This blog post was updated on July 27th to reflect new information regarding the “Fred” update.
Around March 9th, Google rolled out their “Fred” update. In typical Google fashion, the update came out with no warning or notice, however it was significant enough for digital marketers and website owners to notice the substantial change in traffic and organic rankings. The Fred update has been reported to cause fluctuations in rankings and loss of site traffic by 50% to 90% for sites affected. In addition, a recent poll conducted by Search Engine Roundtable found that 44.2% of website were impacted in some way by the Fred update.
Since we first wrote about the “Fred” update, there have been some notable changes and confirmations to the information we originally speculated. During a Google hangout session with John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google said that “from our point of view, there was no Fred update.” This came after Google had officially confirmed the release of the Fred update back in March. However, what he was referring to was the name “Fred” itself, which was not given by Google but instead by external SEOs. Mueller went on to say that the update was not the case of one change in search, but rather Google makes SEO changes all the time.
Mueller also discussed the importance of user experience for SEO saying, “We try to do this really on the basis of what we think is relevant and useful for users. So, if your website is seeing strong fluctuations with regards to any general search changes. Then I would recommend maybe taking a step back and thinking about what you can do to significantly increase the quality of the website overall.”
While Google has confirmed the roll out of the Fred update, as per usual, they’ve been tight-lipped with any information about it. Based on our research here at Boomtown, we have determined this update primarily targeted websites with low-quality content and unnatural, spammy backlinks.
What are low quality content and backlinks? How can you determine if your website was affected by Fred? Most importantly, what can you do to recover from the Fred update? Here’s everything you need to know about Google’s most recent update.
What Does the Fred Update Penalize?
Websites affected by this update had two main aspects in common. The first factor was content. If your website was lacking in valuable, updated content, you may have been affected. According to Google’s standards, websites that are considered to have low-quality content typically include:
- Content written for improving search engine ranking, rather than informing and helping the users
- Sites with little to no unique, original content
- Sites abusing rich snippet markups
- Content that is stuffed with irrelevant keywords
- Sites with hidden content
- Site that participate in irrelevant or low quality affiliate programs
The second factor targeted by Fred were low-quality backlinks. Your site may have been penalized, if you’ve ever paid for generic backlinks. Low quality content and bad backlink seem to go hand in hand. So, if your website has a lot of old content, you must likely have low quality, spammy backlinks. Bad backlink typically come from unrelated, untrusted sources that don’t abide by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. For more information about determining what a good/back backlink is, check out my recent blog post.
How to Determine if Your Website was Affected by Google’s Fred Update
The easiest way to determine if your website was hit by the Fred update is by looking at Google Analytics. Was there a drop in your traffic or ranking keywords between March 5th and the 20th? If no, your site is mostly like unaffected.
How to Recover Lost Traffic and Ranking from Google’s Fred Update
Google’s Fred Update is the newest update, compared to Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird. So, it has taken some time to understand the full impact it has on sites. In order to recover from Google’s updates, or better yet, not be affected by them at all, it’s critical to adopt good habits that promote userability, unique content, and stay up to date on the latest SEO standards rather than solely focusing on recovering from the update at hand. Focusing on quality over quantity and providing answers and solutions for users will help you rectify any penalties from a Google update.
However, if you’ve noticed a significant drop in keyword ranking or organic traffic on or around March 9th, 2017, here are two things to consider to recover from the Fred penalty:
- Improve Content
Thin or low content was a major target for the Fred update. If your site has pages containing thin content, taking the time to revise, refresh and improve these pages to make them more valuable to users will help build back your rankings and traffic. Start by determining the keywords you lost rankings/traffic on by comparing the traffic pre-update to post-update. From there, match these keywords up with any low-quality content on your site and use these pages as a starting point. Here are my top two suggestions to consider when building out content that was targeted by Fred.
- While high word counts do not necessarily correlate with great content, the higher the word count, the more detailed information there will be. Pages that tend to rank on the first page of search results are those with typically higher word counts consisting of the most relevant and original content.
- Utilize videos, images, graphs, charts, etc.- Users have extremely short attention spends and are turned off by text heavy content, resulting in higher bounce rate. To improve user engagement and keep them on your site longer, be sure to include relevant visual media within your content
- Keep a Clean Backlink Profile
In addition to content, your site’s backlink profile also plays a significant role in your search rankings. It’s also possible that the Fred update may have penalized your site as a result of low-quality backlinks. For this reason, it’s critical to regularly assess your backlinks to find and disavow any links that seem potentially harmful. Third party tools like Ahrefs make it easier to determine the quality of a site. As I previously mentioned, it’s always best practice to abide by Google Webmaster Guidelines when it comes to linking.
As always there’s no simple, clearly defined solution to reverse a Google algorithm penalty of traffic and ranking loss. Successful SEO takes continual strategizing, monitoring and ongoing effort. My approach to getting around Google updates is to focus less on the algorithms changes and more on consistently improving user experience, relevance, and quality content in every detail.
If you believe your website was penalized as a result of Google’s Fred update and need help recovering lost traffic and ranking, we can help! Contact us today for more information.