Are Google re-introducing the concept of “the fold” when it comes to website layout?

You may have seen a post on the Google Webmaster Central blog last week announcing a change to the way they rank pages. The change will mean that websites will be deemed more valuable (and thus achieve a higher placement in search results) the higher the ratio of content to advertising in the area “above the fold”.

To quote the Google engineer who made the announcement; “… 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.”

While primarily related to the placement of advertising at the top of web pages there doesn’t seem to be much information on how Google will determine what constitutes advertising.

Google’s announcement seems to fly in the face of what most designers (myself included) consider good practice, after all, what’s easier scrolling down a page or clicking constantly to reach the next page?

The concept of “the fold” with regards websites is frankly outdated and a little annoying, information flows better vertically and vertical structuring of content on a single page per subject makes more sense (and requires no more navigation than scrolling on your mouse).

People scroll to see what’s there, yes large blocks of advertising can be annoying but with this announcement Google are bound to get people worrying that anything “below the fold” will be disregarded, leading to a whole new round of web design headaches and disjointed content.