Google’s Fred Update – What Do All Losers Have In Common?

Juan Gonzalez
I studied Regional Studies of Latin American at the University of Cologne - Germany, majoring in "Business Informatics“. I also studied Business Administration and currently I’m doing a Master in International Business Administration. I feel a fascination with SEO and the people who make it possible.
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28. March 2017 19 Comments
Considering the facts that there are more than 600 Algorithm Updates by Google, every year, and that Google will not announce all the updates to their Ranking Algorithm, we are very glad to have Barry Schwartz who is collecting, writing and distributing current information about Google for over 13 years. Barry’s perseverance made it possible for us to know that, as far as the Google update is concerned, Fred was remarkable, even though the name Fred was to be a joke from the beginning. As Barry reported, this update was confirmed by Google and rolled out in March 2017. Knowing where to look, I analyzed 300 domains on Google Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the USA which lost Visibility after March 13, 2017. Nearly all losers were very advertisement heavy, especially banner ads, many of which were AdSense campaigns. Another thing that we often noticed was that those sites offered little or poor quality content, which had no value for the reader. It seem that many, but not all, websites are affected who tried to grab a large number of visitors from Google with low quality content, which they then tried to quickly and easily monetize through affiliate programs. Here are some of the most interesting examples from the USA, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. (-75%) on

Visibility Index of on

The domain from San Antonio, Texas has lost 75% of their visibility, going from 3.9 visibility points to 0.9. On the chart above, we can see very nicely that this domain has been very sensitive to Google Updates related to quality, in the past, like Panda or Phantom. If we take a look at all the top-10 rankings they lost after the update (see the entire list here – you can use your browser zoom to see the URLs bei zooming out) and evaluate the URLs, we can clearly see that the content could be much better for the user and that they have too much advertisement above the fold.

Example for the keyword “screensavers“. The content is in the black box, ads are in red. (-50%) on

Visibility Index of on

This domain is part of Barry’s article with over 100 domains which he analyzed for the possible Google Fred Update. This is such an interesting example because it strengthens the theory that too much advertisement plays a part in the update. Let’s first take a look at their layout before the Update: before Google’s Fred Update – Source

We have two AdSense blocks above the fold, where the top one can even push the main content further below the fold, depending on the banner size. seems to have quickly noticed the loss in rankings and made the decision to decrease their ads presence, above the fold. When we take a look at their layout today, there is only one ad block and their Visibility Index this week managed to recover.

We cannot quite decide who has the nicer smile in this picture, Meghan Trainor or Pete Handley. (-85%) on

Visibility Index of on

Here we have an example where the domain operator himself said at the SMX Munich, this month, that he was quite amazed how the domain survived so many other updates before. When we take a closer look at the site, it becomes very apparent that in this case it is more of a “too many affiliate links” szenario, as there are not AdSense block on the page. (-88%) on

Visibility Index of on

This Spanish domain actually offers some useful information. Here you can find all streets that belong to a specific postal code or vice versa. This simple idea made it possible for the domain to grow nicely over the past two years. If we take a look at the layout of the page, we notice, in relation to the content, that the AdSense block becomes actually larger than the main content.

The postal code “08001” and the map of Google Maps are all the content on this site


Looking at the ranking distribution for websites which seem to be affected by Fred gives us a nice view of how, for many many keywords, the rankings are passed to the back:

Ranking distribution on Google for BEFORE Google’s Fred Update

Ranking distribution on Google for AFTER Google’s Fred Update

Through those nearly 300 domains it became very apparent that many pages had a lot of advertisement, outdated, thin and scraped content, as well as incomprehensible articles made up of 300 word “SEO texts” pumped to the brim with main keyword mentions and void of any useful information or a sense of readability.

I hope you like it and recall the novelty song from 1962: “Right said Fred” from Bernard Cribbins:

“Right,” said Fred, “Both of us together
One each end and steady as we go.”
Tried to shift it, couldn’t even lift it
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.

29. March 2017, 13:07

Interesting write-up, thanks!

I don’t see anything about backlinks, were they taken into account when doing this analysis or left out? If so, I’m curious why 🙂

29. March 2017, 13:38

How can you explain that many websites got hit without having any ads or affiliate links ?

29. March 2017, 13:59

Interesting that the focus for this analysis has been on desktop sites. I wonder how the Ad layout looks on Mobile and if this could be playing a part

29. March 2017, 16:21

Funny how sites that are making Google money through ads are also penalized. However I completely understand if it’s weak content. Many affiliates took a huge hit years ago and now Google is also cracking down on adsense or simply ad heavy websites.

30. March 2017, 06:42

I know that ad-heavy website got hit by according to my analysis those websites that have fragile and nonusefull content. Only we can say they create content to generate revenue rather than helping user to get what they are looking for…

30. March 2017, 12:11

I know many websites in with heavy ads but none of them got effected. this update was just for US and Europe?

[…] 28 March 2017, Sistrix, an SEO software services provider, released their research findings based on analysis of 300 sites that were affected by Fred […]

[…] Op dit moment is er na diverse testen en meer informatie over de getroffen websites een duidelijkere conclusie te trekken. De update is waarschijnlijk (er is geen officiële reactie vanuit Google geweest, alleen een tweet dat ze niet ontkennen dat er een update was) gericht geweest op (opvallende) affiliate websites/ soortgelijke constructies met weinig content/ weinig content met echte toegevoegde waarde voor de gebruiker en veel AdSense/ affiliate links op de pagina’s. Lees hiervoor o.a. dit onderzoek van Cistrix. […]

Juan Gonzalez
31. March 2017, 12:55

Hi everyone,
thank you very much for your comments. I will try to answer most of them here 😉

We also looked at the backlinks for the domains, and while a few rally did have spammy backlink profiles, many others could be considered „on the border“ or „not that bad“. There could very well have been a link signal, as many blackhat forums will attest to, but over the 300 domains we checked, it did not stand out.

As we wrote in the article, the Update also seems to have a strong „quality“ component – with many domains losing visibility thanks to Fred, who have lost visibility to the Panda before. The Update was very likely not a few gib screws that Google turned, but many smaller ones that also interact with many other signals and algorithms.

What we could make out is that there are a number of traits that many losing domains had in common. As far as the quality of a domain is concerned, you can always ask „What content can be considered high quality?“ and take a look at these questions that Google provides.

And here it is also extremely important to differentiate between correlations (many domains who lost visibility had lots of advertisements above the fold) – which we show – and causation (having lots of advertisements above the fold caused domains to lose visibility) – which only Google could provide
Very good point! All of the domains I looked at lost both desktop and smartphone visibility.

I am not aware if Google mentioned if it was a worldwide update for every searchmarket. Your best bet would be to ask in the Webmaster Forums or send a tweet to @methode or @johnmu and ask them about it.

[…] Recently, Sistrix found Ad-heavy and poor quality content as the common factors in many of the Google Fred’s losers. […]

31. March 2017, 15:32

The song at the end made my day :p Anyway, I believe minimalism along with useful content is what Google wants to promote. One way to tackle algorithm hits is to publish in-depth content that keeps readers engaged and make them dig deeper into that website. What do you think?

[…] dataverzameling publiceerde onlangs een uitvoerige analyse over de Google Fred update, op basis van 300 onderzochte webdomeinen die met naam en toenaam worden genoemd , voorzien van data over hun bezoekersaantallen. Deze […]

1. April 2017, 16:53

Nice review of the Fred update… but as always, except the ads placement, it’s still the quality of links and content 🙂

[…] (zoals Barry Schwartz en de mensen van Sistrix) dachten, en denken nog steeds dat Fred met de kwaliteit van de inhoud op je site te maken heeft. […]

[…] gaat over de vraag of Google Fred een kwaliteitsupdate is (zoals Barry Schwartz en de mensen van Sistrix dachten) of toch een linkgerelateerd update zoals ik bijvoorbeeld in het begin […]

2. April 2017, 22:29

Hi Juan,
I was tracking that update since it happens on over 10 of my own sites,
I could tell for sure that :

1 Site have no ads/affiliate links at all that was hit
2 Exactly same structure/content classifieds site, 1 was hit another one is fine

Some other sites were hit too, but what was is in common between the one was hit is the brand anchors ratio , so sites that have high number (more than 50%) of brand anchors (including naked urls) are fine , opposite to sites (which got hit) , those sites have lower number of branded anchors and naked urls.

During research I even created some poll scripts where people submit their results of sites that got hit and as you can see most of the sites have no ads but most of them have in common very low brand anchor ratio.

Now going back to your examples:
Branded Anchor 15%
Naked Urls 15%

Branded Anchor 16%
Naked Urls 13%
Branded Anchor 65%
Naked Urls 2%

If you take a look if some strong sites they do have much higher Branded/Naked Anchors which looks more natural,
if my wife will share some link on forum she wouldnt put any anchor and just leave naked url, if some blogger will share your site they will use your brand name as anchor , so all of those low branded % are not natural and those links got devalued.

What do you think ?

[…] analysis by data-collection company Sistrix identified that this update may be penalising sites with ad-heavy, low-quality […]

16. April 2017, 00:38

Very informative post. But I see it’s not updated yet. There is new information available.
Hope you will have a look at this soon 🙂

25. April 2017, 09:12

Interesting write-up, thanks!