If you run a content-heavy, advertising-dependent website, it looks like Google has rolled out an algorithm update that could affect you, and possibly already has.

What Happened?

Starting last week (on March 8), many webmasters over on Black Hat World and Webmaster World started threads discussing huge drops in traffic from Google. In some cases 80-90% decreases over night. This looks to be the result of a Google algorithm update, dubbed Fred (apparently according to Gary Illyes’ Fred-based naming convention).

Based on analysis from Barry Schwartz over on Search Engine Roundtable, it appears Fred’s biggest impact is on content-driven websites with heavy advertising. Basically, it looks like this update is trying to downgrade low-quality sites that serve only to drive ad revenue (AdSense, affiliate links, etc.).

Note: As Gary Illyes pointed out, advertising and affiliate links themselves aren’t a problem.

Problems arise when a site is built in a way that looks like it prioritizes monetization over user experience.

In normal Google fashion, no one at Google has come out and explicitly announced an update, and both Illyes has claimed it’s "business as usual:

As has John Mueller:

What Does It Mean For Your Site?

If you run a content-heavy website that relies on advertising and affiliate links to monetize, there’s a good chance you’ve seen, or will see, a large fluctuation in your Google traffic and rankings. If your landing pages are full of AdSense and banner placements, with affiliate links all over the place, you’re likely going to have some problems if you haven’t already.

Note that while it might seem almost everyone is experiencing traffic drops, that’s not the case. For every site that loses a position, someone has to go up. So while Google update conversations are naturally dominated by people who lose traffic, there are a great deal of websites out there that have benefited from Fred.

What Should I Do?

It’s still pretty early days for Fred, so it’s hard to say what you should do moving forward. But since it seems Fred is aimed at sites created to generate ad revenue, the best way to stay on Fred’s good side is to not look like you’re doing that. The first two steps are relatively easy:

  1. Nofollow affiliate links
  2. Reduce or limit the amount of advertising on your pages

The third step is a bit trickier, but you should already be doing it: focus on your user when creating content. Page content is the backbone of search optimization, so it’s a necessary step to rank well anyways. Plus, with the rise of the semantic web and semantic search, focusing on solving problems and answering questions needs to be your strategy going forward.

For some tips on how to write good copy, check out this guide on SitePoint or our guide to writing website content for SEO.