• A secretive tweak in Google’s algorithm.
  • Yet another blow after ‘mobilegeddon.
  • Websites in trouble; the change was least expected.
  • Drastic decline in organic traffic.

Phantom - New Algorithm Update

A few days back, noted digital marketing veteran, Glenn Gabe, and the CEO of RustyBrick, Barry Schwartz, were nattering online about something they had termed the ‘Phantom’ update from Google. Based on the daily assessments of webmasters and SEO experts, Schwartz had suspected a possible Panda update, and Gabe had spoken otherwise.

There’s something definitely going on, my site was always affected by the pandas, and now I’m up by 5%, so i guess there was a panda update starting on Thursday… The change is not big, but for me it means that after some hard work, finally Panda gave me some love.”

I noticed that beginning on Monday 04/27 our traffic began to significantly decline. It has gotten worse day after day. Today, 5/2 we are running 30% less hour over hour comparing to last Saturday 4/25. Trying to find more information on the update people have noticed 4/28 / 4/29.”

The Phantom was mysterious, intriguing and almost flew under the radar. There wasn’t any official announcement from the search engine giant regarding changes in the way it saw website ranks. Nor was there any hint of dramatic changes as such. But, yes, the update has booed us all of a sudden, like a stealth bomber, and hit the websites hard. Since then, it has been a hot topic of discussion for a while.

Phantom - search engine giant

A case study of HubPages:

The most prominent effect was reported by the popular content hosting platform, HubPages, which witnessed a steep tumble of 22% organic traffic on the 3rd of May this year. Visitors vanished on 68 of 100 top pages in an almost unmethodical and confusing manner, to which, Google strongly refuted a request for an explanation.

Imagine how hard it is to run a business when you see 22 percent of your traffic evaporate overnight,” said Paul Edmondson, the CEO of the company. “Google applied a site-wide ranking factor that ignores quality and subdomains. I’d call this a very blunt site-wide whack if your site is on the wrong side of this algorithm,” he added.

Here’s how Google consumed the platform’s traffic based on content quality:

  • HubScore:

HubScore

  • View duration:

View duration

  • Category:

Category

Traffic fluctuations by subdomain, post algorithm updates, are not rare. But, sadly, after Phantom, HubPages lost almost all subdomains. Also, nearly 90% of user accounts experienced Google traffic drops.

Phantom

A few years ago, after the Panda 4.0 update, popular food blogger, Linda Stradley, had seen a bad decline in her site’s traffic. Once thronging with around 5 million visitors, her traffic-rich site – whatscookingamerica.net, saw a reduction of about 44% visitors and a cut down of ad earnings by a disheartening percentage of 56%. Her business was in serious crisis. “I’ve never seen anything like this and I had no idea it was going to happen. I’ve worked very hard on this and put in lots of hours. It’s not just a toy,” a heartbroken Stradley had spoken.

Panda 4.0 update

The same has been the case of Edmondson. Of course, post its acquisition of Squidoo, HubPages has taken in a lot of spam and frequently suffered the penalty on its entire domain. The aftermath has been disastrous. And it’s scary.

Googles says nay:

I asked Google about it and they said no update happened over the weekend. Not just that there wasn’t a Panda update over the weekend, but there was no update over the weekend. Not  ,” revealed Barry Schwartz.

But, with such surging changes everywhere, it isn’t possible that an update has not occurred. Webmasters are in bafflement, unable to get the hang of the entire metamorphosis. And, believing Google will only be a fool’s decision, as there have been such secretive changes earlier, too.

What is this update all about?

Google has not confirmed the update or named it yet. So, let’s call it the Phantom update for the time being.

PHANTOM Update

The declines have been studied with the help of Searchmetrics, the Search Engine Optimisation tool that looks for search traffic in websites. The tool has shown how sites containing thin content or content that lack value, have been detained. HubPages was one of them.

There were other sites in the hit list, too, most of them based on ‘how-to’ as their core topic. This list includes platforms like eHow, WikiHow and Answers.com. Type ‘how to paint a house’ in the search box, and you’ll be presented instruction immediately. This is to prevent you from clicking away from the page and lading on some relevant how-to site. In other words, you’ll now be learning how to paint a house directly from Goolge and not from some other site that it considers valueless.

On the brighter side, websites like Quora, Instructables, Epicurious, Wikia and Wonderhowto stood on the advantage podium, gaining more organic traffic. Visibility has also evaporated for sites that contain click-bait articles aimed at generating online ads, supplementary information, stacked videos, and even those that are not easy to navigate.

Another important thing is that Phantom has nothing to do with mobile-friendliness of websites. In fact, most of the sites which suffered are very much compliant with smartphones and tablet PCs. Here’s the traffic loss scenario for mobile-friendly and desktop sites, as researched by Gabe:

phantom mobile friendly

The results are equal for both types of sites.

Yet another thing to note that this update has been a domain level one, because, HubPages has suffered huge losses in visibility, despite its mobile-friendly pages and considerably excellent content.

And, this is how it will ruin businessesProvide some facts, figures and data that can be found elsewhere, and your site will be as good as dead. “If you mix a demotion with the Knowledge Graph, forget about it. You’re dead in the water,” says Gabe. How will businesses ever cope with these changes? Guess Google should start considering things. “They make a change, it has a dramatic impact on your business, good or bad, and you have no clue what happened. Let us know and we’ll fix it, says Edmondson.

What you must do now:

  • Stop focusing on tag pages:

What Gabe has found that Phantom detests tag pages that contain links, scrolls infinitely and They rank great based on keywords. But, based on quality, they are red on the radar.

  • Avoid click-bait articles, supplementary information, stacked videos and thin content:

Click-baits are solely for generating ad revenues. They usually have very thin content – only a few lines or paragraphs along with a useless pile of supplementary data. If you advocate this, Google will find you eventually. Stacked videos will be similarly penalized because you are only supplying a negative impact on the user.

  • Work on the navigation right now:

Smoother the navigation better will be the ranking. User experience is being counted once again. Start working on the design of your website today.

  • Ditch ad page redirects:

If you are redirecting users to heavy ad pages, you are only angering the Phantom. These pages are undoubtedly of low quality and will surely contain thin content. A negative user experience is beyond doubt – the perfect recipe for a disaster.

HubPages

Here’s what Edmondson has to say about tacking the new update: “As most people know on HubPages, we have put a considerable amount of resources into aggressively editing the highest traffic pages to improve the site for the vast majority of readers. At the same time we have been no indexing a tremendous number of pages. The hope is we can raise our overall quality to escape Panda once and for all. We will continue these efforts. I’m going to pass this analysis on to John Mueller at Google and hopefully the search team will take a look at how this update is impacting the whole of HubPages.”

So, while someone in Mountain View, California is ruthlessly killing traffic and wiping out visibility, it is sane to not lose hope. Keep calm and change your SEO plans accordingly.