At the start of March, it was widely reported that Google had released an unconfirmed, major ranking update.
Because of it’s mysterious appearance and lack of an official moniker, SEO experts quickly decided to name the update ‘Fred’. A nice, unassuming name, you might think - until you start investigating it’s possible effects on web rankings.
The update is thought to have caused a significant number of websites to lose their rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs) and has consequently sent the SEO community into something of a meltdown.
The mysterious update was named Fred following an insider joke at Google (according to sources), and is believed to target websites that put revenue making opportunities before the user experience.
This is likely to include websites that make money from affiliate linking, advertising and by featuring low-quality links and content that Google deems to be of little value to the user.
It should be noted, however, that Google is yet to confirm or deny the existence of Fred. It’s therefore too early to fully assess the impact the update might or might not have had on business website rankings.
No one really knows what Fred targets or how it goes about its work, and without confirmation on the specifics, we’re left to the SEO community to try and decipher what it might be up to (and if it really does exist at all).
There’s a very real chance the entire episode might be nothing more than a slight amendment to the ranking algorithm or - worse - Chinese whispers. It’s therefore important to try and avoid blowing things out of proportion until an official statement arrives (which may never happen).
In an age where ‘fake news’ dominates the headlines (if you’ll excuse the pun), Fred is another example of how the absence of fact or hard evidence behind information published on the web is capable of creating a domino effect.
Fred has even made its way into national news coverage, with the Washington Post claiming that the “SEO community is freaking out” and that companies far and wide should start using SEO services to avoid getting caught out by the update.
The speed with which news of Fred has spread online will undoubtedly have caused plenty of business to act without asking questions. This is a dangerous tactic, because any SEO expert worth their salt will likely tell you that there has been no impact on the high-ranking websites they serve since the supposed update went live.
And let’s be honest - Google has long favoured websites with high-quality content that puts the user first. If Fred really does exist, there’s a strong chance it’s simply a continuation on an existing theme.
If Google really is now fiercely targeting low-quality websites, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, but it should ensure that we all continue to raise our game by creating great websites, engaging content and user interfaces that are designed specifically for the people using them.
Google makes small updates to its search algorithm on a weekly basis, and often daily; it’s not unusual for the search giant to release two updates within twenty-four hours and do so without anyone noticing.
SERPs fluctuate constantly, as to website rankings - it’s why the art of SEO is an every-moving target.
What we can bank on for sure, is that Google will continue to target ‘black hat’ SEO techniques. ‘Fred’ was more than likely an update along these lines, but probably a minimal one. Whether or not it exists is largely irrelevant, but the news storm it has created is a timely reminder that quality content and user-centric web design always win out.