Was Your SEO Affected By Google’s Recent ‘Phantom’ Update?


It seems that Google has pulled another “fast one” with their algorithm updates. While everyone was watching to see if the big “mobilegeddon” update affected them, Google quietly released yet another update. This was done some time between the last week of April, and the first week of May, 2015. As it turns out, mobilegeddon was not the update to be concerned about, since very few websites saw any change in their SEO - at least not until the release of the next update (dubbed the “Phantom Update”) a couple of weeks later. For those still trying to get the best SEO, but seeing declines since this, read on.

The Phantom Google Update

Formally named the “Quality Update,” Google did not announce, nor even admit that a new release had occurred. However, it become obvious that something had changed, as many websites began experiencing a drop in SEO, for what seemed like no reason at all. Some time later in May, Google admitted to having released their Quality Update, which was responsible for the changes, but they did not provide many details.

What Changed with Google’s Quality Algorithm Update?

 The aptly named Quality Update, as the name implies, is about providing a quality experience to website users. Although Google has never stated exactly what a “quality experience” means to them, anyone who has been following their update releases, and tips for the best SEO, surely understands the implications - good content, easy navigation, optimized media, mobile friendly, etc. While Google has finally admitted to the release, they have not offered a clear explanation of exactly what the update was about, leaving SEO experts guessing.

Based on researched results from across the web, the general opinion is the Quality Update had to do with quality content and user experience. Websites that were penalized the most were those that could arguably be said to have “questionable” content in terms of quality, usefulness and accessibility. Sites with high quality content were not affected, or even saw improvements in SEO. When going by this assumption, it is easy to see that once again, Google focuses on sites that provide the best information and experience to their users, penalizing those that do not.

Has the Definition of Quality Content Changed?

With each new algorithm tweak, it seems Google refines the definition of “quality content” a little bit more. However, that definition has generally stayed the same, overall. Pleasing Google means pleasing the user with content that is original, informative and correct, and provides value. Therefore, to offer the highest quality content, a website must contain content that is relevant to their purpose, gives users the information they are seeking, and does so in the easiest, most straightforward manner - with good navigation. Detailed content that goes deeper into subject matter offering useful information is much more desired over vague, short articles that only glance over a topic. Avoiding the redundancy that appears on many websites is key. Layouts that are easy to use, and not full of advertisements, pop-ups or overlays that require the user to jump through hoops to actually read the content, scored big. Sites that used these elements were penalized. Google continues to reward for the best information. This knowledge should encourage website owners to strive to include the best information possible.

In light of the stealthy release of the Quality Update, the main lesson to be learned is fairly simple. Content quality and user experience remains Google’s main priority, and is what generates the best SEO. When a website experiences unexpected drops in SEO, content and site usability should be analyzed first for problems. As the SEO belt gets tighter, as Google filters the best websites to the top, SEO experts must work harder at ensuring their sites are the better sites!

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November 5th, 2015|