Google ‘Phantom Update’ Dings Sites Hosting Low-Quality Content

Did your website experience a drop in Google’s search rankings last month?

If you answered yes, consider these questions: Does your site have a lot of user-generated content? Is there redundant content or thin content on your site? Do you run self-starting videos and have a lot of display ads? What about 404 errors?

These indicators were likely part of a quality update confirmed by Google mid-May, two weeks after search engine geeks noticed certain sites’ rankings dropping dramatically. This stealth move by Google earned the name “Phantom Update.”

According to Contently, this update is “all about rewarding sites that focused on improving the user experience and pushing quality content (and punishing those who have not).”

Sites like HubPages, WikiHow, Rotten Tomatoes, Answers and Examiner were all negatively impacted by Google’s quality update. How-to sites with lots of ads and/or lots of poor-quality UGC tended to be disproportionately impacted.

What, then, is considered high-quality UGC? Quora is a prime example and experienced a bump in rankings with the quality update.

When thinking of quality, think of user experience. Do you enjoy pop-ups, above-the-fold ads and auto-play videos? Of course not. If they’re bad for user experience, expect them to negatively impact your Google rank.

This also applies to thin content, which includes syndicated pieces from article banks or RSS feeds, auto-populated articles and so on.

Google has been progressively weeding out low-quality content for years, dating back to the Panda update of 2011. We also saw this with the mobile-friendly update, when Google decided to punish sites that weren’t designed for a quality mobile experience.

Don’t expect this trend of quality updates from Google to change.


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