Google Fred is an adjustment to the main algorithm of the web giant, Google. This update is designed to penalize sites that are inundated with ads and driven by monetization, to the point of penalizing the user experience.
Google holds nearly 91.94% of the total search engine market share. To maintain its online hegemony, Google seeks to improve the user experience so that users continue to use its services.
It is in this context that the search engine launched the Fred update to rid SERPs of thin and ad-heavy content. The idea is to lower the ranking of sites that prioritize monetization over user experience.
The goal of this update is to get content creators to put users at the heart of their content creation strategy.
Through this article, we find out what the Google Fred update is all about and how it has affected websites after its rollout.
We then walk through SEO tactics to guard against future Google updates so you don’t suffer a massive drop in rankings.
Chapter 1: What is Google Fred?
Most of the time, Google announces major updates to its algorithm. But the Fred update remains one of the biggest mysteries of the American firm.
In this chapter, we will discover what Google Fred is and what its objectives are in terms of search engine optimization.
1.1 – What is the Fred update?
On March 7, 2017, webmasters, site owners and SEO professionals had panicked because of a massive drop in their traffic that occurred overnight.
As a reminder, Google regularly makes adjustments and updates to its search algorithms throughout the year. However, very few of these updates significantly or immediately affect sites.
Those that do have immediate and significant effects like Fred are major updates that the search engine often announces before they are rolled out.
But before the significant drop in traffic that websites experienced in March 2017, Google had not announced any updates
This obviously puzzled SEO professionals who tried as best they could to reassure their clients, some of whom had seen a drop in traffic of up to 90%.
After sites complained about a drop in performance, website analytics expert Gary Illyes confirmed that it was indeed an update.
He also gave the name Fred to this update. According to him, Fred refers to updates for which Google does not give a name. But Fred is best known for Google’s major algorithm adjustment in March 2017.
To this day, Google has yet to officially confirm the Fred update, even after the fallout from it has made its way into the SEO world.
1.2 What was the purpose of Google Fred?
Unsurprisingly, Google had not explained the motivation behind Fred, just as it has been with previous major updates such as the Hummingbird update that was rolled out in September 2015
However, most SEO experts believe that the central factor behind Fred was quality.
This is about how aggressive monetization techniques used by some sites were, according to Google, negatively impacting its users’ experience
In simple terms, Google Fred targets black tactics related to aggressive monetization. This includes ad overload, low-value content and little additional benefit to the user.
However, not all sites affected by the Google Fred update are affiliate sites or sites created to generate advertising revenue.
But the majority of the affected websites were sites with a large amount of ads that appear to have been created for the purpose of generating revenue rather than solving a user’s problem. That said, the Fred update was closely tied to the quality of the content posted online.
1.3. What are the SEO implications of Google Fred?
Google always wants to improve the experience of its users in order to encourage them to use its services in order to keep the monopoly on online search.
With this in mind, the web giant made the Fred update to rid SERPs of pages that don’t put users’ experience first.
By downgrading sites that ruin the online user experience, Google is rewarding sites that offer well-researched content and consider users in their content creation strategies.
As a result, users will be able to easily find answers to their queries through the search engine without being confronted with aggressive advertising
Through the Fred update, Google is helping to clean up the Internet by encouraging content creators to devote their time and attention to meeting users’ needs.
Chapter 2: Which sites are affected by Google Fred?
Not all websites are affected by the Fred update, but some sites that have specific characteristics. This chapter discusses the different types of websites that Google Fred has affected.
2.1. Sites negatively affected by the Fred update
After Fred was rolled out, many SEOs started looking to see which sites were hit the hardest
Although Google has not made an official statement about which sites were affected by Fred, everything seems to support the theory that Fred is designed to penalize sites that prioritize monetization over user experience
For example, in an analysis of 100 affected websites, Barry Schwartz found that the majority of the sites he studied shared similar characteristics
These sites were all primarily content-driven and featured aggressive ad placement. But that doesn’t mean that Fred affected all sites that advertise.
In fact, according to Schwartz, Fred mostly affected sites that prioritize monetization over user experience, especially sites with very heavy ad inventory and thin or questionably useful content
There are also other facts that support this theory linking the Fred update to aggressive monetization.
Indeed, webmasters of several sites have reported an increase in traffic after removing or significantly reducing ads. This reinforces the link between questionable advertising practices and the decline in traffic due to Fred.
2.2. Sites positively affected by the Fred update
While some SEO professionals and webmasters saw their site performance drop after the Fred rollout, some saw remarkable traffic increases.
What’s really interesting about this traffic increase is the fact that it was not the result of SEO work done specifically around the time of Fred’s deployment
This suggests that this sudden increase in traffic is related to the Fred update. The most likely interpretation is that some sites rose in Google rankings while the affected sites lost rankings in the SERPs.
2.3) What types of sites did Google Fred affect?
Most SEOs were not forthcoming about the specific types of sites most affected by the Fred update. They were not willing to report sites that are causing bad publicity.
Other SEOs, however, described some of the problems their clients experienced after the Fred rollout, which should serve as a warning to site owners
In his analysis, Schwartz was quick to point out that not all of the sites they studied prioritized monetization over user experience, even though the vast majority did.
In general, the sites affected by the Fred update have some or all of the following characteristics:
2.3.1. Low quality targeted backlinks
Backlinks are inbound links that connect two different domains. They are crucial in SEO and contribute to the ranking of websites
Backlinks are like a trust mark and search engines use them to establish the value of a site.
As a site gets more inbound links, the more trust search engines place in it and assign more value to it.
However, not all backlinks are equal and some are illegitimate. Indeed, the value of a link is determined by its authority, including that of the site where it comes from. Thus, links coming from high authority sites are considered the best
On the other hand, some people take advantage of the importance that search engines give to backlinks to manipulate the algorithms
They create links artificially and illegitimately to make search engines believe that their content is interesting. These unnatural links that are obtained illegitimately are low quality links
With the Fred update, there is every indication that it was not just excessive ad placement that may have caused traffic penalties when it was rolled out
According to some research, this update was also aimed at low quality backlinks. These are links that come from irrelevant pages with anchor text filled with spam words or network links
Some sites also reported that poor quality backlinks were a common feature of many sites hit hard by the update
This means that inbound links to sites with low domain authority, stale or broken links, or outright “unnatural” links were all targets of Fred
This is why some SEOs believe that link quality is the defining characteristic of the entire update.
2.3.2. Low quality content
Content is one of the most essential elements to generate traffic, regardless of the type of content. However, Google prefers good quality content that is unique and comes with additional information that supports the topic
Content should be user-friendly, well-written and address the topic in detail, which can include media such as images and videos related to the topic.
In other words, your content should answer the user’s question and presented in the best way to convince the search engine
But when your website content is filled with ads or doesn’t address the topic you’re supposed to, it will cause you to lose ground in the search results.
This is how Google considers entry pages, affiliate pages and pages with little or no content as pages with low quality content.
2.3.3. Advertising and affiliate links
As mentioned earlier, affiliate links that harm the user experience are penalized. In addition, the affiliate link is by default a paid link, which is against Google’s guidelines.
The Fred update affected those sites that prioritize monetization through affiliate links, which is why we recommend reducing the number of affiliate links on your web pages.
2.3.4. Interstitials or intrusive ads
Interstitials are intrusive ads that hide content and prevent users from accessing it quickly
The Fred update also reprimanded those sites that abuse interstitials and ruin the user experience.
You should then check that the ads displayed to the user on your site are not misleading or intrusive and do not affect the user experience
Chapter 3: How to react to future updates?
Updates teach us about how Google processes search queries and its goals for displaying web resources.
Thus, we can anticipate future updates to Google’s algorithm based on previous updates like Fred.
This chapter discusses how to prepare for future updates without your site suffering a ranking drop.
3.1. Why should you prepare for future updates?
As mentioned earlier, Google regularly makes adjustments to its algorithm to not only fix flaws, but also to add new signals
In the Fred update, Google heavily disrupted many websites whether it was due to:
- Poor quality links;
- Excessive placement of ads;
- Too little content;
- A combination of the three above.
This is obviously a good thing for the users and for the websites that have seen their traffic increase. But it is not appropriate to live in perpetual fear of the potential impact of Google’s next updates
Fortunately, by adapting certain measures, you can minimize the risk of your site being affected by future algorithmic changes.
3.2. focus on the overall quality of your site
One of the most fascinating aspects of Google Fred is how some sites that were hit hard by the update managed to recover
Indeed, those sites that took a major hit during the Fred rollout and focused on improving overall quality have managed to recover almost completely from the initial impact
These sites have improved in certain areas such as:
- Content quality;
- The user interface;
- Technical aspect of site referencing.
The goal is to provide a better user experience by providing content that meets search intent and improving the usability of the site
3.3. conduct a thorough site audit
While this step may be optional, it is important to understand exactly what factors could put you at risk of being penalized in future algorithmic updates
This means performing a complete and thorough audit of your entire site. There are two main ways to perform a site audit for SEO: either do it yourself or hire an SEO professional
The former saves you a lot of money and protects you from potential indignity if you use questionable SEO techniques
However, auditing your site alone can waste a lot of time if you’ve never done an SEO audit before.
You may also end up with inaccurate or simply misleading results, which is not good. But by hiring an SEO consultant, you are sure to get results that reflect the reality on your site.
3.3. Only publish high quality content
Since sites with poor content were affected by the Fred update, the quality of content you publish on your site cannot be overlooked.
If your site is still relying on the “quantity over quality” publishing model, it’s time to thoroughly reevaluate your approach.
While Google’s ranking signals remain one of the world’s best kept secrets, there are several reasons to believe that Google rewards sites that offer highly relevant and actionable content
As an example, Google has introduced E.A.T., an acronym for three words
- And Reliability.
In effect, Google
- Reviews sites to determine if their resources offer a higher level of expertise compared to other sites
- Examines sites and content to determine if they are not only an expertly created resource, but also an authoritative resource in an industry;
- Measures the trustworthiness of a site including the trustworthiness of the website based on the backlinks it receives from other domains.
Simply put, Google wants relevant and useful content that provides a better user experience
However, producing high-quality content consistently is one of the biggest challenges any marketing team can face.
The time and financial commitments required to create and publish quality content regularly are enormous. But it’s worth the cost, because the benefits are even greater.
Whether your goal is to publish content daily or once a week, it’s crucial that you focus on producing the best possible content as regularly as possible.
3.4. Clean up your link profile
It’s true that link quality is one of the determining factors in updating Fred. Similarly, it was also the determining factor for other updates like Google Penguin
This update penalizes sites that get poor quality backlinks or backlinks that are fraudulent. This shows how important it is to generate quality backlinks while respecting Google’s rules
That’s why cleaning up your link profile should be high on your to-do list for future Google updates.
It’s all about removing poor quality links pointing to your domain in order to get rid of them. To evaluate your link profile, it is possible to use tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer
This tool can show you the strong and reputable links as well as the toxic links that need to be removed
By removing broken and poor quality links, you protect yourself from potential penalties while making your site more user-friendly, which is always a good thing in the eyes of Google.
To remove a link, you can use the link disavow tool to tell Google that you don’t want it to consider that domain for PageRank.
3.5. Avoid oversaturation of online ads
It is common to see websites covered with ads to the point where the content of the websites was almost indistinguishable from the banner ads
Users spend several minutes on these sites before accessing the content, which affects their experience. True, ad stuffing can be temporarily effective in generating short-term revenue
But it also tells Google that you prefer monetization over providing useful and relevant content to your users.
This not only makes your site much less attractive to potential customers, which hurts your conversion rates, but also leaves you vulnerable to Google penalties
You can use every possible ad format to monetize your site, but be careful about how you display it
The more ads you run on your site, the more likely you are to be penalized by future changes in Google’s search algorithm.
Chapter 4: Other Google Fred Issues
This chapter is dedicated to the different issues related to the Fred update
4.1. Which websites are affected by Google Fred?
Most of the domains affected by the Fred update had one or more of the following:
- Extremely high presence of ads;
- Content on all sorts of topics created for ranking purposes;
- Content is peppered with ads or affiliate links, and the quality of the content is far below that of sites that specialize in a particular industry;
- Misleading ads (looking like a download or read button to entice someone to click);
- Thin content;
- Barriers to use especially interstitials;
- Mobility issues;
- Aggressive monetization
When a site has these elements, it is very likely to experience a drop in traffic linked to a drop in rankings.
4.2. how to find out if you are a victim of an algorithm update?
Like Google Fred, most updates result in a significant drop in overall site rankings.
Therefore, websites need to constantly monitor their site’s performance to respond more quickly and effectively to a potential problem.
If your site experiences a sudden and unexplained drop in SERPs, it’s more than likely that you’re being penalized by an algorithm update.
When it comes to an update, the ability to recover quickly is related to your proactivity and your ability to identify what is wrong with you more quickly. Generally, a properly done audit will help you identify the problem.
4.3. How to adjust your SEO strategy for future updates?
Content creators should always put the user first and provide quality, easy-to-read and useful content
Even if the Fred update didn’t affect your site, here are some tips that can help you avoid penalties when Google updates its search algorithm:
- Make sure your site is compliant with Google Webmaster Guidelines;
- Review your website content regularly for relevance, quality and ranking;
- Optimize your website for mobile, tablet and desktop versions;
- Focus on user experience every time you work on your site.
4.4. did Google Fred affect local ranking?
Although the Fred update caused some changes in organic ranking, it did not affect local ranking.
However, other link-related updates such as Penguin could have an impact on local businesses that received inbound links from spam sites.
Google Fred is a major update to Google’s algorithm that has caused several sites to lose traffic.
This update reprimands content-driven sites that are overly inundated with ads and motivated by the pursuit of advertising revenue, to the point of becoming annoying to users.
Google Fred mostly affected sites with thin, low-quality content, including content created solely to improve SERP rankings and not to fulfill the user’s search intent.
The Fred update also affected sites with low quality backlinks, meaning that a number of sites that link to your site have low domain authority.
In this article, we’ve reiterated the SEO tactics that will help you stay ahead of the upcoming updates to keep your site ad-free.
In addition to the tactics we’ve outlined, tell us in the comments how you’re anticipating the upcoming Google algorithm updates.