The SEO community loves to be able to put a name to a Google update, and in recent years, Google has played ball. In May we learned of another “Phantom Update”; the phantom updates are named by the SEO community rather than Google, because they are a mystery to us all.
The first Phantom update was released in May 2013. Google made no announcement, but many businesses reported significant changes in rankings. Some SEOs thought that it was a Penguin refresh and others that it was simply a limited early release of the Penguin 2.0. Two years on, we’re still none the wiser.
The most recent Phantom was released on 3rd May 2015, and its impact was felt by businesses all over the world – in fact, some websites saw organic search referrals drop by 50%. Again, there has been no announcement from Google. So what was the update and why did cause a drop in rankings for some businesses?
Content Farms Suffer
HubPages reported a 22% drop following the Phantom update, with 68 of its 100 most important pages losing traffic. This is a significant drop in search engine referrals for such a large website.
eHow, WikiHow and Answers.com all experienced drops too. It seems that the most likely cause for a loss in traffic is the quality of content on a page. All of these sites rely heavily on user-generated content (UGC). It seems that Google has penalised websites that are using general bloggers rather than skilled researchers and copywriters.
However, to confuse matters, sites such as Quora and Wikia experienced increases. These sites are also comprised of a lot of UGC, so this increase may simply because they gained a little of the market share that others lost.
Although this quality update has similarities to the Panda updates, there may be more complex reasons behind it. Is it possible that Google is already determining when a website has multiple contributors with a varying level of knowledge and skill? Or was it simply a penalty on websites that publish tens of thousands of similar pages? Hubpages still has over 420,000 pages indexed in Google.
We cannot be sure, but it would appear that this core algorithm update, which affects websites at domain level, is just the start of a new wave of quality updates that will impact sites that have thin content, poorly written pages or duplicate topics.
If you continue to build a great website with high quality, well-researched and well written content, you should be safe from Google’s hard-hitting quality updates. If you have experienced a drop in Google referrals in the past month, contact Freelance SEO Essex today and request a content quality review.