Marketing Bootcamp

What You Need to Know About Google's Recent 'Phantom' Update

What You Need to Know About Google's Recent 'Phantom' Update
Image credit: Carlos Luna | Flickr

Join us for a free, live webinar and learn how to drive revenue with content marketing. Tune in 8/4 at 10:30 a.m. PT. Register Now »

On April 21, Google unleashed its mobile-friendly update on the online world. However, most businesses and entrepreneurs were in the loop and had sufficient time to react and take appropriate measures.

More recently, there have been rumors flying about a new "phantom" algorithm update, which was presumably applied towards the end of April or the beginning of May. As it turns out, if you've been noticing changes to your -- or anyone else's -- search rankings as of late, you aren't out to lunch.

The reason some have been referring to it as the "Phantom Update" is because there was no advance warning with this algorithmic revision, and Google wouldn't readily admit to it either. It did confirm it eventually, but wouldn't provide a lot of specifics on the changes. Google may try to play it down, but the overall impact appears to be significant.

In essence, this new update is a quality update. How Google assesses quality is sometimes a thing of mystery, but we do know that it wants to provide users with the best information possible. By developing high-quality content and websites, you can continue to rank for your terms and drive traffic to your site. It may be worth reviewing Google's post about high-quality sites from when it applied the Panda update as well.

Related: 3 Ways to Improve Conversions on Your Website

With context now in tow, let's take a closer look at what you need to know about this update.

Don't panic!

First, you must realize that Google will be updating its algorithm on a regular basis to serve more quality content to searchers. This isn't really the first time Google has done this -- remember Panda? -- and it's unlikely that it will be the last time.

In other words, if you've been consistently producing content with the best interests of your target users in mind, you're still on the right track. There's no need to make any drastic changes to your strategy. If you do happen to see a decline in your organic search traffic, however, there may be a need to address some of your on-page SEO.

We may not have a lot of new information on Google's quality signals, but we do know what was said in the past. Here are several important things to keep in mind:

  • Duplicate content and redundant articles are a no-no.
  • Avoid creating thin content.
  • Prioritize user experience. For example, too many ads on your site can create a negative visitor experience and have an undesired impact on your rankings.
  • Your content should be trustworthy. Visitors that land on your site should feel comfortable giving you their credit card information.
  • Are you exercising quality control with your content? Your articles should be free of spelling and factual errors.
  • Are you striving to give your target users an in-depth look into the subject matter? Does your content meet their needs?

This is just a quick overview of what Google expects from you as a content creator. From a user experience perspective, it makes a lot of sense. The idea is to answer questions posed by visitors, provide them with the best information possible, examine issues from different angles and share insights into topics you're passionate about.

It's all about content.

Content is really all we're talking about here. If you're still trying to catch your breath from the previous mobile-friendly update, that's all good and well, but if you're already caught up in that regard, then the issue to address now is content. There's no need to focus on anything else at this point in time.

If Google has gone on record to say that certain factors are important to search rankings, it's not likely to change its tune all of a sudden. The most recent update reflects ongoing efforts to rank sites based on the quality of the content offered.

Related: 7 Things You Need to Know About SEO to Remain Relevant in 2015

There are some theories out there about this being a domain-level penalty. In other words, if Google finds low quality content on your site, it'll demote your entire website. However, this is merely speculation. If your website happens to have a significant amount of "low quality" content on it, then you may see a considerable decrease in organic traffic. This wouldn't necessarily indicate a domain-level demotion, because it could be just your lower quality content that's being affected. This would explain the overall decrease in search rankings and traffic.

Build trust.

Is there a reason why some sites can publish a new article, have it crawled and indexed within minutes and have it ranking in search too, while others struggle to do the same? Fundamentally, it's all about trust. If there's anything that's being looked at on a domain-level, it would be that.

Are you consistently creating and serving quality content to your users? Are you striving to make their experience the best that it can possibly be? Are you building a solid reputation that appears trustworthy in the eyes of Google?

Again, think about what Google is looking for when it is crawling your content. The search giant wants to see original, trustworthy, error-free, visitor-centric, value-adding, comprehensive, substantial content. As a website owner, it's a long-term play, but you have to be willing to invest the time and not cut corners.

You can build towards becoming a recognized authority on a subject, but this is not done by guessing at what SEO plays are going to generate your next viral article. This is done by paying attention to the real human needs that exist in the online world. Future updates are going to take this human element into account more than anything else.

Final thoughts.

If you're interested in finding out whether your site has been affected, make sure to take advantage of our Google Penalty Checker. Google rolls out hundreds of minor changes every single year. Some are major and can have a significant impact on your website's rankings -- sometimes without you even being aware of it.

If your low quality content has been affected, it's time for a new strategy. Quality signals aren't anything new, but you can rest assured that Google is only going to clamp down on inferior content with greater force in times to come.

Related: Get Ready for 'Buy' Buttons in Google Search Results