What Your Small Business Needs to Know About Google’s Phantom Update

What Your Small Business Needs to Know About Google’s Phantom Update

No, you aren’t dreaming; Google is at it again!  At the very end of April, Google quietly rolled out a new update that has turned out to impact a large amount of websites.  Webmasters throughout started seeing changes in Google results, both in organic and local rankings, yet Google had yet to admit anything happening on their end.  Last week they finally confirmed that they had pushed out a new update that is changing how their algorithm assesses quality signals on websites.

Some people are calling it “The Quality Update” and others are calling it “The Phantom Update” for the secretive way in which Google rolled it out.  Whatever name you choose to call it, you should know what they are looking for and how it can effect your website!  Although Google hasn’t officially released specifics on how they have changed the quality signals, some triggers have been identified that folks who are being negatively impacted can look at to determine the next course of action.


Tag Pages

Tag pages are taking a massive hit on ranking, which in turn is hurting the overall ranking of the website.  Tag pages can be used to provide a large list of links that take the user to another piece of content on your site.  Depending on the site setup, you may have tags generated purely by the business or you could have user-generated tags.  In many cases, these tag pages lead to other landing spots on the website with little-to-no content and/or have no real useful information.  Google doesn’t like to see this.  In addition, it can confuse Google’s bots.  If you have a ton of tags that lead continue to redirect to other low-quality pages, you can essentially set a “spider trap” for Google’s bots where they crawl and crawl and crawl.  The more low-quality links the bot crawls, the worse off a website will be.


Click-Bait Articles and Low-Quality Supplementary Content

Many of the websites being hit are websites who also have a lot of click-bait articles that fill space on the website and redirect a client off of the business’s page and to an external site.  If the content that the user is being directed to is quality and relevant, that’s one thing.  However, Google is now showing articles with little content and no real purpose for the user as poor quality.

In addition, low-quality supplementary content is also being used to negatively impact rankings.  This could be a bunch of banner ads spread throughout the website, videos and/or other content from a 3rd party that is stacked on the page, or syndicated content that’s being pulled from an external site and being used on your website.  Any of these can contribute to a drop in the rankings.


Site Design

Site design is something that Google has been focusing more and more on, and with this latest update it looks like they are tightening the screws on what they consider to be acceptable design.  Any site that isn’t mobile-friendly, is difficult to read with small font, has a ton of written content on each page that isn’t well organized/hard to navigate, utilizes a bunch of links, and/or just has a generally dated design can see a negative impact from this update.  In addition, poor user-generated content can also result in a drop in the rankings.  Google doesn’t want to see old comments from users that aren’t relevant to the topic or the business in general as they consider those as part of the overall content of the page, so they are now looking for that when assessing the overall design of a website.


Website Deception

Any distraction or deception on a website is now being weighed more heavily when the website assessment is done.  Websites that have a bunch of ads spread throughout in order to fill space, especially those that are disguising ads as original website content, are being frowned upon.  Think of a website you’d visit that primarily uses the color green for all of the headers on their website and a white background.  Google sees deception as creating the ads on your page to match the green headers and white background, causing a user to click on that ad thinking it’s actually an internal part of the website they are on.  Instead of being pushed to a different page on the site, however, they are redirected to a 3rd party site.


What You Can Do To Ensure Compliance

The absolute best thing you can do to generate the type of website that Google wants to see is to always view things as if you are the customer.  Many business owners get caught up in designing their website how THEY would like it, and Google really wants to recommend sites that have the customer as Priority #1.

Until we get an official report from Google (that is if we ever get one!), we can only use analysis to determine what’s being affected in order to right the ship.  That being said, there are some pointers that you can always fall back to that will help you ensure that your website is up to Google’s Standards.

  1. Unique content is key.  Google likes to see content that is unique to your site and differentiates yourself from the competition, and trust us, so do your customers.
  2. Not only should your content be unique, but it also needs to be engaging!  Don’t just stick with written content; videos, infographics, photos, surveys and more all get your site visitors to engage with your company.  Google loves that!
  3. Load time and navigation of your site are very important.  When you have a user visiting your website, you want things to work quickly, smoothly, and be very easy to navigate around so the user can find the content they are looking for.
  4. Credibility is very important.  You can build credibility by utilizing innovative research in your business type, as well as placing trustworthy testimonials from your clients about their experience with your products and services.  In addition, linking to larger, more authoritative sites within your industry shows both Google and your potential customers that you are in-the-know and have a firm understanding of the industry you work in!
  5. Ensure that your social media pages are linked to your website and are easy to find!  By placing your primary pages like Google+ and Facebook in an easily accessible location, it not only gives Google a direct path to which pages are yours, but also an easy way for your clients to navigate to those pages so they can engage with your company, share your content, and even write reviews!


If you are one of the many people being negatively impacted by Google’s Quality/Phantom Update, the best thing you can do is a complete content quality audit of your website.  Once you’ve gone over everything with a fine-toothed comb, a plan of action should be put in place to address each identified issue.  The quicker that all happens, the quicker you can bounce back.


How have you been affected by Google’s latest update?

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