Is it fair for Google to penalize websites for pushing text based content below the fold? In the age of video, fast internet connections and dynamic images, why would Google create an algorithm that punishes certain markets for giving their users what they demand? Or are they really even punishing them? As a designer, it would be nice to know exactly what this algorithm considers content.

Can Google Discern Ads from relevant images?

Let’s say I own a photography company that has a website showing off my images. When a user searches for a photography studio on the web, they find my site and all they see is small images beside a few paragraphs of text. Do you think they will hire me to shoot their wedding? Photography is usually sold by large, bold and exciting images that captivate the audience. And with only 2.6 seconds to keep their attention, I cannot sell them with blocks of text. To shove text above the fold would only take away from the experience that the user is seeking. And photography is not the only market that uses images to captivate an audience. Do these images count as “ads” or will Google make the distinction and treat my site fairly?

“Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.”

Although I do not disagree with this quote, I find myself wondering who it applies to. As you can see here, YouTube has a huge block of ads at the top of their homepage. Do you think they will be penalized?

Don’t get me wrong, I have been to a bunch of sites where I am more than annoyed at the amount of ads they have sold above the content I am seeking. But is this a reason to punish everyone that puts images up top and text down below? Does a few bad apples really need to spoil the bunch?

I truly hope that Google has the ability and foresight to actually be able to tell the difference between ads and actual relevant images. If they do, GREAT! If not, then I will continue to design my sites how Google sees fit. And I will also continue to curse them every time I have to limit my designs to fit their needs.

Examples of relevant sites with no text based content above the fold

A photography website that shows off the work of Brian Mullins. This site actually contains zero text based content on the front page. Although this site shows up 3rd in Google when searching “Raleigh Photography”. The site also captivates the user with fantastic photography, which is exactly the point of the website. I consider this site to be very relevant. Will Google drop them in the rankings because they provide no text?

Is Google going too far?

Another such example are sites selling fashion. This site has a tiny bit of text based content on the front page above the fold. Is this enough to skirt the grasp of Google’s algorithm? If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the site, you may find another small paragraph of text based content. I would also consider this site to be very relevant if I were searching for stylish clothing for the lady in my life. The trends in design are moving toward a more magazine feel that will reach out and grab your attention in the first few seconds of arrival.

As a designer, fighting the ever shrinking attention span of the average user, I find myself looking for any way that I can increase user interaction. Increasing the time the user spends on the site and ultimately leading to conversions.

Here is an example of a law firm website that attempts to sell the user with an image of the experienced attorneys above the fold. Instead of a stuffy law website that has nothing but text and promises of large verdicts. This firm delivers what the user is looking for, an approachable, experienced firm. I am biased, as I work for a legal web marketing company and I strive to create conversion optimized designs. Through stats, testing and click maps I have found that my users are shopping for the attorneys that they can connect with on a personal level. I cannot do that with large amounts of text above the fold. The user will not be engaged enough to stay on the site long enough to convert.

One of the things I understand is that Google cannot give out the secrets to their algorithm for the same reason we cannot leave our doors unlocked at night.

People will inherently take advantage of any opportunities to game the system. But I beg of you, Google, please let us know what exactly is considered content so I can work in harmony with my stellar SEO team, to make the best sites possible for my clients.