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Google’s Fred Algorithm: Why Your Rankings Dropped in March

On March 8th, Google rolled out an unconfirmed algorithm update dubbed “Fred,” and reactions across the industry came swift and fierce. According to reports, affected sites saw up to a 90 percent drop in traffic, and panicked SEOs from coast to coast began tinkering, tweaking and deleting in an effort to get back in Google’s good graces.

Just what does the Google Fred algorithm update target? How should marketers affected by Fred respond?

The short answer: Create great content that’s aligned with search intent. Fred is just one of the daily updates Google makes to its algorithms in order to mirror the heart, mind and needs of a customer. Focus on your customer as the algorithm, and you won’t have to worry about these updates as often.

But let’s get into the nitty-gritty. This guide explains it all.

What is Google’s Fred Algorithm Update?

While Google remains vague about what this update specifically targeted, numerous SEOs report that Fred affected low-quality, ad-heavy sites with thin content and bad backlinks.

An “update” was eventually confirmed by Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes:

Why is it called Fred? Well obviously…

What Kind of Sites Did the Fred Algorithm Update Impact?

Here’s a sample of what SEO experts are reporting post-Fred:

So… what gives?

Really, Fred shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. This is another update in a string of updates that Google makes every day to improve their algorithm and the quality of their SERP results. Fred just seems to be one that impacted many sites across the web, specifically ones that are ad-heavy with low-quality content focused on revenue generation. Google is making good on its word to reward sites that provide valuable content that helps users, not just earn a quick internet buck.

Here at Conductor, we saw a lot of movement in many verticals post-Fred. Many e-commerce sites took a hit for the first couple weeks after the update, and then we saw rankings come back in the third and fourth weeks. This is not out of the ordinary for Google, either; Google tends to dial things up, and then they like to dial things back. It’s what they do.

What can marketers do in the wake of Fred?

Short-and-sweet answer: follow the Google webmaster guidelines.

In fact, according to an SEO Roundtable report, Gary Illyes said this update was all about dinging sites that have failed to heed the guidelines. That means:

  • Create high-quality, relevant content that aims to help your readers and users
  • Don’t overload your site with a bunch of ads or affiliate links
  • Make sure users can identify your ads as such; don’t try to deceive users into thinking ads are really site content
  • Look for spammy, unnatural backlinks and disavow them

If you didn’t see a drop in traffic or keyword rankings after Fred, just keep doing what you’re doing — go forth and continue to create great content. But if you did, let Fred serve as a warning to you, because this certainly won’t be the last Google quality update. Straighten out and fly right today.

Take a look at how Google’s core algorithm has changed in our Guide to Google Updates and Its Core Algorithm here.

  • thank you very much for the info!
    My traffic actually went up, I had not idea what happened, now I know!

    • but still you can’t come up with your site right ? . it still same ?

      • what do you mean?

  • Dmitri

    I wish Google would spend time on something better such as pop up ads and pop us (eg to subcribe) which are on every 2nd site. Garbage websites such as Forbes( yes, it’s a garbage website) is usually ranked at the top of the search and you can’t even enter it unless you have browser pop-up filter turned off. That crap should not be allowed. Unfortunately google could care less about users and our wishes and has been ignoring Forbes and other such sites with these tactics for many many years.

    • Charity

      I hear you. The algo still has a long way to go, but I do think Google cares about user-satisfaction signals — and we can expect to see sites like Forbes penalized for pop ups in the not too distant future.

  • shesaid

    So my site was affected, and I have done all thinkable changes for it to go back to before, but it keeps dropping and loosing so much traffic, i have 60-70% decrease in traffic and position(s). When will it go back to normal? Do i have to wait for a new update? Or is this site doomed to never come back? I ranked top 2 on a kewword with 9900 searches/month, now 1 month after Fred, its pos 95 on the same kw… help 🙁

  • Clothing9

    My site is effected and I lost almost 90% of traffic.. Kindly advise me how can my site can be like before??? As far as I think the reason is many people were copying my content anxiously waiting for experts answer.

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