Has Google’s “Fred” Update Killed Your Rankings? Revive them with Best Practices for Ads and Links (Part 1)

It’s been a bit over a month – since March 8th – since Google launched its (still unconfirmed) ranking algorithm update, “Fred.” Designed to favor websites that put a positive user experience over getting favorable search results, among the hardest hit are sites that Google deems as too ad-heavy and/or that offer low value content. The drop in traffic directed to such sites, which includes many affiliate marketing websites, has been reported to be anywhere from 50% to 90%.

The bad news is that this algorithm shift not only affected sites that prioritize SEO over user experience, but also quality sites that offer an excellent user experience, yet may have some structural and content-related pitfalls.

The good news is that there are several steps you can take to improve the quality of your site, recover your webpage rankings, and safeguard it from any future updates to Google’s algorithm.

In this two-part series, we’ll talk about the key areas to improve your site and get your business back on track. In today’s post, we’ll start with ads and links, which are at the heart of any affiliate marketing website.

Ads: Make sure they add value to the overall user experience and aren’t obtrusive or disruptive.

Google has clear guidelines on using their own advertising platforms. These aren’t just helpful hints; now it’s clear that they’re directly related to rankings, too.

"Publishers should avoid site layouts in which the ads push content below the fold. These layouts make it hard for users to distinguish between the content and ads.” [source]

It’s easy to understand how too many ads can ruin the user’s experience. How often are you browsing on your smartphone and you see an interesting article link in your feed, which you click on, and then you’re confronted with ads every paragraph? And to make matters worse, it crashes your browser?

Keep in mind that the ads and affiliate links you include on your site are there to enrich the user experience, not overwhelm it. Done well, affiliate links can be useful and add value, but they should not be the sole focus of a website.

Take for example, how we handle advertising on eBay’s website. Keeping ads below the fold keeps the focus on the core content. Plus, it’s also more effective in creating a meaningful integration to drive engagement for our advertising partners.

Take action:

-Do you track keyword performance? If so, take a close look and see if you notice any fluctuations.

-Go to your Google Search Analytics in Search Console and then do a date comparison between your site today, and your site before March 8, 2017. This will give you an idea of any keyword groups that have been dropped and is a great place to start. Hurry, though - this data only lasts for 90 days!

Links: Ditch the laundry list to clean up your act.

Remember Google Panda?

That algorithm shift was created in large measure to penalize sites Google said provided low quality content.

Fred is its kissing cousin and is heavily impacting those sites that run on “link juice” to fuel their revenue generation. While it’s not the same thing as content, it once again is penalizing those publishers that put SEO ahead of user experience.

Keep in mind that the point of search engines is to provide users with the best responses to their queries as quickly as possible. The point of your website is to provide users with meaningful content that not only answers the question that was asked, but also gives the user a wealth of related information that they’ll enjoy.

A long laundry list of affiliate links is not only confusing, it’s also not helpful. Fred and any Google algorithm update is all about assisting the user, so make sure your links are not only valuable, but they’re also in context with equally beneficial content.

For example, at eBay we’re heeding the call of providing value to users by building structured experiences that provide additional beneficial information to customers searching for a specific product. So far we’ve seen good engagement on these pages, and we’ve begun scaling these out.

On the left is one of our typical search results pages, which features listings with images, titles, prices and filters, etc. While this may be useful to people that are performing a search on eBay, for customers landing from another search engine, it’s very hard to judge their original intent. Are these results for commerce only, or are they research?  Because it’s impossible to tell the difference, this may make users feel like they just used a search engine to get to another search engine… which can be frustrating and confusing.

The results on the right are much more user-friendly; they present a browseable, structured experience that offers users a snapshot of what products are relatedly available on eBay in an intuitive grouping. Further, the information is richer and deeper, going well beyond title/image/price to include descriptions, specifications, reviews, comparisons, and other related items -- all with clear calls to action. These results aim to help users take a deeper dive into items they might like based on what they told us was their original intent.

Take action: In addition to our recommendations above:

-       Make sure your backlinks are high quality and not “spammy.”

-       If you have an excessive amount of affiliate links, clean ’em up!

Stay tuned to Part 2 of our series on reviving your site if it’s been hit hard by Google’s “Fred” update, in which we focus on improving your site’s structure to make it easier for search engines to “crawl” your site and for users to easily find quality, original (not duplicate!) content.

Recommended Reading:

●      Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines

●      Google Quality Guidelines

●      Google Adsense Guidelines

●      Managing Faceted Navigation

●      What Crawl Budget Means for Googlebot

●      Bing Webmaster Help

Useful Tools:

●      Mobile Friendly Test & Web Page Test

●      Structured Data Testing Tool & Schema.org & Open Graph

●      Google Search Console & Bing Webmaster Tools


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