Just when you thought it was safe, Google rolls out another SERPs update that has caused headaches for some SEO and content marketing folks. The still-unconfirmed Fred Update was noticed last month when it began targeting link quality aspects of the overall Google algorithm.
What is Fred? Will Fred affect your business? And what should you do about it? We’ve got answers to those questions and more.
What is Fred?
On March 8, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land and SEO Roundtable wrote about a new update, dubbed “Fred” by the SEO community, that appeared to be targeting ad heavy, low-value content sites. But for the sites that were affected, it was a huge shock:
The sites that got hit also saw 50% or higher drops in Google organic traffic overnight. I had almost all of them share analytics screenshots with me to prove it. So this was a huge drop, in some cases up to 90% of their traffic was gone overnight.
Will Fred Affect Your Site?
Schwartz started investigating who was being affected by this update and came to several conclusions right away. Nearly all sites affected fit a pattern:
- Blog format content sites with lots of ads and affiliate links.
- Appear to exist to generate revenue over solving a user problem.
- Jack of all trades approach to content, not industry expert sites.
- Not adding much value for the user.
Schwartz listed about 20 sites that posted publicly about being affected by Fred and it seems fair to say these weren’t what we typically think of when we think of products, services, e-commerce, or even online media business websites. One affected site was just a general information blog about websites, websites like Walgreens.com.
Bottom line: most of these sites weren’t typical, and for most business, Fred is unlikely to cause you big problems.
What Should You Do if You’re Affected?
However, about 5% of sites hit by Fred don’t fit the profile. They’re not “low-quality” sites like some of the others. These sites obviously want to get back in Google’s good graces and get their traffic back. So the question is: How?
There are two things these sites can do:
- Remove the Ads.
Some sites could simply wait it out. Google has a pattern of rolling out updates, cranking them up, then fine-tuning to tweak the algorithm so as not to punish good sites providing value and following the rules. Some sites will likely see their analytics returning to normal in the weeks and months ahead — without doing anything. In fact, Schwartz has his own experience with this when his site took a big hit from the Panda Algorithm update but subsequently recovered.
Another option for site owners is to start making changes now. Some of the webmasters corresponding with Schwartz said they removed their ads and had “huge recoveries.” So this is a sign that too many ads or too many obtrusive ads may be the problem.
Google Updates Going Forward
The trick with Google updates is that they’re always in flux. Google experts Gary Illyes and John Mueller say that the search giant makes about three updates every day. Usually, these are small, and almost none of the ranking factor tweaks are announced or confirmed.
This leaves businesses and SEO experts to sort out. We do that by keeping an eye on automated tracking tool reports and keeping communication lines open with the expert community.
The chances are that one of these updates may affect your site in the future. Google is always optimizing. If it’s been awhile since you had an SEO expert look over your site, it might take time to remedy that. Experts can use their broad experience to fix problems with your site, like too many ads, before an update like Fred becomes a problem.