This article first appeared in WebsiteMagazine by Peter Prestipino.
In late 2016, many in the search engine optimization (SEO) industry knew something big was coming.
Right on cue, Google made a rather significant update to its search algorithm in early March 2017, code named “Fred,” and the resulting impact is now encouraging many in the digital marketing community to rethink not just their approach to the practice of optimization for search, but also the experience they develop in general.
Let’s take a closer look at the recent update (review a timeline of significant Google algorithm changes over the years at wsm.co/algotime) and get to know “Fred,” the current likes and dislikes of Google when it comes to the Web experience and some current best practices for consistently generating more organic traffic to websites.
Google has acknowledged that it actually makes hundreds of updates each year to its core algorithm (it is being reported, in fact, that Google even released a few other updates at the same time Fred appeared), but its most recent has left many search marketers low on traffic and high on questions.
Fortunately, most updates of this magnitude (and pretty much all updates for that matter) tend to focus on the same variables; either links or content.
In essence, in some way or another, if organic traffic was impacted it was because the site was in violation of the webmaster guidelines on quality. While there is no way to know for sure what the focus of Fred may have been, based on conversations with other search marketers and through some search result research, it appears that the vast majority of the sites impacted seem to be content related and those which were negatively impacted had two things in common – their content was “shallow” and their website prioritized advertising over the experience of the user.
This is, of course, speculation (although informed speculation), but the impact has been quite substantial for sites that leverage a model or approach where advertising in its variety of forms encroaches on the digital experience of the user.
Just how bad was the Fred update for these types of websites? Some SEOs and webmasters have actually reported 50-90 percent reductions in their organic traffic from Google. As one can imagine, that sort of drop in traffic is serious, but there are some things search marketers can do, and some things that they most certainly should not if they were the focus of this update.
The last thing companies want to do, for example, is to panic, deleting pages without reason or modifying URL structures. While it is possible in the experience of many to get some traffic back over time, most of those that have employed tactics outside the guidance of what’s available in Google’s Webmaster guidelines, are more likely to simply abandon their sites instead of put in the required work to fix their mistakes and get on the right track.
Should a website be one of those impacted, and should an enterprise be committed to regaining its rankings and resulting organic traffic, there are some steps that can be taken. If advertising is indeed the reason, consider how the digital property is monetized.
Are there simply too many ad units on the page? Too many popups still appearing for mobile users? A change related to how websites generate revenue may be in order. Should shallow content be to blame, there are also some corrective actions that can be taken, including identifying those pages which suffered a reduction in traffic, and including additional relevant content that is useful to users.
It seems so simple in theory – and it is. The tactical side of course is far more complex, but making these changes on a strategic level will be increasingly necessary if success is in the future plan.