The Google FRED SEO update hit websites earlier in March (2017), and has targeted ad heavy, low value content and affiliate sites. Fred was a name given to Google’s algorithm change. This change was implemented to make websites abide by the Google Webmaster Rules, with the aim of making these sites more search-query friendly rather than simply existing as websites that generate revenue through ad-heavy content. So what are the factors which FRED takes into account when evaluating your website?
Is your content outdated? Do you have long-tail keywords with content that matches those keywords and written before 2014? FRED interprets this as low-quality content that is not user-friendly irrelevant.
Links are links, and even though Google doesn’t like to talk about them, they’re still one of the most important factors as to how websites rank on the 1st page of Google.ie. Do you have more than one website inter-linking, or don’t know how your back-link profile looks? Does your content lean heavily towards generating revenue as opposed to solving a user’s search query? Then you’re possibly on FRED’s radar. If your website has low-quality backlinks, ‘artificial’ or spammy backlinks, FRED may have penalized you.
If you have been affected by FRED:
Google FRED – SEO Recovery
- Check the analytics of your website and see if there has been a significant drop in your traffic from March 8th- March 15th. Go to your rank tracker tool and see which keywords dropped in ranking. On which pages do these keywords appear? These are the pages of your website which most need optimization.
- You must also disable ads on pages which you have seen to be affected by FRED and never show ads above the fold.
- Make sure your website has content Latent Semantic Index (LSI) friendly. Google will pick up on words in your title and will expect to find related keywords in the content. Don’t overuse words (known as keyword stuffing) and don’t be over-repetitive in the message you are sending across. Think relevance, not repetitiveness. A good keyword technique is to use synonyms and search engine spiders will deem this as good, high-quality, appealing content.
- Check your backlinks to the pages that have proven a drop in traffic. Using an SEO tool such as Google Search Console or Screaming Frog SEO Spider, you can find low quality links based on their domain authority. Also use a backlink spam tool and remove any backlinks that look unnatural or that bring bad reputations to your website.
- Lastly, update your website content, especially on pages which have shown a drop in traffic. See which keywords dropped in ranking and see how you can rewrite content that enhances the value of those keywords. Write content that truly stands out and that tells captivating stories to viewers.
Most people thought that their website performance was affected by FRED because of their suspicious back-linking habits, such as getting affiliate marketing links. Yet, have a look at this tweet post by Gary Illyes (from Google):
“DYK there’s no inherent problem with affiliate links? The problem is when a site’s sole purpose is to be a shallow container for affiliate links.”
It is interesting how Illyes claims that affiliate links are not bad, provided that they link directly to the merchant’s website. But what Google doesn’t disclose is which affiliate networks are a problem.
What is affiliate marketing, you may ask? Affiliate marketing is promoting someone’s product/service in exchange for pay. When companies or merchants wish to reach a wider target audience to increase their brand awareness and sales they seek an affiliate network which acts as the go-between a merchant and the affiliates. The affiliate turns prospects into potential customers by communicating offers and programs on behalf of the merchant directly to the customer. The customer/end-user will become exposed to these offers and deals and commit an action such as view, a click, a sign-up, or a purchase, known as a lead or conversion.
Many businesses would set up Public Blog Networks (PBNs) for the purpose of creating links back to them (as though anonymous bloggers really liked the products/services of that business and promoted them through blog articles). Other times, businesses would try to link to manufacturer sites, or even actual, passionate bloggers who had a wide fan base and readership. Sometimes major brands even pay/give incentives to bloggers. White-hat back-linking is often preferred and advised for most business, but it takes a long time to see rankings improve on Google. Those who want immediate effects would practice black-hat back-linking, meaning linking to dodgy sites with high domain authorities, or creating affiliate links through a major website. While this may give immediate results and may make the SEO of a business look fantastic, the results are often short-lived and get penalized by unforeseen Google algorithm changes like FRED.
Affiliate Marketing: Google’s Frenemy?
Google has long had a love/hate relationship with affiliate marketers. From the beginning Google attracted merchants into search marketing when commercial offers and deals were matched with searchers’ keywords. As a result, Google AdWords was created. Google has invested in many affiliate marketing networks such as VigLink and Whale Shark Media. Google even runs product search affiliate ads for Amazon, and the Google AdSense program is now the largest affiliate network, where Google pays publishers to promote their ads on other websites when site visitors view/click on the ads. On top of that, back in the day, don’t forget that Google had their own vertical search listing, eliminating the search results of affiliates so that Google could make more money.
The Great AdWords Affiliate Massacre
What is contradictory, however, is that in 2009 Google banned over 30,000 affiliate AdWords accounts (known as the Great AdWords Affiliate Massacre), in order to remove low-quality advertising. It wasn’t fair on publishers who were told to improve the quality of websites on which they had posted ads (and of which they had no control over since they were 3rd party sites). Although the AdWords accounts of many affiliates were removed, unsurprisingly Google’s revenue increased that year. Go figure. Google also made sure to make duplicate content filters stronger so that feed-driven affiliate websites would be removed.
Google has tarred and feathered many brands in the past for reaching out to bloggers and giving them an incentive if they blogged about brand products. K-Mart, Overstock.com and JC Penneys have all done it and have been penalized heavily by Google. Let’s invent an Irish example: hypothetically Irish bloggers could write about Tesco products in exchange for a voucher from Tesco, or some form of payment. The recent FRED implementation may also be have targeted ilicit back-linking habits.
But let’s go back to the basics. FRED is believed to have targeted websites with content and back-linking issues. The best way to combat these problems is to address them and not try to guess Google’s behaviour or try to trick it. In the long-run, it is better to put in the effort now to create share-worthy, enticing content and establish a wide web of friendly, genuine back-links. Nothing fantastic and ever-lasting was ever made overnight. Same goes here.