Understanding Google Fred Update

One of the things I noticed on one of the websites I managed was that its organic traffic has dropped significantly around the 8th of March. During that time, information about a recent Google update was scant, until today when I read more about Google Fred Update, one of many regular updates Google apparently launched. But this one is fairly big, as Search Engine Roundtable’s Barry Schwartz describes it.

By the way Google Fred is a placeholder name coined by a Google employee Gary Illyes for any unnamed update.

With over 70 websites for him to observe, Schwartz saw 95% affected by the update and share two common things:

a. Websites are content driven, using blog or similar formats
b. Pages are heavy on ad placement and many of whom he observed were created for the sole purpose of generating ad income and not much on user experience.

Although this is all pure speculation until Google confirms or denies it, in my opinion, the amount of sample data is decent enough to make the claim that Google Fred update was meant for content-heavy websites with loads of ads all over the place.

Content is one of the most important Google ranking factors so it’s natural that webmasters gravitate towards creating more of it — in fact a well-research piece of information showed that top ranking pages have content easily exceeding 1,000 words so there’s no question on that. Google advocates on providing the best experience to its users by ranking pages that provide comprehensive information related to a user’s search query.

On the other hand, publishers are trying to ramp up the presence of their ads to increase ad viewability which could produce better click rate and higher revenue.

But even if it might do Google a favor to rank pages that is rich in content BUT with plenty of ads that clicks translate partly to Google revenue, it won’t be a very good user experience as ads may become too obtrusive and distract visitors from actually accessing the information they are looking for.

Back to the website I manage, it has ads on it, but maybe a bit excessive compared to the actual amount of content. Remember that Google in August 2016 removed the restriction of three AdSense ad units, three link units and two search boxes within the same page as a deterrent to excessive ad placement, and replaced it with a section called ‘Valuable Inventory’ which warns publishers against excessive use of ads compared to actual content. Without the exact limit on ads used per page, ad placement has now been at the discretion of webmasters.

Google, as of this writing, has not confirmed if there was such an update although the writing is on the wall. So if you were affected by the drop in organic traffic, removing ads may help improve user experience on your pages but does not guarantee return of lost traffic.

Hopefully, since this is indeed a fairly big update at least to those websites Schwartz has observed as well as the site I manage, Google will shed light on this.