A major algorithm update has taken place during November, where there has been some significant movement in rankings and visibility data for a number of websites and businesses. This update has been colloquially termed ‘The Phantom Update III’, and the effects mainly centered on the quality of webpages to ensure that users are getting a positive user interaction with the most relevant information provided for the searches made.

This update, which Google has not officially recognised or acknowledged, could be the response to the newly edited Quality Rater Guidelines which was announced on the 12th of November. As the name suggests, the Quality Rater Guidelines are the components Google adheres to in keeping their ranking algorithm consistent and in-check. The results of changes related to this guideline has been coined the “Phantom update”, due to Google’s elusive nature in announcing these updates or claiming ownership.

The first Phantom Update is thought to have occurred in May 2013 and provided a major shake-up to Google’s core algorithm. The next update took place earlier this year during May, which Google identified and claimed it as the “Quality Update”, giving insight to how this update was connected to the change made in 2013. Despite no formal announcement, the resulting evidence suggests that the new algorithm from last month is likely to be the continuation from May’s update. If Search Engine Optimisation is one of your top traffic sources, we'd recommend spending some time reading further.

How It Impacts Businesses

Initial data shows that the November Phantom update has enhanced rankings for websites with high-quality pages, whilst pushing down sites with low quality, irrelevant content or spammy pages.

This update means that if your business fails to satisfy a search-user’s intent, your rankings is likely to have taken a hit, and will not recover unless you modify your pages so that it provides quality content fast and efficiently. Pages with poor user-experience, such as low-visible content or excessive pagination was a big contributor to lower visibility data for businesses.

Do you need to make any changes as a result of this update?

Consider what has been impacted the most, and what kind of modifications can help you recover and improve your rankings:

  • Rewarding positive user experience has been the focus of this new update. Therefore, sites with good quality content, that also loads quickly, have been rewarded with a boost in rankings.
  • If your business has some trouble with duplicate content over the web, the latest Phantom Update allows pages with unavoidable duplicate content, such as dictionaries or lyric directories, to be void of any penalty as long as the context shows that it is not strategically plagiarised.
  • If your business is using a branded keyword of a competitor or another brand, the update will have penalised your rankings, as Google assumes that users who search for a particular brand intends to go on to that specific brand’s website (not an alternative site with similar keywords), and often usage of a competitors branded keyword is used for not so legitimate reasons.

What You Can Do

A manual audit of your website is perhaps the most complete way to approach this new update. By doing so, a list can be made of the number of user engagement issues that may have contributed to the drop in rankings. Based on the section above, we are able to breakdown a simple guideline which businesses can use to try and recover if they have been penalised by the Phantom update.

  • First paragraph on any page should directly relate to the title of the article.
  • Longer content is not necessarily quality content. Spammy material has been penalised, so provide meaningful and compelling material.
  • Monitor bounce rates to see if this indicates where users are falling off, thereby showing you irrelevant material or content.
  • Page session times can also give you a basic idea to see if you can pinpoint specific problems in a page where users drop out.
  • Any form of popups or self-starting videos has shown to trigger a negative experience for users.