Webmasters are familiar with the need to place advertisements on their website. Money generated from ads can help monetize a website, and even create greater profit margins for those who rely on their site as a source of income. Whatever you use your website for, ads offer the opportunity to monetize your endeavor. Placing ads on your website can be tricky. Believe it or not, Google will punish you for placing too many ads on your website.
The reason for the punishment is user experience. When someone conducts a web search on Google or any other search engine, they are looking for something specific. People want to find information, and quickly. The last thing they want to deal with is sifting through countless ads on your landing page in search of the content they were really hoping to find. Ad-heavy pages dampen user experience and can turn people away from your site, making your ad-placement efforts pointless if no one sees them.
A common term webmasters hear in relation to ads is “ads above the fold.” What does this term mean? Where did it come from? More importantly, can it damage the reputation of your website? In this post, we’re going to address all things above the fold and provide you with some valuable answers to these questions.
What is Above the Fold?
Advertisements are considered to be above the fold on your website if they exist on a landing page where viewers can see them without scrolling down the page. The term carried over from the print medium, where it was used for decades to refer to advertisements in newspapers. Anyone that ever bought a newspaper from the corner stand or picked one up at the end of the driveway can envision the concept of above the fold.
Any ad that appeared on the front page of the newspaper, without having to unfold the page or open the paper to the inside pages, was considered above-the-fold ad. These ads were the first advertisements readers would see when they picked up a newspaper. As such, printers would charge more for these ad spaces because it was believed that viewers would always see and read these ads. Unlike ads on the inside of the paper that readers might skip over in search of content continuing from previous pages, above-the-fold ads were right there for the world to see.
The term naturally carried over to the web because most websites have long streams of content that go well beyond a reader’s initial view of a landing page. On the average website, a viewer can see navigation links along the side or top of the page, a few snippets of content, and some ads. In order to see anything else on a given page, they need to start scrolling down. As a result, everything that appeared at the top of the landing page was considered above the fold.
The Case for Above the Fold
For advertisers, the perceived value of above-the-fold ads means the ability to charge businesses more for the few spaces that exist at the top of the page. Because there is an assumption that viewers are more likely to view and interact with these ads, higher price tags can be associated with these coveted spots. Numerous eye-tracking studies have been conducted, such as this one noted by Kissmetrics, that suggest viewers tend to look at pages in an F-pattern.
This means that each time someone views your webpage, they look most closely at the left-hand column on your page, work their way from left to right, and then go down and continue that pattern across the screen. In many cases, the greatest attention was paid to areas across the top of the page (left to right) and down the left-hand vertical column. Ads placed in these regions would, therefore, seem to be noticed more easily and have more value to those selling that space.
The Case Against Above the Fold
Eye-tracking studies aside, it would seem that charging more for above-the-fold ads is a tactic to bilk more money out of advertisers for spaces that don’t really perform better or worse than other spots on a website. A Washington Post study, as noted by AdWeek, found that ads placed above the fold are not actually more viewable to web surfers. It went on to question the high price tag associated with this space.
According to the report, citing various studies, almost half of online ads are going unseen by website visitors. The result is a lot of wasted money for advertisers who pay exorbitant fees to use those spaces, and headaches for publishers working hard to reassure advertisers that those spaces are in fact valuable. Further shaking the foundation of above-the-fold ads (and their pricing) is the Washington Post’s finding that most visitors scroll quickly down a webpage upon reaching the landing page.
This means that most visitors are skipping right past those expensive ad slots at the top of the page and viewing, if any, the ads located at the bottom of the page. The finding has the potential to shake the confidence of publishers who believe in the value of above-the-fold ads, and irritate advertisers who have been paying high prices for those spots.
Google’s Take on Above-the-Fold Ads
Despite the fact that it feels very big-brother to have to consult Google on everything, it is a reality in the modern Internet Age. The king of web searches has a powerful say in various areas, and since 2012, it has weighed in heavily on advertisements. While Google doesn’t come down on either side of the debate regarding the value of ads above the fold, it does have something to say about the placement of those ads.
If you are going to rely on above-the-fold ads to monetize your website, Google’s page layout algorithm is ready to punish you for underhanded tactics that diminish the user experience. Following a tidal wave of complaints from web surfers about links to landing pages cluttered by ads with little relevant content, Google rolled out a page layout algorithm in 2012 (updated February 2014) that punishes websites for clustering ads above the fold and providing little in the way of valuable content.
Pursue above-the-fold ads at your own risk. If you have a Google Analytics account, you can use the Google Browser Size tool to help you view your landing page the way users see it so you can determine how much content is there and how much advertising is there. Better safe than sorry.