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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 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 the 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.

What else happened in the last 30 days? Dig into April’s edition of Conductor 30|30 here.

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

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