Google “Phantom” Update Rolling Out Targeting Informational, ‘How-To’ Content

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Google “Phantom” Update Rolling Out Targeting Informational, ‘How-To’ Content

NBC reports that an undisclosed, “phantom” algorithm update is rolling out in Google search right now which is primarily impacting publishers of “how-to” style content.

HubPages, a collection of more than 870,000 miniblogs containing informational content about wide varieties of topics, saw its Google search traffic drop 22 percent from one week to another on May 3.

Websites like eHow, WikiHow, and Answers.com are other sites that have seen significant drops in traffic over the past couple of weeks.

Glenn Gabe, of New Jersey-based G-Squared Interactive, is the one to coin the phrase “Phantom” update because this update came without warning, and Google has yet to acknowledge its existence.

Through analyzing the data, Gabe has determined that this udpdate is not related to Panda or Penguin. However, similar types of “thin” content targeted by Panda are also being targeted by this update.

Gabe points out that clickbait articles, sites with an abundance supplementary information, pages of stacked videos, and pages difficult to navigate have all lost visibility in recent weeks.

This update is said to be “ruthless” in its approach — apparently having no problem punishing entire domains for a few instances of thin content.

“When you have a domain-level algorithm update or ranking change, it can impact the whole site… Pages that should be drawing well could also be pulled down in the results.”

Google has not formally commented on this update, although at SMX Sydney this week Gary Illyes, from Google’s Webmaster Trends team, alluded to there being a recent change that’s part of a core algorithm update.

With Google’s Knowledge Graph being notorious for detracting traffic from sites for “how to” searches, coupled with this “Phantom” update, being a content publisher is more challenging than ever. Even Gabe, who analyzes search data for a living, admits to not being able to predict what business will look like tomorrow, next week, next month, etc.

Have you noticed a significant change in your traffic since the beginning of May? If so, what types of content do you believe was targeted? Details are scarce at this point, so any information we can get is valued.

Editor Note: This post originally stated the Penguin and Panda updates were page-specific, and didn’t affect websites at a domain level. This was incorrect and the sentence has been fixed.

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
Matt Southern
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