What is Google Fred?

In March of 2017, Google released an update that continues to generate questions and concerns from the SEO community. The update, jokingly named “Fred” by Google analyst Gary Illyes, has altered the traffic for many websites (some by as much as a 90% decline). What exactly is this Fred update, though, and how can digital marketers make sure their web pages don’t suffer as a result of it?

The Basics of Google Fred

As per usual, Google has remained mostly hush-hush about the intricate details of this particular update. However, what we do know about Fred is that its main purpose is to decrease rankings for websites that include:

  • Excessive ads/affiliate links
  • Generic content offering little to no value
  • Low-quality backlinks

In other words, the update is attempting to penalize sites that may have content users want to view, but are so ad-heavy that it is near impossible to view the content without numerous interruptions.

While there is no definite information on what exactly Fred does, ranking monitoring services continue to report major fluctuations in Google rankings since the update occurred. This is to be expected from the sites that are overloaded with ads and sites whose main revenue comes from advertisements.

Ad Heavy Sites and Why Fred is Targeting Them

There are sites which are created with the main purpose of maximizing revenue by overloading click-worthy content with advertisements and affiliate links. The following are examples of ad-heavy sites that Fred seeks to penalize:

  • Sites with an unusually high percentage of prominent ads or affiliate links within the content and around the web page.
  • Sites with too many ads at the top of the page.
  • Sites which include too many PBNs (private blog network) links.
  • Sites with poor silo structure.
  • Sites with a main purpose to increase revenue rather than answer a users search query.
  • Deceptive ads (looks like a download or play button to trick someone into clicking).
  • Sites with thin content.
  • Sites with mobile problems.
  • Sites with UX barriers.

If you saw a large drop in rankings and organic traffic and are guilty of one of the above, your site was probably impacted by Fred.

My Site Was Affected by Fred – Now What?

From what we can tell, the Google Fred algorithm was put in place to limit black-hat SEO tactics for aggressive monetization. If you have watched your site drop in the rankings as a result of Fred, there is no need to throw in the towel just yet. Read on to learn what you can do to improve your rankings and limit your susceptibility to Fred’s algorithm.

Create a visually appealing website design

Your website should be visually stunning and easy to navigate for the audience. While a “visually appealing” aesthetic may seem subjective, here are a few tips to measure whether your audience approves of your visual design:

  • Heat mapping will provide data on the way your audience engages with your design.
  • Defining a persona for your target audience can help you identify visual preferences, (hint: check out other websites your target audience frequently visits).
  • A/B testing can provide useful data on what your target audience prefers.

Focus on high-quality content

Combining high keyword counts with keyword density does not make high-quality content. Instead of focusing your attention on ranking, focus on the quality of the content you are producing, and let the rankings come to you.

Not sure where to start? Make sure your content always ticks the following boxes:

  • Your content should be unique and original. Do not write multiple, similar pieces on the same topic – Google often devaluates this and will pick one to rank.
  • Create content that is driven by the searcher – it should give clear, concise information and respond to a question or theme.
  • Use a website auditing tool in order to analyze what content drives the most traffic to your site.
  • Create content that incorporates pages in your industry – not just content for commercial or monetary value. Content that engages your users will resonate with your audience and increase your website’s authority.
  • Use social media to your advantage. Social followings are the quickest way to gain authority from real people who like and share your content.

Monitor website traffic

Keep an eye on analytics in order to understand how the new updates will continue to affect your site’s ranking and traffic. If you notice stark shifts in these areas, take a look through your site, and make changes accordingly.

Create quality backlinks

Frequently check on irrelevant sites that are linking to your site. Ask for your site to be removed, or use the Google Disavow Tool to remove yourself. Look for link audit software to keep track of backlinks from all other sites.

Finally, the best advice we can offer you is to simply put the user experience first. Create web pages and content that is both visually appealing and informative, and stay on top of Google algorithm changes to make sure your site continues to rank well.