

    Matt ..while you’re at it, ask them if how many other times page layout has rolled-out ..or is it just the two they’ve announced so far.

  • Arnout Hellemans

    My humble opinion…another blow to the “affiliates”…

  • Alijawaad Merali

    Any idea if the update already live or will it be hitting sometime today?

  • Danny Sullivan

    It appears to be already alive.

  • Cody Sharp

    Our website went from having 13 keywords in the top 5 to 5 keywords… 16 keywords in the top 10 to 11. We have no ads on our website since we are a business. Until today, our number of keywords in the top 20 have increased with each an every update. Anyone else running a B2B website without ads get hit?

  • Dan Cristo

    I agree with Alan.
    Google’s webmaster guidelines cannot help one determine what is morally good or morally evil any more than my site’s terms of service can.

  • Michael Price

    Layout updates are always the best for me. Common sense from a user point and creates a better experience. I haven’t seen any results on who’s affected most so can’t talk about how the update has worked but for me on site factors to improve usability don’t rank highly enough.

  • Tyson

    Truth is I like updates like these. Not going into ethics, I think this forces people to focus on quality content creation rather than adsense rich websites. Overall it improves the user experience, do any of you honestly enjoy going to a website and having to scroll through ads to find content? I certiantly don’t…

  • News World Inside

    Google try to make a level playing field between real webmasters and black hat webmasters

  • James Norquay

    I was tracking affiliates for several terms and I have seen them be taken down after this update, I think the winners for this are the big brands, smaller affiliates are hurting. That been said its also going to be interesting how many people kill off Adsense and other advertising after this, it would be good for Google to release some further guidelines on page layout ideas rather then a few lines.

  • Frank Merlott

    I also have a complaint, when I search on Google I get lots of above the the fold sponsored Google results that do not allow me to get to the link I want to and I have to scroll down.

  • Kris Roadruck

    And how do you propose sites that pay for their “quality content” via revenue from ads continue to produce said content without said revenue? Google really needs to take its own medicine. if they are going to punish people for having “too many ads above the fold” then they need to move all their adwords bullshit to the bottom of the serps as well.

  • Kris Roadruck

    So… trying to get a return on your investment in content via ad revenue is unethical? If thats the case where would you peg google on the ethical scale what with there being up to 30 ads on any given query?

  • Tyson

    Since when is adsense (or alternative) the only way to generate income with a website? It’s not a pissing match, its an opinion. I don’t like scrolling through multitudes of ads to get to content. One or two okay that’s fine, and I don’t “think” that is what Google is targeting. I’m not saying its wrong to use adsense to generate income, what I am saying is wrong is having to SCROLL, again SCROLL, past all them to find content.

  • Colin Guidi

    the update doesn’t aim to stop showing ads above the fold for search results, it aims to show results that have actual content above the fold rather than being littered with ads (on a listing by listing basis).

  • Tyler Herrick

    Please, he’s not saying webmasters can’t monetize their sites. The update is aimed at the sites that have numerous spammy ads all over the place. I certainly don’t mind a sidebar column with Ads, but when you have a header image ad, sidebar ad, inline-text ads, text-link ads, and a CSS-overlaid popup Ad; I would imagine that is the type of sites they are trying to penalize.

  • Matt McGee

    We did, and they declined to answer.

  • Kevin

    Sweet! “Transparency” FTW!

  • jnffarrell1

    Its about time to punish sites wasting my time. If watching an add before search content is mandatory it should not be ranked as worthy of my time.

  • hGn

    If “Top Heavy Ads” or “too many ads” in the page disturbing the reading is a reason to being penalized, can somebody explain me why the hell most all the eHow .com pages rank so HIGH? all of them have up to 6-8 blocks of annoying ads, besides that, articles are mostly written for kids or by kids, may be… most of their pages are 70% ads 30% text…. but Google loves that site… any explanation? thanks!

  • Rekha Bisht

    That’s great that Google is trying to improve user’s experience. But I think it’s a big hit for those whose ads appears on Google top results.

  • Derek Blandford

    What about sites that use large sliders or images above the fold to grab attention? There are several themes I love that use large sliders that take up most of the area above the fold. These sliders link to content on the website and aren’t advertisements of any kind.

    Are these sites also at risk of getting hit by this top heavy update or is Google smart enough to know the difference between “ads” and things like sliders and large graphics that aren’t advertisements, etc.

    It would really suck if Google starts penalizing sites just based off the theme they choose to use. If that happens, then the web will become nothing more than “copy-cat” sites all using the exact same layout.

  • Danny Sullivan

    It’s definitely aimed (so Google says) at sites that are top heavy with ads, not that have too many ads. Our first article from when Top Heavy came out explains more about this:

  • sathya shankara

    Yes it is a very good action by Google I saw many websites which display lots of ads on above the fold. It is irritating for visitors.

  • sathya shankara

    Yes no major impact. Yes it is a very good action by google. I saw many websites which display lots of ads on above the fold. It is irritating for visitors.

  • sathya shankara

    It’s Live:-)

  • sathya shankara

    How Rekha ? This is a penalty for websites which display lots of ads in their webpage, specially above the fold. Example is– If you open a website then you will see many ads in page. To check content you should scroll down.These types of websites built only for earn money from ads. They pretend like some quality information providers. But actually not

  • Mudit Grover

    His comment was sarcastic..! :P

  • Juggernart Games

    I want to say two things:
    1. The whole internet is about making money these days. First money, then content. Google played a big role in this change (by inventing AdWords/AdSense). Google makes big money by showing ads on top of organic search results. (It has been reported again and again, that on 1024×768 you often see ads only, no content) I don’t like the idea to “punish” webmasters for trying to make money and a living from their sites / business. Anyway, Google isn’t all. There are other ways to get visitors.
    2. In the official “page layout algorithm” post of January 19. at googlewebmastercentral it says:
    “…the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will
    depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.”
    I think this is obviously wrong!
    Why? One of our sites was hit hard by the page layout algo on Jan. 19. We did a lot of layout improvements within the following weeks, but nothing happened. Til today we actually weren’t sure if it really was the Top Heavy that punished the site. Now we checked rankings for the site and it definately happened something. Nine months later! We see some changes to the better, some inner pages that completely disappeared jumped back to higher positions, some pages climbed up some places. Conditions aren’t as good as they have been before, but it looks better, at least for now. Time will show if the current improvement will persist (we don’t trust Google anymore, sorry).

  • daveintheuk

    The message from Google is clear: Do as we say, not as we do.

    Google is making it very clear that they feel they are the only people who should be able to have pages dominated by adverts and containing thin and scraped content… wouldn’t hurt as much if they weren’t putting so many hard working genuine publishers out of businesses.

  • Sachin Gupta

    It’s Bye Bye to lot’s of ads on webpage!
    As we seen lot’s of updates from the Google to improve the user’s experience. This is update really improves the users experience and website quality.

  • Alan

    So is searchenginelands layout top heavy?

  • Ensar Gunel

    google nin amk..

  • Michael Curtis

    Having content appear down a page is sometimes a legitimate design choice.

    What if I have an infographic at the top of my page? Google still can’t really interpret visual content yet – they’ll just see my text content is way down the page. Is that ‘unethical’!?

    Also, my god do we, as an industry, misuse that word.

  • Michael Curtis

    In fairness, I don’t see Google’s organic SERPs appear in Google’s organic SERPS.

  • Clayburn Griffin

    With “Top Heavy” being used to describe this update, what are we going to call it when sites are penalized for uncensored adult content?

  • Kevin Gerding

    How dare webmasters be permitted the ability to monetize the content which they create!

    From gateway to gatekeeper, Google is really doing the entire word a disservice by adopting policies that essentially set global standards that favor only Google. This madness must stop.

  • Danny Sullivan

    The already are. We just don’t have a name for it. See below:

  • Danny Sullivan

    Apparently not. We haven’t been hit by this. I think it’s pretty easy to get right into our content.

  • NemGiaSoc

    Great Post! We need more posts like this.

  • Alan

    It would be nice if Google actually gave some guidance in this, just some examples of who they think are doing it right. We can’t use as an example but apparently we can use searchengineland. Yet one of the first things on a searchengineland page is an ad. Sites like have similar layout to searchengineland however the very first thing is a big JPG. From what I have gathered that would be topheavy as there are ads and then a big jpg but for that is perfectly legitimate.

  • Vadim Kotin

    Frank, I agree with you.
    Google has way too many ads :)

  • Derek Blandford

    So does anyone know if things like sliders and large images above the fold will be affected by the top heavy update? I see my previous post has been getting ranked up, so other people must also be interested in this.

    I can’t imagine Google would penalize sites that use large sliders for featured posts and such or mostly graphics above the fold because if they did then certain sites (e.g. photography sites) where the bulk of the content is made up of graphics/images wouldn’t stand a chance.

    Still not sure what exactly classifies as an “ad” either. We talking adsense? Banners? Text links? And if an image or text link points to another website, how does Google determine if that’s an “ad” or just a link to another website? Or are they only talking about “Google ads” such as adsense that they can track?

  • Michael Zittel

    Hopefully, this means the end, or a least a serious reduction, in the made for adsense websites that pollute the web-o-sphere. Hopefully, Google be applying this to themselves as well. Yeah, right.

  • Derek

    I agree Sam. We need to know what Google’s definition of an ad is because almost anything pointing to something else could be considered an ad in one way or another. I hope this algo doesn’t hurt any site that is graphic heavy above the fold.

  • Keshab Raj Adhikari

    Along with adsense and other matching AD code I think goole scan the words, like advertise here, banner ads and bla bla .. The text related to advertise.. Also there was a discussion on this topic on its first released ..

  • Matt Grudge

    No it’s not. I have a slower internet connection and Searchengineland pop up ads annoys me a lot. It’s not easy to get into your content Danny. I don’t know why you guys are not penalized.

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