There has been a recent Google algorithm update that lit up the SEO community with chatter and speculation (although it has yet to be officially confirmed).  It started March 8th, with a great deal of activity on SEO forums, as reported by Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable.

The update dubbed ‘Fred’ was the suspected cause of massive decreases in traffic on some websites, while others gained traffic and some entire sites dropped out of the index completely. But what is Fred and–more importantly–what impact might it have on your local business?

What is the Google Fred algorithm update?165px-Fred_Flintstone

If you were one of the affected marketers, you might be justified in thinking of this update as your own nightmare–your own Freddie Kreuger algorithm update.

However, the moniker was a joke started by Google’s Gary Ilyes and, in lieu of a formal name or even a confirmation that the update happened, the SEO community ran with it.

In a follow-up to his initial report, Schwartz explained that he had reviewed close to 100 websites that had reported changes as a result of the Fred update. In his opinion, he said, Fred “targets low-value content sites that put revenue above helping their users.”

“The sites all seem content driven, either blog formats or other content like sites and they all are pretty heavy on their ad placement. In fact, if I dare say, it looks like many (not all but many) of them were created with the sole purpose of generating AdSense or other ad income without necessarily benefiting the user,” he said.

What impact might Fred have on local search results?

Barry Schwartz also note that: “Personally, I see this as an issue for all sites, with little additional impact for local marketers. It would be counterproductive and damaging to your brand to rely on ad income or otherwise prioritize secondary revenue streams over user experience on your locations’ sites. Those types of sites aren’t typically targeting one geographic area or neighborhood.”

Another thing this update seems to target is a lack of topical relevance and expertise. Schwartz noted that many of the sites he evaluated that experienced traffic loss had content on a broad range of topics, often with affiliate links. They seemed design to rank for various topics, rather than to answer a searcher’s need with targeted, relevant, high authority content.

In that way, the Fred update does have the potential to impact informational queries, which can affect local marketers. For example, if a major pet retailer decided to update its “aquariums” specialty page content to target the phrase “how to clean a fish tank,” this update could impact its rankings against competing publisher-centered websites.

Fred-Proofing Your Local Search Presence

Local small business websites must avoid trying to cut corners in hopes of obtaining a map pack position. Even mid-sized local SEO companies sometimes take chances by hiring questionable link building firms, but the safest way forward is to apply white hat optimization tactics and adherence to SEO and local marketing best practices over time.

Takeaways:

  • Sometimes, algorithm updates can shake up search engine rankings, and it’s important to track, measure and wait until the dust settles to understand the true impact. If you’ve seen changes but don’t seem to be guilty of the activity the update is targeting, most of the time your rankings will even out.
  • Google itself is adding new features to try to keep searchers in its own ecosystem longer, by allowing location sharing and enabling new Maps features like itinerary creation and information about parking lots. Focus on providing an excellent experience for your local searchers to both Fred-proof and future-proof your locations’ sites.
  • Google’s Fred update is nothing to be afraid of–it’s not a Freddie Kreuger for local and white hat SEOs.
  • Google doesn’t necessarily punish brand locators that utilize content templates, but it can only work to your advantage to apply more customized, user-focused local content to locator landing pages.

Overall, optimized local landing pages with social validation via Bazaarvoice integration, location finders, and other interactive elements increase searcher interaction at the local level. This allows you to instantly show search engines and users alike that your result is the best answer for a local query with commercial intent, and those are the people you want to convert to in-store traffic.