There has been another major Google update, although it is likely that you didn’t notice it happen at all. Because Google made no announcement, it has been labelled as another “Phantom Update”, but thanks to SEO analysts, we already have a pretty good idea what has changed.
Following the update, which took place during the second week of April, many major publishers saw a sharp decline in Google search referrals. Jayson DeMers, writing for Forbes, was the one of first to talk about the changes, based on data released by SearchMetrics, who have now released their own take on the update: Google’s Phantom Menace: Publishers clean up your act by Jordan Koene.
We know that not only have several hugely popular websites been affected, but also smaller niche website that have been publishing for many years. The most high-profile upsets are:
- The Atlantic, which lost 79 percent of its Google traffic.
- WIRED, which lost 65 percent.
- Apple’s iTunes articles, which dropped by 63 percent
Other major brands to suffer include Nytimes.com, Newyorker.com, Vanityfair.com, Washingtonppost.com, Slate.com, Nymag.com. Motherjones.com. Salon.com and Thedailybest.com. From our own research, we have also noted that smaller UK based websites have seen losses of between 30 and 40 percent. So, why are these being affected, and not others?
Old News Articles Are Downgraded
Based on the insights from DeMeyers and Koene, we know that these sites have seen a reduction in search traffic to their older news pages. Not all keywords have been affected. SearchMetrics found that keywords such as Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Star Wars, Kim Kardashian, and Bill Cosby, have all been heavily affected, as has some high volume keywords, such as millennials, earth, movies, and world map.
This change is not only affecting news publications, but any website which has published stories about celebrities or the high-volume keywords. Apple’s iTunes subdomain experienced a big drop because these pages mostly talked about pop stars, which then linked to product pages.
In both cases, Google has seemingly decided that old content on high ranking websites should not be able to rise above more useful content on lower ranked sites. So, instead of iTunes being the best source for articles about celebrities, Google is now ranking Wikipedia, Facebook and official fanpages higher. SearchMetrics also pointed out that iTunes is, overall, better off at the moment, because Google has started indexing information from its app and this more than makes up for the losses to its web pages.
Small Businesses are OK
As far as we can see, small businesses are OK. Many of our clients have company blogs and there is no sign yet that older blog posts are causing any problem. For example, one of our customers sells conservatories, and they have been updating their blog for several years with news and insights into the industry, as well as tips and guides on how to enhance your home. Their blog is still going strong, as are other clients’ blogs.
How To Fix It?
So, if you have been affected, what can you do? Well, due to the nature of the update, it is unlikely that you will be able to make any quick fixes to overcome a sudden drop in visitors. If Google has decided to downgrade your old content there really is not a great deal you can do to recover that in the short term.
Will Changing the Date Work?
Before you decide to start republishing all your old content with today’s date in an attempt to make the articles look fresh and new, stop! Google not only indexes all web pages, but it also keeps a copy of the pages on file – the Google Cache is not Google’s only copy of your website. So, changing the date is unlikely to lead to a recovery, because Google has already determined that your content is out of date.
Something that might possibly work is repurposing content. This is purely theoretical at the moment, but it might be possible to salvage some old content and republish it on a new website. This could only work if the content is actually evergreen, so it assumes that Google has not been able to take this into account. The other big issue with this is that the new website will not necessarily rank well, so it may not actually benefit you at all.
Share Old News in Social?
Another idea is that the affected pages could be shared in social media pages. Much in the way Facebook and Google+ now encourage you to re-share old photos and stories, you could publish the older content to your social profiles with a “remember when” description. This is not going to improve the search traffic on those pages, but it could be used as a way to re-engage your social audiences with little effort.
Do Shake and Vac and Put the Freshness Back
If your site has been affected, then the flip side is positive – Google may consider your website a news outlet, which means that creating new content might actually boost traffic. This could potentially have two positives. Not only will fresh, new content bring in more searchers, it also allows you to highlight new products and services. It might be that your older pages were well read, but did not result in new leads or sales.
Our suggestion to anybody affected is to focus on creating new content and promoting this content through social media and email. Although this is not “SEO”, it might be the way smaller publishers need to operate in the future to compete with the big players in the market. This also has the benefit of ensuring your new content reaches a wider audience while it is still fresh and relevant, and this might have a positive knock-on effect in terms of SEO if bloggers and reporters pick up the story and share it.
This latest change from Google means that older, established sites will find it harder to hoard search traffic. This is of course bad news for such sites, but it could help newer websites to compete in a search environment that has become saturated with a relatively small selection of major publications in recent years. Google’s Panda and Penguin updates went a long way to reduce spam and low quality pages from the SERPs, but the result is that the same higher ranking websites always come up first for many searches. The objective of this change may be to create a more level playing field again, which is great news for new businesses and start-ups who are looking to get a foothold on Google. The bottom line is, your news needs to be new.