What you need to know about Google Phantom 2The first murmurings of a major Google update were heard during the week of April 29th, but it wasn’t until Glenn Gabe’s analysis of search trends and results that the new core algorithm update was confirmed.

The reason why this update is called “Phantom” is because Google didn’t publicize anything about it, leaving people guessing as to its true nature and scope. But just because Google didn’t recognize an algorithm change, doesn’t mean that one didn’t occur.

As with the first phantom update, which occurred on 5/8/2013, Phantom 2 is all about quality content. They are both core algorithm updates that change how content signals are read, affecting some website positively, some negatively.

At first it was difficult to know exactly what this update was targeting. Was it a Penguin or Panda extension? Was it a part of their recent mobile ranking change, otherwise known as Mobilegeddon?

What is the Phantom 2 Update?

First reported by Barry Schwartz, the new update was instantly thought to be related to Google Panda, the content crackdown filter first released in 2011 that targeted content farms, thin content, and ad-heavy pages. The only thing we knew for sure was that many sites’ search engine rankings were experiencing unexpected changes.  After many web publishers began noticing drastic changes in the search engine rankings, Google was forced to respond.

Although they are still very hush hush, Google denies it was a Panda or Penguin update and reminds us that they make changes all the time to their ranking algorithms, about 500 or so updates a year. Still, they did confess that there was indeed an update to its ranking algorithm. When asked by searchengineland.com about the Phantom 2 update, Google responded that “there were changes to its core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals.”

The company would not go into detail about how those quality signals are now assessed, but from what we know about previous algorithm updates, there are a wide range of factors that play into a website’s quality score. Google is probably factoring in some signals more and other signals less.

From data gathered from around the web, it seems clear that many of the big tweaks are very Panda-like. Phantom 2 is targeting low quality content and design, such as:

  • Thin, low quality content
  • Duplicate content
  • Click-bait articles
  • Lots of supplementary/linking content
  • Stacked links and video
  • Low user engagement/experience
  • Confusing, disorganized navigation
  • Hard-to-read fonts and design
  • Popups and content farms
  • Ad-heavy pages
  • Old, irrelevant, and unrelated comments

In addition to individual pages, Phantom 2 seems to be targeting entire websites as well. According to this Hubpages analysis, if the new algorithm picks up on too many spammy or low-quality pages, your entire site might receive ranking demerits.

Although it is unclear whether or not the new phantom update is related to links, it is fair to say that manual, natural links will get rewarded, while unnatural, spammy links will get penalized. Google will get suspicious if it notices a large amount of backlinks created over a short period of time.

Many webmaster have been noticing a similarity between the new Phantom 2 changes and old Panda triggers, such as click-bait articles, duplicate content, and ad-heavy pages. Many of the websites that are being heavily targeted are “how to” sites like WikiHow, answers.com, HubPages, and eHow, but they aren’t the only ones.

The main takeaway is basically the same thing we have been hearing over and over again from Google — that websites with expertly written content on easy-to-navigate pages will get rewarded, while thin-content sites will be demoted.

How to Fight Back Against Phantom 2

In order to combat the negative search engine effects of this Phantom 2 update, do a complete website audit, focusing on the quality of your content. If your content is all fluff and provides no value, consider rewriting it. We formed the following list from this Google post released after the first Panda update. Although it was originally aimed toward sites impacted by Panda, it actually covers high-quality content in general:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it more shallow in nature?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see this article in a printed magazine, encyclopedia or book?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail vs. less attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

If you were particularly effected by the Phantom 2 update, you may also want to go over this list of things you can do to help Google find, crawl, and index your site.

Google also publishes a list of steps to a Google-friendly site, which include:

  1. Give visitors the information they’re looking for
  2. Make sure that other sites link to yours
  3. Make your site easily accessible

Basically, Google is saying the same thing over and over again — It wants high-quality, relevant content for its users. No more black hat tricks and work-arounds. These continual Google updates level the playing field for publishers across the web by pitting content against content, instead of shady back-link programs and other technical loopholes.

For all of your pages, try to write about topics comprehensively, with a focus on answering as many questions as possible. Try to anticipate customer search queries and match them with a unique and useful answer. However, some pages may require thin content, such as login pages and sign up pages, so don’t worry about adding content to these. In order to avoid being penalized for purposefully thin pages, use the robots.txt file or “noindex” meta tag to warn Google not to index these pages.

Do not be too aggressive with ads and don’t allow them to interfere with your pages’ navigation.

Hire professional writers to create useful and compelling content for you. This may sound like a no-brainer, but many companies fail to realize the importance of hiring professionals to create their hooks, slogans, calls-to-action, product pages, blogs, and other online content. Use writers who you trust and who know your business. In most cases, however, it is a great idea for you to write your own content. Simply follow some best practices guides and you should be fine.

VitalStorm will be following the new Phantom 2 update and any other important Google updates, so follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for the latest digital marketing news.

All we can say for now is to do a content audit of your entire website and hire a professional team of writers and developers to help. Is content marketing the new SEO? It seems so.

We offer two services that may help you accomplish this goal: Website Design (which includes original content) and Social/Local (which includes original blogging on your site once a week).