When we want to get access to information regarding a certain topic, the best place is to get it straight from the source.
So when Google’s senior webmaster trends analyst, John Mueller, shows up to answer questions regarding a certain topic that Google is connected to, you tend to listen.
Recently, he turned up to answer questions related to the conditions in which lead generation forms can cause a website to rank lower on the Google search engine. And this is what he had to say…
During a Webmaster Office Hours Hangout, John was asked whether a call to action placed at the top of a webpage, above the main content, would in fact lead to poor ranking.
In response, John pointed towards two scenarios under which lead generation forms would not provoke a negative ranking as well as two scenarios in which they would provoke a negative ranking.
All the way back in 2012, Google released an algorithm that had the effect of dragging down the ranking of a page with excessive advertising at the top of the page. This was because this structure makes it difficult for users to actually see the main content.
In 2012, the announcement stated that “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… Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.”
Adding to this, John said that “it’s generally not a matter of how many ads, but more that users are able to find the content they’re looking for (what was ‘promised’ in search) when they visit a page.”
Plus, the guidelines of Google’s Search Quality Raters (which is a handbook for the standardization of search quality raters who test new algorithms) states: “We expect Ads and SC to be visible. However, some Ads, SC, or interstitial pages (i.e., pages displayed before or after the content you are expecting) make it difficult to use the MC.
“Pages with Ads, SC, or other features that distract from or interrupt the use of the MC should be given a Low rating.”
If there is a lead generation form plastered at the top of a webpage, then the user needs to first scroll down past the form in order to access the content that they are expecting.
As one person at the Hangout asked: “I think you’ve spoken about this before recently… that the main content should be above the fold.
“Would this lead generation form [which he displayed on screen] impact SEO in any way? Because at the top here, there’s a lead gen form where people can compare telephone system prices.
“Would that impact SEO?”
In response to this question, John frankly said “I don’t know… my guess is probably not noticeably.”
Then he dug into the answer. “What effect might come into play is that our algorithms do look for things like ads above the fold that… push the main content below the fold,” added John. “And it’s possible that we would think a lead gen form like that would be kind of link an ad.
“But I don’t think it would always be the case. It kind of also depends on what that page is trying to rank for. It it’s essentially a page that’s trying to rank for ‘get car insurance’ and the form is about ‘sign up for car insurance’ then that’s kind of the intent of the page.
“But if the intent of the page is ‘find out more about why oranges grow’ and then you have a car insurance form on top then that seems more like an ad.”
Another question that was thrown towards Google’s web maestro was regarding the intent of a webpage and how that influences the algorithm.
In response, John said that the intent of a page factors into whether a lead generation form would actually lead to a negative ranking effect. Saying that, he has said something quite striking in ordinary words: that Google is capable of recognizing whether a form is relevant to the content and thus relevant to the user who has found themselves on that page.
The powers of Google.
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