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Google Fred Update: What you need to know

March 30, 2017 - 5  min reading time - by Julie Quintard
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The Google Fred Update, which we saw rolling out on March 8th, has been generating lots of questions from the SEO community. From one day to the next, many websites noticed ranking fluctuations and traffic losses. SEOs can’t seem to understand thoroughly what Fred is and what specific tactic it’s targeting… Is it poor quality links? Is it ads or ad heaviness? Is it PBNs? One thing we are sure of is that this Google Update seems to want to combat link spam.

So, you’re probably asking yourself why “Fred”? “Fred” is just a funny euphemism that Google expert Gary Illyes invented on the spot when asked for a name. In fact, he also joked that all updates could be called “Fred”….

Some love him, some hate him…He’s probably here to stay so let’s find out more about this latest update.

What is the Google Fred Update?

The Google Fred update has to do with penalizing content driven sites that are too inundated with ads and motivated by driving ad revenue where they become troublesome for users trying to view content.

There are no exact details on what Fred does, but a lot of SEO and ranking monitoring services have been seeing huge fluctuations in Google rankings. We’ve also seen more chatter and reports of changes from within the “black hat” SEO community, which usually means that it’s a spam algorithm update around links.

More precisely, Google Fred Update reprimands sites that are filled with ads and focus on bringing in ad revenue which makes it complicated for users trying to view content. In other words, it looks like Fred is Penguin’s friend and is trying to remove webspam.

Furthermore, Fred is targeting low quality websites that focus on ads (generating revenue) or placing excessive affiliate links which usually means that they are focusing on the owner rather than focusing on helping readers.

What are ad heavy low quality content sites?

These sites are created to maximize revenue by gaining lots of web traffic with main objective to getting the user to click on an ad or an affiliate link. They usually have these points in common:

  • An unnatural percentage of prominent ads or affiliate links within the content and around the site. If you place too many ads at the top of your web page, users will find it difficult to find the actual content and will have a bad experience. In other words, users want to see the content right away and not have to scroll down.

 → consequence: If you have too much advertising content “above-the-fold”, you will be affected by the Google Fred Update and your site will not rank as highly going forward.

  • Content is text based and in article form meaning you’re unlikely to see original video content on these sites.

→ consequence: Lacking of a consistent and integrated content strategy can affect your rankings. We all know that creative and unique content can seriously boost your website visibility.

  • Includes too many PBNs (private blog network) links

→ consequence: For most SEOs, PBNs are a way to create backlinks for their money sites. It’s usually used by “back hats SEO” that want to maximize whatever loophole there is in Google’s algorithm. It’s clearly not the way to win Google’s love.

  • Sites with poor silo structure.

→ consequence: Siloing a website serves to clarify your website’s subject relevance. If Google’s bot can’t understand quickly what your site is all about, it’s going to hurt your rankings.

  • Site is usually tailored towards generating revenue as opposed to solving a user’s search query.

→ consequence: if your website’s #1 goal is to generate revenue, it can possibly be seen as a spammy site by the Google bots.

Examples of sites hitten by Google Fred Update

Below, we took Googler Gary Illyes’s example of a good affiliate site VS a site that was reported by its owner after experiencing a significant drop in traffic and rankings. Besides the fact that one is generating revenue by affiliate links and the other through Adsense revenue, you can clearly see the differences in the quality (visual aspect but also in content and how it does or doesn’t provide value to a reader.)

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Gary mentions that “there’s no inherent problem with affiliate links. The problem is when a site’s sole purpose is to be a shallow container for aff links”. Like he says in the post below, it’s all about how the content is presented to its user.

Capture d’écran 2017-03-23 à 15.18.01

What you should do if your site is hitten by Google Fred Update?

According to SE Roundtable, some sites reported over a 50% drop in traffic due to the Fred penalty. Your site might of been impacted in a negative way if it contained too many external spammy links or other way around, your site might of received a little raise in Google rankings due to the massive clean out.

If you want to have Fred on your side, we suggest you to adjust your site with these quick tips:

  • If you run a blog, remove tag pages (often forgotten by webmasters and still indexed by Google which offers no extra value. If done properly, your site can fully recover its original traffic);
  • Visually appealing website for your users, not for search engine robots (internal coding and visual appearance of a website play an important role in SEO);
  • Write specific content designed to solve a particular user search query (try to stay away from broad and generic titles – i.e “easy bathroom decorating tricks” VS “ Decorating ideas designed for bathroom”);
  • Check your ad ratio to ensure it’s well balanced (ask yourself, “can you see more than 1 ad when viewing site? Is the user distracted by the ads above my content? – these questions will help you in knowing whether you have too many ads or not);
  • Try not to publish duplicate content (duplicate content is leading to SEO issues penalizing your rankings. It refers to content that appears in more than one place on a website. It causes troubles to crawlers since it’s impossible to tell which piece is more relevant than the other for a given query);
  • Focus on users rather than stuffing keyword strategies;
  • Include other forms of content such as videos/gifs, etc.;
  • Create a social following (Building a social following attracts a real community and ‘likes’ by sharing valuable content in your business sector).

What does Google have to say about this Fred update?

For a while, Google had neither confirmed nor denied the Fred update but on March 24th, Gary Illyes officially confirmed it on his Twitter account.

Capture d’écran 2017-03-30 à 14.55.00

Ups and downs happen on a daily basis on Google’s SERP. Sometimes they are indeed related to an algorithm change and sometimes they’re just a part of Google’s volatility.

Julie Quintard See all their articles
Julie worked for many years as a Marketing Manager at Oncrawl. Passionate about the digital world and about marketing, she regularly wrote articles about SEO and Oncrawl news. You can reach her on Twitter.
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