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By Winston Burton
Google has always been concerned with quality and promoting a quality user experience across all devices and platforms. Recently, Google’s dedication to quality has been exhibited by the Penguin update, Panda update, and Google’s latest update as of March 8th. There were unconfirmed reports that Google launched another algorithm update: Fred.
Content-driven sites such as blogs or websites with several embedded ads have fallen victim to the update. Going back to Google’s dedication to quality, the focus here is not on the ad content, placement, or quantity, but on the user. If a site’s seamless user journey is peppered with ads, it still favors the end user. If a site’s mediocre or poor user journey is peppered with ads, the site doesn’t favor the end user, and the ads don’t fix that. Essentially, if it’s a great, user-friendly site with ads, Google can be forgiving.
There are reports that some sites saw a considerable decrease in organic traffic, in some cases by 50% to 90%. The concern is whether Fred is the culprit; as it stands now, Fred is targeting sites that have multiple ads, low quality content, and are focused solely on Google rankings and generating revenue. There is no question that Fred assesses quality, but is there more to this algorithm update?
What is the Fred Update?
With no affirmation from Google, the exact objective of the Fred update is unknown, especially now that Google is using machine learning algorithms, making it more difficult to pinpoint the cause. There is some speculation in the industry that Fred was designed to reduce visibility and traffic from:
- Sites focused on profiting from ads which interfere with readability and the user experience
- Sites that have low value content created solely to generate ad revenue
- Sites that did not follow Google Quality Rater Guidelines
- Sites that have low quality links or low quality content from affiliate networks or blogs
Google has not confirmed the update, but Google’s Gary Illyes did post a few cryptic tweets regarding the fact that Google makes several updates on a daily basis, going on to say “…it’s safe to assume there was one recently…” The conversation was fueled by SEOs and webmasters curious of what to call the update, to which Illyes jokingly replied, “From now on every update, unless otherwise stated, shall be called Fred.”
Should I Be Worried About Fred?
If you have high quality content and focus on providing a positive user experience, the short answer is no. Also, if your site was not created solely to drive revenue from multiple ads, then you have need not worry. If the unconfirmed update still has you feeling unsure, you should take steps to confirm your site has valuable and beneficial content for the user. Google has quality guidelines that must be followed and most of the content that we come across for the brands we work with is original content that adds value and is useful to end users.
What Should I Do If I was Impacted by Fred?
If you noticed your site experienced a vast decline in organic traffic after March 8th, review your site for abundant ads and remove them. Many webmasters have reported they were able to recover from Fred just by removing ads, others report recovery after removing ads at the top of the page.
We recommend that you:
- Review your site for low quality or duplicate content from low quality affiliates or blogs
- Focus on building high quality content for end users and do not write content for the sake of the search engines.
- Follow Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
- Review your backlinks for any issues – focus on backlink quality and relevance as opposed to quantity
The Google Fred update is more than just an update that targets ad heavy sites or sites that have low quality content to generate more ad revenue. Brands and digital marketers must always promote a positive user experience across all devices and platforms by providing end users what they want and need with content that speaks to their concerns and answers their questions.
Sites that do not follow the rules and guidelines have seen a significant drop in rankings, revenue, and traffic. Regarding the earlier question of whether there is more to this update, we don’t know and Google won’t say. What we do know though, is that during Google’s moment of silence, now would be a good time to focus on quality from a holistic perspective to win the war in the SERPs and maintain a quality website.