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Google’s Top Heavy Update Explained and Recovery Strategies

When you click on a site from Google’s SERPs, you expect to find answers to your queries. This may seem like an obvious statement because this is why Google exists. But sometimes you may find yourself on a page with so many ads that you can’t find the content you originally came to the page for.

You might argue that ads can be easily scrolled past and that they bring in significant income, especially if your site is benefitting from them. However, bad ad use can do more harm than good. Google’s Top Heavy algorithm update was created to keep sites with a ton of ads at the top of their pages out of the top of Google’s SERPs. Here, we break down the Top Heavy update, explain who’s at risk, and show you what you need to do to reclaim your rankings if you’ve been targeted.

Launch Date: January 19, 2012

The initial roll out of the Top Heavy Update happened in early 2012, but since then, there have been two more updates to the algorithm, one in October 2012 and the other in February 2014.

What Google’s Top Heavy Update Impacted

The primary trigger for Google’s Top Heavy Update are pages with excessive advertising above the fold. When a Google user comes to your site through the SERPs only to be bombarded with ads—so much so that they can’t even see your content without scrolling—there’s going to be a problem. This kind of site is what Google calls “Top Heavy.” It’s got so many ads at the top of the page that when a visitor first enters the site, they can’t take in any content. They’ve got to scroll down below the fold in order to get the information they came to find in the first place.

This is, obviously, a very frustrating experience for users. Google wants to make information consumption as easy as possible. Providing accurate, relevant, and nuanced information it what sets Google apart from other search engines. When a user is directed to a site with way too many ads, Google not only falls short of its main goal, but the site itself seems spammy and untrustworthy. Because Google tries to keep sites like this out of its top-ranking spots, it makes sense that these pages and sites with top-heavy ads would be downranked until they provide a better user experience—one with less ads.

How Google’s Top Heavy Update Works

If you’ve got a site, it’s very natural (and smart) to run ads for a little extra income. Google has a platform, AdSense, that runs ads on your site that are targeted to your specific audience. Because the ads are right at the top of your page, visitors can see them, click them, and you earn in the process.

However, this is the exact behavior that Google’s Top Heavy update penalizes. They don’t like when you make it hard for users to access the content they’re looking for. When they have to scroll down past ads, they’re likely to leave your site—and leave annoyed. Whether you’re using AdSense or some other platform, you’ve got to be sure that your ads aren’t so concentrated at the top of your pages that they’re inhibiting users from easily seeing your content.

The update only seems to target static ads. If you’ve got ads running along the sides of your pages, or if your ad is a pop up that can easily be clicked away, you shouldn’t have a problem with this update.

How to Fix Your Website Is You Were Impacted By Google’s Top Heavy Update

With each update to the Top Heavy algorithm, only one percent of sites—or less—were affected. However, if you run a lot of ads above the fold and have noticed a real drop in your Google rankings, you might be in the one percent. Below are a few ways to adjust so that you can provide a better user experience and jump back up to the top of the SERPs.

Reduce the Ads at the Top of Your Pages

The easiest way to fix your pages targeted by the Top Heavy update is to simply remove all ads above the fold. Users don’t come to you for ads, they come for answers in the form of good content that you’ve published. And that’s why Google is sending them your way too.

Check Your Ad/Content Ratio

With tools like Google Analytics, you can use browser-sizing tools to determine if you’ve got enough content above the fold to engage your site’s visitors. By checking browser views, you can pick and choose which ads to remove—if you need to remove any at all. Do this for all of your pages. If you see that you’ve got too many ads and not enough content when your page initially loads, remove some of the ads.

Conclusion

Recovering from Google’s Top Heavy update isn’t terribly difficult. As soon as you’ve removed excessive advertisements, and Google has re-crawled your site, you should see your rankings increase. The bottom line is this: Google gives its searchers the best results. And according to the Top Heavy update, this means pages without advertisements overtaking the content. Keep above-the-fold ads at a reasonable ratio, and you should have nothing to worry about.