Last week, the SEO industry was shocked by Google’s latest algorithm update that is being (unofficially) referred to as “Fred”. Some webmasters have been reporting up 90% of their keywords dropping positions in SERPs. The update only seems to only affect certain types of websites but could have cause some problems for any website showing ads.
The update first came to SEO world’s attention last Thursday, March 8th 2017 with some sites seeing large drops in SERP rankings. Algorithm tracking tools from SEMRush, Rank Ranger, and Moz showed fluctuation and variability in search terms which typically indicates that heavy duty changes were made to Google’s algorithm.
Some webmasters suspect Google’s Fred update has shifted even more importance to website content and backlink quality related ranking factors. There has also been growing speculation that it could be an adjustment to the unconfirmed content quality update that happened in early February.
Google Updates from Now on Named Fred
As usual, Google will neither confirm nor deny this update and has, in fact, told Search Engine Land that they have no comment on this update. Google’s John Mueller and Gary Illyes have stated that Google’s algorithm changes daily and that from now on all updates to their algorithm will be named Fred unless officially stated otherwise. It is a smart move on Google’s part to assert they make changes to the algorithm on a daily or semi-regular basis instead of having release dates, so websites are built with SEO in mind and aren’t only update to appease the latest update. The name Fred was coined by Barry Schwartz using it jokingly to Google’s response to him but the name for the current update has since stuck in the SEO community.
Ad Heavy Content Sites Impacted
Most of the sites that were reportedly impacted by Fred tend to be websites heavily or exclusively driven by content with a lot ads on within their content. The content on these sites typically were not written by industry experts and the websites were not particularly known to be expert sites. The topics on these sites all were vastly different and typically written for ranking purposes with ads and affiliate links added into the text. An example is a blog that was solely created to generate ad revenue from high ranking search terms and had ads that were wrapped in content. While the majority of cases were ad heavy in some cases sites that may not have ads but heavily utilized lead generation and affiliate marketing to generate revenue were affected. Sites impacted by Fred reportedly saw decrease of between 50% and 90% organic search traffic after the update.
Sites with Too Many Low-Quality Backlinks
There has also been some speculation that the Google’s algorithm update was focused on link quality, measuring websites based on the other sites that link to it. Recently the Black Hat SEO community has been complaining about shake ups in ranks on the sites they monitor, making it more likely that Fred is link related since Black Hats tends to be more link focused. The theory is that websites with a majority of backlinks coming from sites with high domain authority will not be affected since the affected sites all seem to have an abundance of backlinks from sites with a low domain authority.
So, You Need a Resolution
Some webmasters are reporting that by turning off all the ads on their websites, they have seen traffic return. I suggest the following course of action;
- Clean up older content that may be outdated or is currently irrelevant.
- Reduce the number of ads on a given page especially if that page is light on content
- Restructure how current ads show your site, making sure you have more content than ads on every page
- Clean up your backlink profile to reduce the amount of low quality links to make sure your ratio of high quality links out weights the low
- Make sure that website links to yours are relevant to your content
- Keep anchor text diverse by building natural anchor text, meaning brand names, URLs, and branded business keywords
And, as always, stay away from paid links.
I think it’s safe to assume (and many people in the SEO industry has confirmed) that ad heavy sites and/or those with little content will be affected. In the future, the number of ads and their placement on a page should be taken into consideration for those that are developing a website heavily focused on content. This rings especially important if that content is created for the sole purpose of driving organic search to generate on-page ad revenue.
Generally, all websites should keep the best practices of regular maintenance of their backlink profile by eliminating irrelevant links and keeping more high quality links rather than low quality links. If you typically follow Google’s web best practices form a content perspective, Fred should be seen as friend, rather than foe.