An unconfirmed change in how Google ranks web pages is freaking some people out

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

For many, if not most businesses, getting found online is critical for drawing in new customers. Today’s customer is searching for services, products, advice and entertainment on Google. The higher we’re listed, the better chance we have of getting new business.

Which is why many companies employ people who specialize in “search engine optimization” (SEO) services. These experts are tasked with helping their clients get the highest ranking possible on a Google search so that they can generate more website traffic, attract leads, increase brand awareness and ultimately grow revenues. When Google makes even the slightest change to its website ranking algorithms, the effects can be monumentally good, or bad, to many companies around the world.

So…it seems that Google just made that kind of change. And the SEO community is freaking out. The change is being called “Fred” and don’t ask why because it’s an inside-nerdy-SEO-community joke. Plus, it’s not important.

What is important is that some believe the Fred update focuses on link quality. A basic tenet of search engine optimization is that the more companies that link to your website, the higher web ranking you will receive. With the “Fred” change, Google is now not just looking at the number of links, but it’s tweaking its algorithm to judge on the quality of those links. For example, if my friend’s website links to mine, then that’s nice. But if The Washington Post links to my website that’s way, way better because the Post, because of its traffic and content, is a more “quality” link.  And yes, this is a blatant hint to my editors to please link to my website more, OK?

Although the change has not been formally announced by Google, many in the SEO community, including Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land, suspect it already happened. “Many of the automated tracking tools currently show significant volatility and fluctuations, which is an indicator of an update,” he writes. “Plus, with all the industry chatter, and with webmasters both complaining about ranking declines and rejoicing about ranking increases, it’s likely that there was a Google update.”

If your website ranking is an important part of your lead generation and branding, then this is a change you should notice. Talk to your SEO consultant. If you don’t have an SEO consultant, you better get one because this won’t be the last time a change occurs and this stuff is way too complex for any of us to figure out.


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