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How to Ensure Your Content Meets the Standards of Google’s New “Phantom Update”

You’ve probably heard about (or experienced) Google’s ruthless "Phantom Update" that recently hit. Find out how to avoid being penalized by it.

Content Marketing Update for Google Phantom | SEJ

By now, you’ve probably heard about (or experienced) Google’s ruthless “Phantom Update” that hit in late April or early May. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s essentially an algorithmic revision that came without warning and that Google has yet to release very many details about. What’s more is that it has had some pretty significant effects, most notoriously with HubPages experiencing a 22% overall drop in traffic.

While the update is not directly related to Penguin or Panda, at its core, this update is again about content quality.

So how exactly do you ensure that the content you’re creating is meeting Google’s standards?

Avoid “Thin Content”

One of the best ways to ensure you create “phantom-friendly” content is familiarizing yourself with what not to do. Sounds easy, right? This is much easier said than done, given that this was named the “phantom” update for a reason, with almost no ranking signal details in tow.

What we do know is that the primary sites that were targeted were those that contained low-quality how-to content, click bait articles, pages of stacked videos, hard to navigate pages, and sites full of supplementary information.

What do all of these sites have in common? They all have a significant amount of “thin content”, or content that lacks real value.

So what does “thin content” look like? Here is a small list, straight from the horse’s mouth (Google):

  1. Duplicate or redundant posts: This could be actual duplicated content on multiple pages of your site, or near-duplicate content on your site separated by only a line or so of unique content. While it should be fairly common knowledge by now that straight duplicates are a huge no-no, near-duplicate content is still a very big problem – especially among e-commerce sites with thousands of SKUs. The answer? Find areas to add small bits of unique content, either with rewritten descriptions or a unique one to two sentence introduction. Start with your top sellers and work down (to save on costs).
  2. Unnecessary doorway pages: Just don’t do it. Not much else to add here.
  3. Affiliate pages (with links) that have little to no valuable content: Sites with high ad ratios are considered thin. Either scale back on the ads you are showing or bulk up your content. Honestly, the answer probably lies in doing a mixture of both. Remember to prioritize the user experience!
  4. Poorly written blog posts or articles: You may be doing your best to create new content, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t coming back to you thin as a rail. Use some of the following practices to really add some meat into your content.

Bulking Up Your Content

Content Marketing Update for Google Phantom | SEJ

Like most 16-year-old freshmen in high school, it’s time for your content to “bulk up”. You can’t build muscle eating frosted flakes (I’ve tried!) and frozen pizza every day, the same way you can’t earn Google’s respect and good graces by putting out 75 word how-to’s ripe with 5% keyword density. It’s time to start building out and bulking up your content, and here are a few simple ways you can start doing so.

Repackage and Refine

Like every good fitness program out there, simply repackaging a workout in a different light may be enough to have it sell. In relation to content, simply changing up the way you’re presenting the value of your content to readers (and to Google) might be a good first start. If your company has been relying wholly on how-to articles or link bait type of content, now would be a real good time to mix it up. You can generate diversity by adding in some long-form content, some white papers, an e-book, or some listicles that don’t involve two sentences before clicking to the next picture.

Topics: The Real Meat of Content Creation

Diversity in and of itself won’t produce content muscle, but it may get you in a state of mind to start coming up with topics and content matter that are much more interesting to readers and that will provide real value. For those of you in “boring” business spaces, you can still find ways to spice up your content if you work at it.

I’m a firm believer that most of your content value will derive from the initial content topic (at least as far as blogs and articles are concerned). A crappy topic is usually going to get you a crappy piece of content, whether or not it was written in-house or outsourced. A great article topic gives you the foundation with which to build out really strong, valuable content from the get go. In these algorithmic times, great topics are a must.

Proper Form & Quality Control

Content Marketing Update for Google Phantom | SEJ


Want to know the quickest way to thin out your content in both your readers’ eyes as well as in Google’s? Having bad form. Formatting, word count, and proofreading are a huge part of what makes content attractive in the first place.

Formatting & Word Sizes

Formatting has everything to do with the purpose of the content and how it is being used. Blog posts can range in word count (usually between 400-1000 words) but are in need of headers and bullet points to break up information and keep the content looking sexy. On the other hand, product descriptions usually need to stay short and concise and give consumers exactly what they need without having to wade through loads of information.

Match your formatting and word count to the content’s purpose, but don’t take shortcuts. What I mean by that is people tend to go too short with the short pieces, and too long with the long pieces. Keep in mind that bulking up short content can come in the form of adding on an additional 50 words to your descriptions to make them more unique where bulking up your blog content can be in the form of taking off 100 words of fluff and redundant information to be more concise and play to the user experience.

Grammar & Spelling

Editing can be tedious, but it can save you from tainting a brand. Take the time to do some quality control on your content and make sure your posts are free from duplicates, run-on sentences, fluff, awkward introductions, punctuation mistakes, and spelling errors.

A tight, organized and well-executed piece of content is more likable, more sharable and, most importantly, less “thin”.

Build Trust Through Consistency

Ironically enough, algorithm updates are taking human elements into account more than ever before. Without the human side, you don’t get the benefits of the search engine side either. What do your customers want/need? What questions do they have that need to be answered? Are you consistently creating high quality content that your customers can consume? Are you building a reputation that would appear trustworthy to Google? Is your content original?

Taking a human approach to creating content, and then creating it regularly is the best overall guideline for keeping your content top-notch. Another good test to put your content against is this: To paraphrase from Google’s Gary Illyes at the latest SMX Advanced Conference in Seattle, if the content fills an informational need, is shared on social media, and gets needs naturally, it’s a good indicator that your content is meeting quality standards.

Use Great Content to Push up Your Domain, Not to Pull it Down

While there has been some question as to whether the phantom update is punishing entire domains for having a certain percentage of spammy pages, this much is clear: quality content has once again been thrown into the spotlight.

Stay on the safe side and take extra measures to produce bulked up content that is trustworthy, quality-controlled, and provides real value to your readers.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Illustration by Matt Secrist
Image #1: Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Image #2: Markus Gann/Shutterstock

Category Content
Matt Secrist VP of Business Development at BKA Content

Matt Secrist has worked in the content creation industry since 2009 helping clients build out their SEO campaigns with useful, ...

How to Ensure Your Content Meets the Standards of Google’s New “Phantom Update”

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