In an ever-increasing attempt to get people to play nicely and not cheat their way to the top of a search page, Google works furiously to plug loopholes – then announce it as an update with cool, endearing names like Penguin, Panda, Hummingbird and Pigeon.
So, on the 8th of March 2017 to almost no applause and a lot of confusion, Google’s latest update, Fred, arrived and like a dodgy party guest, he was listed as unconfirmed and immediately wreaked havoc.
Google make updates so regularly that people hardly pay attention anymore. Except those who are affected and get hysterical over their drop in traffic, but the point of these updates is to deliver the very best results of a search. It is these algorithm updates that have made Google the number one search engine almost since its 1996 inception – through meticulously sweeping for websites using infamous black hat practices that pay no attention to their web design and its effect on user experience, and clamping down on them.
How does Fred affect your site?
If you’re a white hat internet user, then there is very little reason to be concerned by them, in fact, you may notice an increase in traffic after an update. However, the arrival of Fred elicited loud complaints when a number of websites noticed massive drops in traffic overnight. The explanation muttered by Google was fortune-cookie-vague “find your answers in our webmaster guidelines”, they said. And that was it.
Most of the discussion around this latest update is speculative, but the general consensus is that the update is targeting website owners whose sole purpose is that of generating ad revenue with ad heavy, low-value web content.
But while a lot of sites were adversely affected by Fred, their complaints would have only served to highlight practices that are deemed unsavoury by Google and a large percentage of internet users. And for that we should be grateful, because this update went after (most) sites that were using sub-par content and spammy backlinks.
These two practices are almost never mutually exclusive.
So, you may have been hit if you are elevating your rankings by using thin, uninteresting, and out-dated content together with purchased backlinks and burying it under heavy ad usage.
Because users who have to swipe, click and practically ninja their way around ads in order to determine if you are providing content that adds any value to their online experience, are losing patience, and obviously, so is Google.
Actually, this update shouldn’t come as a surprise to websites deliberately misleading users with content that doesn’t match their search or managers of content farms with artificial backlinks. Google have been crowing about clamping down on this for years.
Some sites affected by Fred reported a 50% drop in organic traffic. That’s a huge number and can cause irreparable damage to a company relying on ad sales to keep it afloat. But if it wasn’t immediately obvious whether or not you were affected, then have a quick look at your analytics. If there was drop in traffic or keywords you were ranking for in the first three weeks of March, then the chances are Fred flagged your site.
But maybe it was all an innocent mistake, you shouldn’t have trusted that friend of your uncles who said he knew “SEO stuff”. Can you recover from Fred’s blackout of half your viewership?
Not overnight you can’t, and there is a lot you need to do if you want Google’s forgiveness. However, it will be worth it if you don’t want to find yourself slipping further and further down the rankings with every update.
While it appears that this latest update is mainly targeting private blog networks (PBN), it can’t do any damage to make sure that you are adhering to the webmaster guidelines, considering Google’s response to this update is to direct our attention back to what could arguably be called “How to Exist Online”.
So let’s begin.
How to Recover from Fred
First, evaluate your content
Take a long hard look at the type of content you are putting out there. It may be easier and less time consuming to just add any old content that you can buy or scratch around in the archives for, but it’s going to cost you dearly in revenue.
Prepare for a massive spring clean. Get ready to ditch the stuff that is no longer relevant and be mindful of why users are coming to your site in the first place. Usually, it’s to find content that is going to help them solve a problem, and find a high level of value in it that will entice them to share it with their friends. For this reason, and to make Google happy, it must relevant, fresh and distinctive. And if you’re extensively using call-to-action overlays in your video ads then you might want to dial that back a little, too.
If your website is so crammed with keywords, ads and affiliate links that your content is almost secondary to these, then you have probably already had a visit from Fred. It may feel like you’re cutting revenue by cutting down on these, but with them, and without a positive search ranking you’re already losing. If increasing revenue is the glaringly obvious reason for your website existing instead of providing users with value-driven content, then you’re going to be in trouble.
In short, stop stuffing your website with ads and links in order to make as money as you can from it, Google is on to you.
Now you can fix it
It’s not hard to fix content and deliver information that readers want to consume. If you know your business well enough and are sure about the audience you want to attract, then you are already on the right track. The person writing your content should be someone who is fluent in the language it will be published in. The writer should know your business, or at the very least be someone who can research well enough to get a good grasp of the type of business you represent, and at the same time offer an authentic voice to your brand.
Get rid of worthless content, and by worthless we mean the stuff that can hurt you with Google updates like Fred, such as ad overcrowding and keyword stuffing. While ads are fine, too many are a problem. Ad overcrowding coupled with bad design makes dodging ads to navigate around a website, a new sport, and is just asking for Fred to sweep you right out of the back door, and it’s not easy to get back in.
While you’re there, have another look at your link profile. Google really likes it when websites link (naturally) to reliable sources, and make sure you vary them. Link diversity feels authentic and offer much wider traffic opportunities. So stop all the backlinks and extraneous linking and give your content a more natural feel.
No one knows who or what Google will target next, or whether the changes will be drastic or minor. But if you want to benefit from these updates, then your first consideration needs to be the user and what they are gaining from the content on your site. Post new content at least once a week and encourage authentic engagement in a space that is easy to navigate through. This is not only beneficial to the user, but if you’re making Google’s job easier, they will thank you for it by increasing your SEO rankings.
As Neil Patel put it, “Google needs large volumes of data to be able to make better decisions for any rank tracker. The more relevant results people get when they search for a specific keyword, the more accurate the data that Google can extract and return for other searchers.”
Fred has been around for just over a month, which is long enough for people to start understanding who was targeted and why. It is also not the first Google algorithm update used for weeding out low –value content and giving a leg-up to those following the rules and using good web design. This creates a better online user experience.
At the end of the day, this is what we expect from Google, so we can hardly complain when they deliver it via hyper-focussed algorithm updates that require websites to clean up and use better internet practices for the benefit of everyone.