16:19 24 April 2017
Google’s latest update, which was jokingly nicknamed “Fred” by Gary Illyes, differs from other Google updates in many ways. For one, Google categorically refuses to acknowledge it, much less name it. In this article, we’re going to discuss the impact Fred could have on rankings and how to recover from the update if your site was affected.
The Fred algorithm update was initially rolled out on March 8, 2017. Many sites saw a reduction in traffic at that time as their search engine results page rankings fell. A second wave of search engine results page ranking changes hit on March 14, 2017. This wasn’t a second update of the Google algorithm, but a second round of “Fogle Alred”. There is some speculation that the initial lull in rank fluctuations was caused by sites that saw a drop in their rankings being restored when scaling back their ads before the repeat of the algorithm caused them to drop again while hitting other sites it had missed in the initial algorithm update. Such fluctuations and volatility in rankings as witnessed by webmasters are the only indication we have for such updates unless Google decides to discuss them.
Fred isn’t the first multi-day algorithm update Google has done. The February 2017 Google algorithm update ran from February 7th through February 10th. That update was related to the Google Panda code, whereas the March 2017 update seems to be a mix of updates to both Panda and Penguin. And like the Fred algorithm update, the February algorithm change was also unacknowledged by Google.
The Fred update caused affected sites to see a drop in traffic, some seeing drops of as much as 90%. The sites that saw these types of drops were focused on generating revenue instead of helping customers per Google’s standards. The sites most likely to be affected have content written to rank well relative to key search terms and have affiliate links or ads sprinkled throughout.
The update didn’t affect sites that have a high domain authority, a measure of how much trust Google places in the site. Instead, it penalized sites with low domain authority, especially those without a particular focus. So, if your site had a variety of articles on as many topics, all written for high search engine result rankings and heavy advertising to profit from the traffic, this update probably hurt your rankings. Sites designed for lead generation and affiliate marketing also saw fifty to ninety percent drops in traffic.
The Fred algorithm update did affect sites with mediocre content, especially if ad heavy. Machine spun content and content with excessive repetition of key search terms was already penalized by earlier Google algorithm updates. Website content that relies on the clunky usage of key search terms should rank better if you switch to a question and answer format that uses the search terms once each in both the questions and the answers. The side benefit of this format is ranking well with conversational search queries.
There is no telling how many more unofficial updates Google is intending to roll out this year, but Fred already had a significant impact on many low quality sites so far. The trend seems to be heading towards denser, higher quality content, and it should remain that way for many years to come. Website owners should be advised of these changes and revise their strategies to create content that is relevant, informative and free of keyword manipulation tactics if they want to survive in the current climate.