The Phantom Update Roll Out: Who Got Hit and What You Should Be Doing Today

A new algorithm update surfaced and made its move while everybody was busy with the mobile update. Dubbed the “Phantom II” or “Quality Update,” this algorithm pushed back the rankings of pages in sites such as HubPages, eHow, Answers.com, and Wikihow. In all our years of being in the digital marketing business, we’ve seen how Google works when it comes to their algorithms. There are times when they would announce a big change, but there are also moments when they work in secret and surprise everyone with new developments. This latest update is no different.

Is there a reason to panic?

The percentage of ranking drops is indeed alarming, albeit expected—think back to the time when Google rolled out the Panda update. When Google first launched Panda in 2011, it had an impact on 12% of U.S. results. With Google focusing on quality search, there’s no reason to panic if you’ve been implementing the right strategies. We can’t say the same if you’re downplaying your search strategies, though. If anything, this new update serves as a reminder on the purpose of online marketing: to provide users with relevant information.

What changes did the phantom update bring?

Looking at the sites that were hit with the update, we can gather that content quality and site functionality have a big role in the changes. As the reports show, sites most affected by the update have the following:
  • Supplementary information
  • How-to content
  • Clickbait articles
  • User-generated content
  • Popups and ad stuffing
  • Stacked videos
While there was a drop in organic search rankings, some sites experienced a surge in their traffic and received more visibility. Searchmetrics shows a brief rundown of those who gained and lost organic traffic due to the update: affects of phantom (Image from https://blog.searchmetrics.com) From a site-wide perspective, the update pulled down the rankings of websites with spammy pages. Even if most of your pages are doing well and have high-quality scores, thin content or redundant posts from multiple pages can pull down your site. While the update gears towards page-level changes, the underperforming pages can affect the entire domain. Google is being secretive with the details of this update. Gary Illyes of Google’s Webmaster Trends team only provided a brief explanation of the changes being a part of a core algorithm update. Does this mean we can expect more changes on how Google assesses quality? There are no specifics about how this will turn out, but digital marketers emphasize the importance of overall user experience.

What does this mean for your business?

As with any Google update, this algorithm change means taking new approaches to improve your business’ website. Any company or organization that wants to retain their organic traffic should ensure that their content quality is at par with Google’s standards—this reiterates the need to avoid thin, irrelevant content.

How can you survive the phantom update?

Not all is lost in this update; sites still have a chance to recover their lost rankings and get back into the game. Site owners and digital marketers should focus on the following practices to comply with the Phantom update:

1. Scrape your site for duplicate content.

Ever since Panda first came out, Google has been stressing the importance of removing duplicate content. This is why many of the sites that lost traffic were those with content copied from other sources. Avoid posting redundant articles, as these may trigger duplicate content flags from your own pages or other websites’ pages.

2. Mix up the way you present information.

Users are becoming more perceptive in judging information online. They will only read content they deem valuable. By simply changing the way you present information, you can recover your lost traffic and bring your site back into Google’s good graces. Instead of the usual how-to content, write case studies, white papers, and in-depth listicles.

3. Remove the unnecessary ads.

Excessive ads and pop-ups pull down the user experience of the site, which Google uses as a ranking signal. Google considers the bounce rate, pages visited, and the users’ length of stay on the site. If visitors are leaving your site because of too many pop-ups and ads, Google will note this as a point against your website.

4. Redesign and clean your pages.

Content quality is not the only focus of the update; Google also looks at the design of the pages in line with the site functions. Even if your site has great content, bad design or cluttered pages can bring down your organic traffic. Google is becoming more thorough with how search practices are implemented. The principle behind this update is to highlight the important things that a lot of site owners ignore. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing real value and developing digital marketing strategies with the benefit of the users in mind.