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

Danny Sullivan on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO, Features: Analysis, Google: SEO, Google: Top Heavy Update, Google: Web Search
  • Another 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.

    About The Author

    Danny Sullivan
    Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.