This month has seen temporary mass hysteria spread throughout the SEO community, as the beginning of March brought with it a new mystery update from Google. Within 24 hours, rankings started to fluctuate significantly enough for most experts to agree that a major algorithm update was upon us.
However, the distinctive thing about this new update was that Google was even more vague than usual when commenting on the subject. Not only did Google employees refuse to confirm an update, there is no official word on what it concerns, and it wasn’t even given a nickname. A sarcastic tweet from one of their technicians, calling all future updates “Fred”, is all anyone has to work with.
The general consensus on Fred, however, is that it concerns the quality of written content on websites. In the last few weeks since the algorithm started to incorporate the new patch, many different sites have seen their rankings plummet (or increase, in a small number of cases). There are few correlations between the affected sites, although most of those sites that saw their rankings drop were also found to contain content with could be described as advert-heavy or sales-driven.
In other words, Fred seems to be an effort on Google’s part to fight against spam and push it further down the rankings. Although it’s not yet clear exactly what parameters Google is using to decide what content counts as low value, we know that some indicators could include the following:
- Keyword-heavy content purely written for SEO purposes
- High numbers of obvious external links or affiliate advertisements
- Text-heavy articles without additional media such as videos
- Content not focused on answering search queries
Some have suggested that Google may be starting to understand what pages look like to real users, instead of simply interpreting them in code form. This would theoretically allow for layouts without much visual appeal and a heavy focus on adverts to be picked up by Google and ranked lower. Although there is no evidence of this being the case, and it’s not known how it would be possible, this is a logical next step if the search engine is not already factoring this in.
Overall, whether things are happening now or in the near future which could compromise your site’s rankings, it’s important to take action fast. The main point to take away from the Fred roll-out is that high quality content is more important than ever, and the details really do matter when you want to entice users as well as search engines.