In March 2017, Google released a major update to its search engine algorithm which caused a massive drop in keyword rankings for several websites. Under the “Fred” algorithm, some webmasters have reported that upwards of 90% of their targeted keywords have fallen in the Google listings. For anybody involved in web development, it is important to understand how the new ranking system works, and what changes need to be made to prevent a drop in traffic.
Google updates the search engine algorithm regularly, sometimes on a daily basis, but occasionally major updates are released which completely revamp how websites are listed. The “Fred” update (so called as Greg Illyes at Google cheekily suggested that all updates should be known as Fred) is one such change that is reshaping global SEO. However, Google rarely reveals information about its updates, and the details of the latest alterations are not entirely known. This uncertainty leads to the question, what can be done to make sure your site doesn’t fall foul to the new rules?
While there are numerous aspects to this, they are all encompassed by the same principle — user experience. It appears that Google is restricting sites that are geared more towards advertising revenue than providing a service to the user. Any site that wishes to rank high in the Google listings should, among other things, be easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, and have the central focus on content, rather than revenue. The idea seems to be that by driving people towards the more user-friendly sites, the intrusive advertising and clickbait that has become so prevalent will become a thing of the past.
As expected, this means that the number of advertisements used on a page needs to be carefully monitored. However, there is no correct value, and the emphasis seems to be on integrating advertising unobtrusively into a website, rather than placing an upper limit. One particular type of ad which appears to have taken a substantial hit is affiliate links. While these links are not in themselves bad design, excessive use definitely hinders the search rating. It has also been noticed that sites which only provide affiliate links have been hit much harder than those that have a percentage of non-commercial links as well. So to improve the ranking of a site, providing external links relevant to the content can help.
One aspect not directly related to usability is the quality of a site’s link profile. The link profile shows other sites that link to the page and appears to be of more importance than ever in the latest update. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can be easily controlled by the webmaster. However, for those sites that have a weak profile, Google does allow users to disavow certain sites so they will no longer be considered. The key to improving a profile is to get reputable sites to link to the page; albeit, this is often easier said than done.
If successful, the Google “Fred” update will bring about a new era of website design, where the attention is shifted more towards the user and away from advertising revenue. In doing so, this should allow the more useful sites to increase their financial output, while the clickbait diminishes. Hopefully, then, the internet will become an easier place to navigate.