Have you noticed any changes in your Google ranking over the past month? If so, you’re not alone. Countless webmasters began to notice unusual shifts in their website rankings this May, prompting many to wonder if Google was rolling out new and unannounced updates. Initially, Google did not confirm the update, causing some Internet users to dub it the “Phantom” update. While Google does complete hundreds of small updates each year, few have the enormous impact that the phantom update appeared to be having.
While at first unclear what the change was affecting, it became increasingly clear to web analysts who scoured for data. Digital marketing expert Glenn Gabe (who originally coined the phrase “phantom update”) published a detailed blog post regarding his findings of this change. What he noticed most strikingly was an obvious pattern showing a decrease in visibility for certain sites, mostly those containing how-to articles, or those considered to have “thin content.”
Indeed, website HubPages, which has hundreds of thousands of how-to articles, experienced a 22% decline in traffic over a one week period this month. Similar sites such as Answers.com and WikiHow also saw drops, though not as extreme.
Google has not formally admitted to this recent update, yet a Google webmaster mentioned it at SMX Sydney, commenting that a change had occurred with regards to a core algorithm update.
Essentially, the phantom update seems to have focused on the algorithm’s process of assessing quality. Those domains who had instances of thin content, or content lacking in value, seem to have been penalised. The algorithm appears to have been unflinching in its methodology; entire domains seem to have suffered even when only containing relatively few pages with such content. Thus, it seems Google’s ranking algorithms are growing harsher, with a focus on boosting pages with exclusively good content.
What This Means for You
For high-quality websites, this will ultimately be a positive change. If your pages contain only relevant content that offers value to your readers or customers, Google’s algorithm should, in theory, recognise this, helping your rankings to climb. However, the algorithms are complex and it isn’t always so straightforward.
What it all boils down to is that Google is focusing more heavily on curating good content and bringing that to the top. When building your websites, even for SEO, one of the best and most consistent practices is to generate true quality content. Your customers and readers will do the rest, performing an Internet “natural selection” of sorts. It seems that Google is only enhancing what already occurs organically when quality is the priority. And to succeed as a business, that is true across the board.