Google Releases FRED Update to Target Shallow Content

April 12, 2017

Collective Measures

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Google’s FRED algorithm update is the latest in a long line of tweaks designed to better identify sites with low quality content and remove or reduce their presence in search results. Similarly, this algorithm targets site that leverage this low value content to generate backlinks that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Webmasters began reporting significant shakeups in some Google search results around March 7th, with affected sites experiencing a loss in rankings and organic traffic.  Gary Illyes of Google later confirmed the algorithm update, without specifically addressing what types of manipulative SEO techniques the update targeted. He did mention that violating practices could be found in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The types of sites impacted by the update confirm it targeted low quality content, manipulative linking building tactics and other behaviors associated with spam.

What Kind of Sites and content is Google FRED Impacting

Shallow, Keyword-Stuffed, Low Value Content

At its core, Google’s FRED update is about identifying low value content created primarily to influence search engine rankings – not provide value for users. This includes:

  • Content that is clearly written and over-optimized to target specific keywords, including content with large numbers of body copy links with exact keyword match anchor text.
  • Thin content with little unique information or value
  • Sites that use duplicate, scraped content from other sources
  • Sites that use spun content – content that is slightly altered or rewritten but largely duplicative and created to generate low value backlinks and influence search engine rankings.
 Low quality content sites like this feature thin articles on widely varying topics.

Sites with Excessive Advertising and Affiliate Linking

Many sites with a lot of low quality content also feature heavy advertising. Low value content sites are often created to generate revenue via ads and affiliate links Google removed its ad ratio guidelines in 2016, meaning webmasters must make their own judgement. Still, most marketers know an ad heavy site when they see it. Ask yourself a few questions about your site. How many ads are served to visitors at once? Are these ads overly intrusive? If you’re participating in an affiliate program, is it providing sufficient value to visitors?

 Sites with Spam-Heavy Backlink Profiles

Similarly, many low value content sites were created for the purpose of generating backlinks. In the past, guest blogging and other forms of low value content syndication were common SEO tactics. Webmasters and guest bloggers would share content with low value content networks and article directories in exchange for backlinks with keyword-rich anchor text.  This strategy helped sites artificially generate a large number of backlinks quickly. Google has increasingly targeted these types of link schemes and the sites that participate in them via algorithm updates like Penguin. Google FRED targets similar behaviors.

What This means for Marketers

The age of creating content solely to manipulate search engine results has long been coming to a close. Google FRED represents another step in that direction. Content is more important to SEO success than ever before. But any content creation effort needs to be undertaken with the goal of informing and providing value to visitors – not simply search engines. Content that is unique, robust and written for humans will be rewarded in search results. Thin, duplicate, keyword-stuffed low value content will continue to be devalued and in some instances, like Google’s FRED algorithm update, actively punished.

If your site is generating unique and useful content, you have little to worry about. Marketers can take several steps to help ensure their sites aren’t vulnerable to Google FRED and similar algorithm updates:

  1. Be aware of what sites are linking to you. Even if your site isn’t hosting low value, spam content, it can still fall victim to quality algorithm updates if its being linked to by sites that do – guilt by association/
  2. Create and promote content that is unique and useful.
  3. Ensure your site isn’t too ad heavy.
  4. Read and understand Google’s Webmaster and Quality Guidelines. Discouraged practices, among others, include:
    • Participating in link schemes
    • Automatically generated content
    • Creating pages with little or no original content
    • Participating in affiliate programs without adding sufficient value
    • Scraped content
    • Loading pages with irrelevant keywords

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