Google’s “Phantom update” is a bundle of partially unconfirmed Google updates, the rollout which began in mid-May 2015. The adjustments of the algorithm have lead, in some cases, to strong rank movements worldwide. But no clear pattern could be found here compared with the Penguin update or the Panda update.
Background on the Phantom update
In May 2015, numerous SEO experts around the world reported significant changes in search results. Several websites lost more than half of their visibility. Websites of completely different sizes and types were affected. This meant the updates had significant effects on advisor websites as well as on ecommerce sites or news websites.
There was a suspicion that Google had rolled out a new iteration of the Panda or Penguin algorithm. In June 2015 Google confirmed that there had been adjustments to the algorithm that were predominantly related to the assessment of website quality; Gary Illyes and John Müller also commented on Google algorithm changes.
In the SEO scene, the update phenomenon quickly became known as “Phantom”. An alternative description was simply “quality update”. The algorithm adjustment is referred to as the Phantom update again and again, as Google has, to date, not expressed which website areas are affected by it.
Chronology of the Phantom updates
In total, five Google Phantom updates have been rolled out since May 2013.
- Phantom I, start of May 2015: Google rolls out a new update to the core algorithm, but does not give any further details
- Phantom II, mid-June 2015: Several websites suffer traffic losses of more than 50 percent. Initially, Google did not confirm an update, however, effects on rankings were felt around the world » Analysis of the Phantom II update
- Phantom III, December 2015: After Google published its quality rater guidelines, there were fluctuations in the SERPs. It is suspected that the Phantom III update took into account the user intention as well as the content quality » Analysis of the Phantom III update
- Phantom IV, July 2016: More than half a year after Phantom III quality signals were reassessed by Google, creating significant ranking fluctuations. The update was not confirmed by Google, however, the fourth iteration of the Phantom update is assumed » Analysis of the Phantom IV update
- Phantom V, February 2017: After there was quite a lot of movement in the SERPs, analysis showed recognized patterns of the Phantom series » Analysis of the Phantom V update
What are the effects and goals of the Phantom update?
After the rollout of “Phantom” update, no homogeneous group of websites was affected. However, one thing was clear: The rankings of several affected websites worsened within a short amount of time.
The updates known as “Phantom” were predominantly meant to improve the quality of websites and therefore the quality of search results. The core algorithm is adjusted by Google again and again for this purpose. Which elements of the website are affected by it is not communicated by Google.
If, however, it is generally about the quality of websites, various aspects of website optimization can relate to the Phantom update.
How can webmasters react to the Phantom update?
As mysterious as the Phantom updates may seem, so simple does the solution for webmasters appear to be. For high-quality websites can be easily adjusted, including:
- Webmaster guidelines: With the so-called “guidelines for webmasters” Google describes which measures SEOs and webmasters can take so that the quality of websites meets the requirements of search engines and users. The guidelines explicitly exclude any form of spam measures or manipulative measure such as keyword stuffing.
- Content: High-quality websites use unique content with added value for the user. This content has to be regularly maintained and updated. Of corresponding importance is high content relevance as well as a matching the tailoring of the content to the user intention. At the same time, it goes without saying that online content should be simple to consumed by users and be free of errors.
- Technology: For websites, quality means that they can be easily used by both users and search engines and offer a high level of usability. This user friendliness begins with a rapid loading times and ends with a simple user menu. The quality of use should furthermore be on a similarly high level, regardless of the end device used.
Alongside these central factors for website quality, further factors such as incoming links, outgoing links, internal linking as well as the correct use of meta information could be decisive for the Phantom algorithm.
Outlook and conclusion
When the next Google update to its core algorithm will occur is unclear. In any case, the search engine company has ensured increased attention amongst webmasters on the topic of “website quality”. Due to the modest amount of information on the details of the updates, webmasters are forced to ensure the best-possible quality in all areas.
With its mobile update, Google has shown how it can offensively present a new algorithm change and that webmasters around the world will follow. With the Phantom updates, a tactic seems to have been successful that consists of presenting as few details as possible, so that website operators try even harder to optimize their websites. The interest of Google in high-quality websites is, naturally, not selfless. If Google presents search results with excellent sites, this has a positive effect on its reputation. This positive brand effect then later pays off in terms of increased advertising placements and clicks on those adverts.
Presumably, the Phantom updates will one day be continuously updated just like Penguin and Panda, so that the effects are no longer so strongly felt as with previous Phantom updates.