What the Fred Google Update means for your website

By Simon Ensor
SEO 31.03.2017

In early March rumours started flying around about an unconfirmed update to the Google algorithm. The update has been lovingly named ‘Fred’ (why not) and has sparked much debate and speculation amongst SEOs. Why? Well, because no one really knows what it is that Fred does. Fear not though – we wouldn’t be writing a blog post if we had no helpful information to share. We have done our research, gathered the intelligence and written this post to explain what Fred could mean for you.

What does Fred do?

Annoyingly, Google has refused to confirm exactly what Fred does. They have said that the update falls within the recommendations outlined in their Webmaster Guidelines, although this is to be expected and therefore not particularly helpful. Thankfully, there have been various signals from inside the SEO industry as to what the Fred update has addressed. The general consensus is that it targeted low-value content; in other words, sites with thin content and a focus on revenue generation via ads over providing value for users.

This speculation is further supported by a recent analysis of the update published by Sistrix. They describe the sites that have been hit as follows:

“…pages [that] had a lot of advertisement, outdated, thin and scraped content, as well as incomprehensible articles made up of 300 word ‘SEO texts’ pumped to the brim with main keyword mentions and void of any useful information or a sense of readability.”

These sites are usually packed with adverts and have the sole purpose of prompting users to click on affiliate links. Yet just because a site features affiliate links does not mean it is low quality or spammy. It is important to note that the Fred update is about targeting sites whose only aim is to generate clicks on these links, which is usually made obvious by the low-value content that sits on these websites.

Should I be worried?

In short, if you follow the Webmaster Guidelines to the best of your ability then you won’t have anything to worry about. We always say it, but as long as you have high quality content that provides genuine value for users then you’ll be fine. If you haven’t heard us harking on about the importance of high quality content then, really, where have you been? It may be helpful to consider this useful description from Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Land regarding the type of sites which are likely to be hit:

“A content site, often in a blog format, but not always, that has content on various topics — which looks to be written for ranking purposes and then has ads and/or affiliate links sprinkled throughout the article. Many of these sites are not industry expert sites, but rather they seem to have content on vast array of topics that are not adding all that much value above what other sites in the industry have already written.”

If you’re reading the above thinking, “goodness me, that sounds like my site” then you could be in trouble and it’s likely you will have seen a drop in your rankings and website traffic. However, as long as you have listened to anything we’ve ever told you about SEO and content then hopefully you will not be in this position and needn’t lose any sleep over the elusive Fred.

Quick content tips

We thought it may be handy to summarise with some quick content tips to make sure you do not fall into Fred’s trap:

  • Think carefully about what your website users want to read about and provide content accordingly. Look at what previous content has performed well in terms of engagement, keep an eye on your competitors and ask your readers what they want to see.
  • Provide content that is relevant to your area of expertise and avoid going off on a tangent in an attempt to reach a new organic audience. Relevancy is a key ranking factor when it comes to content so ensure you write accordingly.
  • Affiliate links are fine to include but they absolutely should not be the sole aim of a page. Only add affiliate links as an addition or complement to your writing and do not overdo them.
  • Content that is unusually short, fails to go into any detail and does not provide significant value will be considered thin content and could suffer in the face of Fred. Posts do not have to be overly lengthy, just as long as they make an interesting point and have a greater purpose than generating revenue.

Here at Yellowball, we have a team of SEO experts and content writers who would be delighted to help you ramp up your digital marketing efforts. Get in touch to find out more about what we can do for you.

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