I have spent a number of hours the last couple of months helping business owners who suddenly saw their traffic disappear, or calls disappear since the Fred algorithm update a couple of months ago. The update is believed to mostly punish poor content, but sometimes business owners have content that appears poor to Google because of the way it is organized by WordPress.
Google believes the best answer for a search query is a nice thorough answer. They are in the business of providing the best answer to searchers queries. Google is set up to reward sites with many pages of content, as each page can aim for a specific search concept and try to rank for it. However, some sites do the bare minimum and create lots of pages with “thin” content or just a couple of sentences so that they have a page to address the concept, but not a real answer or helpful answer to the query.
Fred was meant to red flag sites that have a high percentage of this thin content. Google acknowledges that sometimes the best answer to a query is a short one. If you want to know how to boil an egg, that isn’t going to take 500 words to explain. However, in general, most answers should be thorough and at least 500 words or so. If Google indexes a site and a large percentage of their content is thin or duplicative, that site may suddenly have seen a big drop in traffic.
The problem is that though the concept seems sound, I have seen a number of businesses get hit with this because of the way WordPress organizes their pages, and with little knowledge of SEO rules, these businesses got hit accidentally. I know you say if the business had an SEO like Jeremy Skillings, they could have addressed that right away, but not everyone has an SEO or some have cookie cutter plans with nobody at the wheel.
In general, you want to have most of your content over that 500-word threshold, but below are some examples of how sites can accidentally get hit and hurt by the Fred algorithm:
- One company with a fairly low number of pages on their site (under 100), uploaded logos for all of the companies they distribute products for. The way WordPress organized it, each of these logos created a new page of their site, with no content other than a picture. Suddenly a majority of their “pages” on their site was “thin” to Google and they had a significant traffic drop. We went in and noindexed each of these logo pages and the traffic came right back.
- Another company that rents apartments at a number of properties had loaded each of their apartments on their site with descriptions of the building they were in. They had two issues. Since many of the apartments they had shared a building, they used the same description for each one. This caused a duplicate content issue. Also, their descriptions were very short, so all of the descriptions were thin. We went in and took care of the duplicate content issues and also expanded the basic descriptions and the traffic came right back.
In general, be careful with your content. You may add things to your site for storage that you don’t even think of as pages, but Google does. Though it is a very technical tool, if you have a smaller site (less than 500 pages), Screaming Frog has a spider tool that will do a technical audit for you for free. Though it gives you a lot of information that may confuse you, you can download the full audit and look at the word count column and find all of the pages with low word counts. If they are important for your rankings, you may want to expand the content and provide a “better answer” to a query. If they are not important content, you may want to noindex them. The Yoast SEO plugin provides the opportunity on each page in the advanced settings, to put noindex code on it, telling Google to ignore that page. It is better to only have Google look at the important, good content on your site.
If all of this seems far too complicated and you want to hire a good SEO that can keep tabs on this for you, so you can focus on your business and your passion, give us a call. We offer maintenance packages to run regular audits and point out issues.