It seems that every time Google launches a new update, we (SEO’ers) think it’s the end of the world. When the Not Provided update came out (no more keyword data appearing for organic traffic in Google Analytics), SEO’ers were rallying that it was the end of days and banded together to survive the “Not Provided” apocalypse. When the Penguin algorithm update came out, there was even a petition on change.org that pleaded with Google to kill the Penguin (it failed to get enough votes – probably because most SEO’ers realised that it was for the best).
What is the Fred Update and what does it penalise?
On the 9th of March, Search Engine Land first reported the new, unconfirmed Google ranking update (affectionately named Fred); and followed up with research that over 100 sites suffered 50-90% declines in organic traffic due to the content being wrapped up in ads and the ads were a bit hard to differentiate from the content.
Sistrix, an SEO data provider also analysed about 300 websites and similarly found the pages hit hardest had content that was outdated, thin and scraped, incomprehensible articles made up of 300 word paragraphs void of any useful information or sense of readability.
Their conclusion was that ad-heavy, thin content sites were to be the most affected. However, that is no confirmation that the update will be only limited to these types of sites so all sites should strive to ensure they are cleaning up low value pages.
How to identify your low value pages
To doublecheck that your website is genuinely safe, we recommend the below strategies to first identify whether you have low value pages and then to fix/update/de-index/clean them if necessary.
Here are some methods for identifying low value pages:
- Bounce rate – Look at pages in Google Analytics that have a very high bounce rate compared to the average; if there is little content and users are leaving straight away, it may be a sign to either kill the page or improve it.
- Low ranking or no ranking pages – Analyse pages in Google Search Console or another tool that tracks webpage rankings; if there are pages that have no rankings – do they contain value to the user or to your website?
- Duplicate / similar pages – Run a crawl of your site using Screaming Frog or another crawling tool – do you have pages that are very similar in terms of content or focus that would probably be better in a single page? If you need more than one page e.g. a pagination page – then ensure there are proper canonical tags in place.
- Sub-pages that can assist engagement but not searchers – An example would be tag pages within a blog (details below).
Five strategies to ensure your site is free of low value content issues
- Be careful about your ad placement – One key takeaway from this update (but also from similar ad penalising updates such as top heavy) is to watch the placement of ads and whether you are simply putting too many above the fold. Consider what is more prominent when a user gets to a page – your content or ad/s?
- No-index your tag pages – Usually found in your blog or news section, these are the pages that are another form of categorisation (outside of categories). An example would be an article about debt management sitting in the ‘debt’ category but being tagged as personal finance, debt, budgeting etc. These tag pages are generally just duplicates and offer little value if they are containing duplicate listings of articles.
- Differentiate your content and make sure that it has value – Sites that have large amounts of content around similar topics generally write about the same thing. Think about the user, do research into what they could be interested in and offer content that is interesting, entertaining or has a genuine purpose other than ticking the word count box of a page. Just because it passes Copyscape for originality doesn’t mean that your content is valuable.
- ‘Evergreen’ content – One option for content creation that is both likely to help your organic traffic and is highly likely to be deemed safe is useful, detailed and in-depth evergreen content. An example would be this article by workingmums.co.uk about how to negotiate a shorter or more flexible working week. The ‘how to’ style format could be applied to a commonly asked question in your industry.
- Go beyond text content – Think about creating other forms of content such as charts, infographics, reports or videos. These forms take more effort but subsequently provide more value to the user; hence they would be classed as high value content. Video would be a particularly useful form of content; you could get the verbal transcript of the video and use that as original written text on the page. For tips on how to create video content that people actually want to watch, check out our YouTube guide.
Essentially, if you are following Google’s guidelines regarding doing things technically right and have useful, quality content; then your website should be safe from this update. Google is doing what it has always done; which is to reward good quality content and penalise ‘spammy’ websites.