The Google Fred Update

March 16, 2017



It’s been about a week since there were rumblings of a new Google update, but we’re sure one is here. While Google declined to officially comment on the update, aside from their usual rhetoric, SEOs all over the web began to notice heavy changes to certain types of sites.

In a departure from the other recent updates that we’ve had – e.g. Penguin 4.0 – which have focused mainly on links and link quality, this update seems to look at the quality of content on site. Fred appears to be a judgement around whether users are finding sites helpful or whether a site is answering relevant queries correctly.

How has Fred affected sites?

From the evidence that we have seen so far, it appears that Fred has mainly been related to sites that are not designed to answer relevant queries, and are only made for generating ad revenue.

A lot of the sites that Fred has affected are very ad-heavy, with little content and a lot of ad space. I’m sure we all know the type of site here; a slideshow format and hundreds of ads – something you usually get referred to by a Taboola or Outbrain widget.

Gary Illyes, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, even alluded to the problem of low-quality sites whose sole purpose is to drive either ad revenue or traffic to affiliate links.

He then went on to say that, while there is no problem with using affiliate links on a site, the primary focus of any site should be to “create amazing content” and “focus… on the user”

According to largely anecdotal evidence at this point, these sites have seen a drop of 50 percent or more in organic traffic overnight. Search Engine Roundtable has highlighted some specific sites that were affected by Fred, and they all seem to fit into the ‘ad revenue over user intent’ model.

This does seem like a bit of a backtrack from Google. Many will remember that back in 2016, Google themselves removed the 3-ads-per-page limit for AdSense. Google is obviously starting to realise that the ratio of ads to content on a lot of sites is way off, leading to a poor user experience on a lot of sites.

How can sites recover from Fred?

If a site has been affected by Fred, it could be due to the level of ad space over content. A lot of webmasters are responding to Fred by removing some of their ad space – and have seen their rankings recover as a result.

One such site that has been notable in their efforts to fight Fred is FactSite. Luke Ward, who owns FactSite has said that while the site is old, his content was unique at the time of posting and helped users.

However, he has seen a massive drop in rankings due to the effects of Fred and, as a result, removed his advertising space. After removing his ad space, he saw his site’s rankings return to normal within fifteen hours.

And why is Fred a fish?

Gary Illyes said that, unless stated, every update will be called Fred from now on. According to Barry Schwartz, Fred is the name of a fish that Gary has. So there we go.


Since we wrote this post, Gary Illyes has confirmed that there was an update.

If you’re worried about the effect of this or any other algorithm update, drop us a line and see how we can help you.

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