As a company that focuses on SEO for a core competency, our team is always testing various methods of rankings, and comparing our results across several groups of high level SEOs. The consensus on the results of “Fred” have been negligible at the most. On even some of the most SPAM heavy test sites, rankings either did not move, or moved up. Below are the current mainstream ideas of what was affected as well as our estimation of what is really behind these ranking changes.
Sites with Too Many Ads or that Exist Purely for Ads
The major issue with this is that every single major publication exists to make money. Said another way, they exist to earn ad revenue in some shape or form and their websites are no different. I haven’t seen anywhere that any major publication dropped in rankings and they are the biggest culprits when it comes to ad revenue, still implementing questionable tactics such as pop overs and more.
Sites with Inbound Links from Old PBNs
This second assertion does seem to have more example behind it. The general concern seems to be that sites with links from “old style” PBNs that are multi topic and not themed caused some of the rankings to drop. After talking with our network, only a small percentage of the “old school” PBNs linking to their affected sites were deindexed. In the past, if something was deemed to be that much spam it would be de-indexed and would provide a pretty clear indication of issues.
What We Think Happened
Since everyone is putting out their Google conspiracy theories we figured we might as well make our public. From our experience, most PBNs are built on WordPress. The recent vulnerability in the 4.7 release of WordPress left a massive opportunity for sites to be hacked. As reported across many publications, more than 1.5M sites were hacked before updating to 4.7.3. The latest update, version 4.7.3 was released on Mar 6, at which time they made public what the vulnerability was. On Mar 15, a week and a half after the announcement, Securi released an article addressing that many sites still had not updated to the new version of WP. This timeframe, from Mar 6 to Mar 15, when the site hacking seemed to increase on vulnerable sites seems to perfectly align with the effects of “Fred” starting to appear.
Our assertion is that the effects on the recent fluctuation in the rankings has more to do with old style PBNs being hacked and content being changed or erased so that the target properties lost links. If people have site out there that are still set up incorrectly they are probably just sitting there wasting away and could easily have fallen into the group of sites that were hacked. From what we have seen, both from our test sites and from our peers, many PBNs were indeed hacked and the energy/ time/ resources to fix them is lacking so many of them are still affected even after updating to the current version of WordPress. Again, this is just a theory but it seems more plausible than many of the others we have read in recent days.