May 17, 2017
On March 14 of this year, Search Engine Land reported that an unconfirmed Google ranking had hit the scene. It was called Fred, and, while Google didn’t initially have much to say about it (the update wasn’t confirmed by the search engine until March 23), the evidence supporting its existence has been compelling from the get-go.
Digging deeper, SEJ spent a weekend collecting sample URLs from sites that believed they had been affected. With few exceptions, the sites were low-value content sites aimed at driving revenue rather than assisting users.
The verdict? An algorithm update did hit and it’s after low-value sites.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who Does Fred Effect?
Right now, it seems like Fred’s biggest targets are so-called “black hat” SEO sites. These sites feature some content, typically a blog, that is written to rank and has ads and affiliate links throughout the text. Industry experts don’t write these sites, and they tend to contain content on a wide assortment of topics and terms.
These pages have the following traits in common:
• A high concentration of keyword-based material that’s apparently targeting phrases for ranking;
• An unnatural or invasive level of affiliate links and ads throughout the content and the site at large;
• High concentration of text-based content in article form. These sites generally do not feature original video content or image content;
• Content geared toward generating revenue rather than solving a customer’s problems.
In these sites, the Fred update engendered a 50-90 percent decrease in traffic from Google’s organic search.
This indicates that Fred is a spam algorithm update dedicated to continuing Google’s insistence on content quality and expert writing. The update comes on the heels of a Feb. 7 algorithm update that also focused on content quality.
10 Tips to Avoid Fred’s Penalties
Right now, it seems like Fred is targeting affiliate and AdSense sites, which could spell disaster for hardworking SEOs and marketers. Concerned about Fred coming for you? Here are some smart tips to avoid penalties in the coming months.
1. Rein in Your Ad Ratio
Now is a smart time to look at your site’s ad rate. If your site looks like one huge ad at first glance, you’ve got to pare it back slightly. Since Fred is targeting ad-heavy sites, first and foremost, it’s essential to ensure yours isn’t setting off that trigger.
While there is no hard-and-fast rule for how many ads you should have on your site, experts recommend asking yourself if you can see more than a single ad as you read content, or if the advertisements present are distracting or invasive for the reader. If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you’ll need to revise your strategy.
Remember: all your ads should be helpful, relevant and exciting, not frustrating and intrusive.
2. Make Your Site Beautiful
While your site doesn’t have to be professionally designed to succeed, it should be visually appealing for people. Why, you ask? Because Google has gotten smart, and it knows that sites that are ugly and designed for search robots aren’t valuable or relevant for the human beings Google cares about. What’s more, these sites are difficult for real people to navigate.
With that in mind, revise the layout of your content if you need to. It should always be designed for people first and search engines second.
3. Get Rid of Tag Pages
Tag pages on blog-style sites should be removed. While this is a small update, it can help you improve and reclaim your site traffic if your URL has been hit by Fred.
4. Change up Your Content
One of the things Fred is looking for when it targets sites is content that addresses the same topic repeatedly. That’s because sites like this are typically fishing for ratings rather than promoting value. Instead of focusing exhaustively on certain topics, keep your topics fresh and relevant. Even if you’re not plagiarizing content or lifting content directly from other sources, keeping your material fresh, relevant, and tailored to users will help keep you out of Fred’s clutches.
5. Answer User Questions
One of the best things you can do to boost the value of your content is to focus your material on user issues. The more you can answer your users’ search queries, the better your content will perform not only with actual people but with search engines. If you’re stumped on where to find relevant questions to answer, head to Quora and look up questions in your niche, or use your website’s own Q&A to find topics your readers are hungry for.
6. Promote Value
The call since time immemorial in the world of SEO has been to promote value and offer relevant, exciting content. This will help keep you out of the clutches of Fred and prevent your site from being hit with damaging organic traffic decreases. Take heart, though – this doesn’t mean you can’t share affiliate links or ads – it just means that what you do share should be relevant and exciting to your users.
In other words, define a goal for your site. Instead of just dropping affiliate links into content, review products your users will love, help them find out what to buy, offer them deals, assist them in comparing prices, and collect reviews, so they don’t have to sift through the internet to do it on their own.
7. Make Your Keywords Second-Class Citizens
Too many people focus too intensely on keywords, at the expense of not only their users but the value of their content. Instead of falling victim to this, focus on catering to your readers, first, and checking keywords off your list, second. Not only does this improve the value of your content, but it also takes your site out of the low-quality affiliate bucket, and transforms it into something useful and helpful for your readers.
8. Branch Out into Other Content Types
As you’ll remember from the earlier part of this post, most of the sites hit by Fred featured only text-based content: no video or images. Differentiate yourself from the pack by branching out into other types of content, like videos, images, and more. Not only does this help you provide value to search bots and readers, but it also allows you to generate more traffic and more money, outside your standard affiliate links.
9. Build up Your Facebook Following
If you’re a legitimate business, you’ll be working on building your following on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Google knows this, and Fred is less likely to touch sites that are earning organic likes and shares from their social profiles.
Share your content on your social profiles and nurture that following actively. This serves two purposes: in addition to helping ensure your content doesn’t hit a dead end should you run into algorithm problems, it also expands your organic reach and helps make your existing content more valuable.
10. Develop Content Without a Focus on Profit
Instead of writing all your content to drive revenue or earn affiliate funds, focus on developing some material that’s just meant to be helpful or useful. Some experts call this “non-profit” content. It does two things.
On the one hand, it ensures that your entire site isn’t just seen as a commercial enterprise, which could place it in Fred’s crosshairs. Secondly, it helps you grow your content assets and get your links and other materials shared.
In this way, it helps ensure you won’t be dinged by Fred or other such algorithm updates and makes sure that the commercial balance of your site is up to par.
5 Proactive Steps to Protect Your Pages
Fred is just the most recent algorithm update released by Google, but it’s certainly not the last. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to protect your site from future such updates:
1. Always Create High-Quality Content
No matter where you fall in the content universe, it’s essential to insist that any content you publish is high-quality. This is as true for affiliate content as it is for any standard blog post or white paper.
While many people assume affiliate content must be low-quality, it can be remarkably helpful for users. Ensure the material you’re putting out is helping your users rather than just targeting rankings. Do this by only linking to products you’ve tried and liked, being specific about the benefits of a product or ad, and consistently re-evaluating your strategy to ensure its meeting the needs of your users.
2. Minimize Your Advertising
If this sets you into a panic, stay calm. While lots of marketers rely on advertisements to monetize their sites, this approach could be putting your content at risk by making your site seem spammy or low-quality. Instead, take a clear and honest look at your advertising and ensure that anything you’re sharing is relevant and valuable to users. If it’s not, get rid of it.
Bonus points for branching outside of advertising and focusing on organic reach (Through content marketing). This is virtually immune from algorithm updates and will continue to be important and relevant for years to come.
3. Go Deeper
Fred is predominantly targeting shallow, ranking-focused material. Stay away from shallow content at all costs. The deeper, more informative, and more helpful you can get with your material, the better chance you’ll have of attracting the organic content you crave and staying out of the clutches of Fred and other such updates.
Having a hard time figuring out how to go deeper?
One of the keys is to start creating long-form content. In addition to ranking better, long-form content provides more value to users, and stands out in the SERPs. Beyond that, you’ll also want to place yourself in your readers’ shoes: what are they hungry for? How can your content help them? Which questions aren’t your competitors answering for them?
By digging into these topics, you can differentiate yourself from the low-quality content Fred is targeting.
4. Don’t Panic
When an update like Fred hits, people tend to panic. Do not do this. At the end of the day, taking actions like deleting pages suddenly or compulsively altering your URL structure will only make the problem worse. Instead, take a comprehensive and targeted approach to auditing your content and improving the parts that are weak, dated, or spammy. This will ultimately help your content more than simply knocking out large portions of it, and will benefit your site down the road.
Again, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, learn about the update, and take proactive steps to ensuring it won’t start (or continue) to damage your content.
5. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
One of the biggest risk factors for Fred is a large concentration of low-quality links. Instead of cramming your content full like a thanksgiving turkey, focus on including quality links rather than just demanding dozens of them in your materials.
This goes for all your content, only concentrate on the links that are hard to claim, and spend your time creating content that not everyone can. A good general rule is that, if everyone can do it, it might be low-quality.
Separate yourself from the herd for a better chance at ranking well.
Google’s Updates and the Introduction of Fred
Google is updating its algorithms all the time, and Fred is no exception. By bringing the change into the current SEO scene, Google has once more placed utmost importance on high-quality content written by industry experts.
Luckily, you can avoid the damaging effects of this and other algorithm updates by always focusing on quality, taking your time with your content, and being active about standing out as an expert in your field.
Julia McCoy is a bestselling author of So You Think You Can Write, podcaster and an expert content marketer. She’s also the founder and CEO of Express Writers, a leading online content creation agency, with more than 60 content writers and strategists. Julia leads her team to serve hundreds of worldwide businesses with the highest-quality content for their online presence. Follow Julia's blog.