Google algorithm update ‘Fred’ hits spammers hard

The morning of Wednesday 8th March sensed the first whiff of the new unconfirmed algorithm update from Google, with rankings going haywire. A Palm Beach SEO Provider has reported some sites seeing keywords drop “into oblivion”.

The update was accidently dubbed ‘Fred’ by Google’s own Gary Illyes, while he joked that all unnamed Google updates shall be called Fred – and, much to our amusement, it seems to have stuck.


The news first came from a West Palm Beach Web Designer, Web Master Forums, and Black Hat World who have been making the most noise so far, with some serious fluctuations noting the key signs of a change. Given the majority of the chatter is coming from inside black hat SEO communities, this signals that the update is most likely link related.
A couple of the comments from the forums are below:

Yes, experiencing a crazy Google dance too. At first I thought my site was deindexed!
90% of my keywords flew into oblivion. While 5% of the keywords I'm ranking have sank to deep search results; while the other 5% is still ranking as normal.
One of my sites went from 20k unique views/day from Google to 2k overnight. Another site owner I know who gets 200k unique views/day suffered similarly.

Many ranking tracking tools are also confirming the update, showing some violent and unpredictable fluctuations to match what many are seeing in the SERPs.
However, Google are (unsurprisingly) refusing to confirm the update – or rather, continuing to remind us that the updates happen every day:


However, from understanding that black hat chatter is often more links related, leads us to believe that this is another link quality algorithm update. However, those of us who practise sound white hat SEO are still showing reports of being hit:

My take on this is that white hat’s have potentially earned good links that are now being devalued because of untrustworthy backlinks down the backlink chain.

I found this better to explain visually, but I apologise for the crude illustration: it’s a good job digital design isn’t part of my SEO job role.

But for our purposes, it does the job.

Backlink layers drawn illustration

What might be happening is that white hat’s are earning what look like trustworthy backlinks, but websites down the backlink chain might be untrustworthy and so are being penalised. In the illustration above the red boxes are sites powering the above linked site with the link equity flowing up through the link layers. So the spam is filtering up to the top site, despite the fact that X and Y backlinks might be excellent.

Of course, we can’t check backlinks back this many layers for every link we earn, but if you’ve been hit – that’s what I suggest you take some time to do. Now.

If you have any doubt about any sites you have links from, check the backlinks of their backlinks – otherwise, untrustworthiness down the line may be being filtered down to your main site as we speak.

Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable suggested these results might fall as false positives or be due to SEO link building not considered as black hat that Google have now began to penalise.

As this algorithm update continues to roll out, we will keep a look out for any more indicators that might narrow down the specification of the changes and what sort of links and linking velocities are being targeted. If you have any comments let us know what you’ve found or seen with your sites, and we shall keep you clued in as much as we can!