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An Update called Fred

Google’s Quality Campaign | Stand: Nov. 2022
reading time: 4 minutes

Since the beginning of March 2017 Google keeps sending shockwaves through the world of SEO. Websites with a large number of ads and little content suffered severe losses. The attack seemed to focus on commercial websites.

Rankings dropped over night and dozens of SERPs were lost for many, though there have been a few lucky winners who considerably improved their position reaching high rankings without optimizing a single thing on their website. This kind of SERP fluctuation broadly hints at Google adjusting another significant lever in their update strategy.

Commercial Websites took the most damage from ‘Fred’

Exploratory analyses confirmed what was actually causing webmasters all over the world to curse and age prematurely since March 8, 2017.
Juan Gonzalez of Sistrix analyzed 300 American, British, German and Spanisch websites after ‘Fred’ hit us. The Update seemed to parse and rate not only website content but also reviewed how much of the screenspace was covered by areas with banners and ads. Certain websites seemed to be affected more than others:

  • pages with little or none information on the initial query,
  • pages with proportionally less content than ads,
  • pages with large numbers of affiliate links,
  • pages with outdated or insufficient content.

On March 7 or 8, 2017, a Google update took place that soon was referred to as ‘Fred’ in the SEO-community. At that particular time the impact for many websites was quite obvious. It is safe to say that there had been at least one bigger or a series of smaller updates with enough effect on the search algorithm to affect a large number of websites. The target group of websites with commercial orientation could quickly be spotted.

As a quick fix many webmasters removed all AdSense campaigns and affiliate links from their sites to recover some of the ranking losses. Web portals and online shops have recently been hit by the quality updates Phantom 1-4, suffering severe damage. Ads and affiliate links are often essential to the marketing concept of commercial and advertising sites like these and optimizing content often isn’t an option. It turned out that the ‘Fred’ update works in a more selective way. Removing all ads from your site did not guarantee to get your old SERP position back.

The impact of big changes in the algorithm like the strong deviations in visibility lessened – as is often the case – in the course weeks. The update’s follow-ups leveled out ‘Fred’s’ aftermath to a certain extent. Websites that were hastily stripped of their ads even could regain some ranking. Further analyses showed the importance of not how many ads but where these ads were positioned on the affected sites. Banners, pop-ups and flashes ‘above the fold’ showing at pageload on screen weighed much heavier for a negative ranking.

Google’s change in strategy – continuous improvements vs. large update packages

‘Fred’ took its place in a long row of smaller updates that Google implements on a daily basis to improve their search results. Even if ‘Fred’ was not indicated as a self-contained update such as Panda or Penguin, Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that there has been a change in the algorithm since the beginning of March, though nothing worth of a name like Panda or Penguin. Illyes playfully called it ‘Fred’ indicating that Google would rather leave their small everyday updates nameless.

It looks like Google will refrain from comprehensive, independent update-packages in the future. One of the first large updates had been Panda, specifically analyzing website content to enable the algorithm to make the distinction between high quality text and cheaply scraped content. In the meantime, Panda has been integrated in Google’s Core and the algorithm filters the results accordingly with every query.

What webmasters need to know after Google’s ‘Fred’ update

Ultimately, webmasters have to continue optimizing their website content. Subsequent to Panda the Penguin update hit home again with many websites from a different angle. Generating backlinks by link farms or other questionable means is no longer acceptable for Google. As it turned out, the package caused problems for managing reputation, so Google had to adjust Penguin several times until it was finally integrated into the core.

With all these schemes and changes to the search algorithm Google basically demands adherence to follow their webmaster guidelines:

  1. To make pages for users not for search engines.
  2. Not to deceive users.
  3. Not to rely on tricks to improve your search engine ranking (→ Black Hat SEO).
  4. To create high quality websites that are unique, engaging and worthwhile.

The seo Nerd meets this challenge and steps up wherever it occurs to give the user the page he was looking for – and maybe even more. If you want to provide the best content for your customers and users just let us know. The Nerd will gladly help you.

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