The Google Fred Update – What It’s Targeting And How To Fix it

Since March the 8th there has been hysteria coming from the SEO community due to reported ranking fluctuations and traffic losses, potentially from an unconfirmed Google Update. This is now known as the ‘Fred Update’ due to the tongue in cheek response Google’s Gary Illyes gave to Barry Schwartz, which was that all updates be named “Fred.”

Originally a Search Engine Land blog post, published the day after, suggested that this was possibly an update to combat link spam. However, this latest blog post written and published by Barry Schwartz suggests that based on data and evidence of sites affected, this update actually targets ad heavy, low value content and affiliate sites.

Gary Illyes tweet below also suggests this theory maybe right.

What are Ad Heavy Low Value Content Sites?

These sites are designed to maximise revenue by gaining lots of web traffic with the sole aim of getting the user to click on an ad or an affiliate link.

Low quality ad and affiliate sites usually share the following common traits:

  • Lots of keyword based content clearly targeting keywords
  • An unnatural ratio of prominent ads or affiliate links within the content and around the site
  • Most of the content is text based and in article form. You’re unlikely to see original video content on these sites.
  • Content generated is usually tailored towards generating revenue as opposed to solving a user’s search query

In Gary Illyes tweet above he suggested that there are no inherent problems with affiliate links and that the problem is when a site’s sole purpose is to be a shallow container for affiliate links.

He went one step further with his tweet below to share an example of an affiliate website that does provide value to a user.

Did Google just set Adsense webmasters up for a fall? Some of you may remember that back in 2016, Google announced that they had removed the 3 ads per page limit and that they were now focussing on the overall balance of content and ads on a page. The problem here is what is an acceptable level of ads to content balance? We give you some ideas in point 2 below.

How to Improve Your Affiliate Website and Avoid the Google Fred Update

Let’s take Gary’s example of a good affiliate site vs this site which was reported by the owner after experiencing significantly reduced traffic and earnings. Aside from the fact one is generating revenue by affiliate links and the other through Adsense revenue, you can quite clearly see differences in the quality – not only in visual aspect but also in the content and how it does or doesn’t provide value to a reader.

The Points Guy Vs Easy DIY and Crafts

The above example of the Easy DIY and Crafts website on the right clearly shows some of the typical traits of ad heavy, low value content sites that Google may have targeted in this recent update. See our tips below to improve your site if you think you may have been affected by this update.

10 ways you can improve your low value affiliate website:

  1. Design your website to be visually appealing for users, not search engine robots. A lot of low value, ad heavy websites are very text heavy, often difficult to navigate and usually follow a typical blog style theme. You can clearly see from the 2 examples above which is designed for humans and which is designed purely to house content and ads.
  2. Check your ad ratio to ensure it’s not over the top! With Google removing the limit on Ad Ratio in 2016, this blurred the line for webmasters and made it difficult to really understand what the best ratio may be. It’s difficult to definitively answer this question but we’d recommend that you ask certain questions of your site such as ‘Is it possible to see more than 1 ad when viewing the site / content?’, ‘Is the user intrusively distracted to view or click on the ad over and above your content?’.
  3. Remove tag pages if you’re running your site like a blog. Webmasters tend to forget about tag pages and when they do these still tend to get indexed in Google and are offering little to no value at all. There has been some discussions suggesting that removing these tag pages as helped improver and even fully recover traffic since this update.
  4. Write specific content designed to solve a particular user search query. An example of a specific title would be ‘DIY Kitchen Storage Ideas Designed for Small Kitchens’ vs a more broad and generic title ‘Easy Kitchen Storage Tips’.
  5. Don’t write similar or the same content over and over. Content heavy sites have a tendency to publish content around the same or similar subjects. Now technically whilst the content may pass Copyscape there is a theory that Google may devalue some of the other pages and only focus on which page it thinks is the best surrounding that keyword / phrase or search query.
  6. Focus on users rather than keywords. Poor affiliate sites will create content based around keywords and have no real value other than to rank for that particular keyword. Affiliate sites that will stand the test of time create content for users, solve problems and offer solutions.
  7. Have a genuine agenda. Don’t simply write about products and link to them with affiliate links or house ads around high traffic keyword optimised content. Have a real agenda for your site. Review similar products, give the users tips on buying, show deals, compare prices, collate reviews, give step by step guides – help the buyer make a decision or solve a problem.
  8. Include other forms of content such as videos. With the popularity of video content rising, websites today can leverage a user advantage by producing videos and then having those videos transcribed into text to also provide value to search engine robots. Furthermore uploading a video to a site like YouTube gives you the possibility of generating alternative traffic thus never relying on Search Traffic alone for affiliate or ad earnings.
  9. Create ‘non-profit’ content. Ensure your affiliate website isn’t only commercial/money pages. Create pages and content that are useful for your niche/industry. This could be in the form of an infographic or evergreen guide. These will serve as content assets and may attract links or get shared, therefore increasing the authority and traffic of your site as a whole. This ‘non-profit’ content will also help the ad and commercial balance of your site – search engines seeing that not all of your content has an commercial agenda.
  10. Create a social following. Any ‘real’ business or website will naturally want to form a following on social groups such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Work on building a social following and attract real people and ‘likes’ by sharing valuable content in your niche. You could also start a newsletter and share value there. This also decreases your reliability on search should you ever experience any fluctuations.

Whilst most of the evidence suggests that ad heavy and affiliate sites are in the firing line from this latest ‘unconfirmed’ update, it is not to say the update is limited to only ad based sites. Thin low value commercial sites may be affected too for the same reasons. Typically ‘real’ businesses with a web presence will be immune to this kind of update, as naturally you would expect a real business to have social following, service descriptions, a blog and much more than just keyword based commercial pages.

Fred image from

Daniel Trick

Head of Content

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