Phantom 4: Google Quality Update 2016

Phantom 4 Quality Update

July 19, 2016

Author: Maik Benske

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It started at the end of June when customers began to report significant ranking fluctuations in their search results. As usual, there was a deafening silence from Google so we decided to have a dig around ourselves – and we made a few interesting discoveries.

Without a clear statement from Google, it’s difficult to tell exactly what sort of update has taken place. At the moment, on the basis of the data we’ve analysed, we can only presume. One thing that is clear is that there have been substantial changes in Germany and elsewhere since our last XOVI Crawl – as SEJ also reported.

Various sources in the industry are already suggesting – as with previous ‘phantom’ updates – that it must be another Panda Update.

However we believe that this is more of a Quality Update, as has often been the case with previous unannounced updates. This isn’t to say that the content of a ranking URL is necessarily bad, but rather that the URL doesn’t quite fit user intentions.

With the current update, we’ve noticed that category and index pages which link to further categories and indexes have lost their top 100 rankings. Specialized product pages on the other hand have received a boost.

Thanks to the recent adjustments to the core algorithm, Google is now better able to evaluate content which is either difficult for the user to consume or which doesn’t provide a direct answer to the user’s intention.

This is clear from the following example

German online delivery company has lost keywords such as “bedroom decorations” since the ranking URL simply linked to additional bedroom decoration categories. This meant that users were forced to search even further into the domain in order to find what they were looking for, whilst at this stage of their search, their intention was merely to gather general information. For this reason, pages with more images now rank higher since they respond more accurately to the needs of the user.

The second important factor in this update concerns brands, which have all registered noticeable fluctuations in the top 100 results for brand searches. We have to ask ourselves: is the user looking for any product from a particular brand or are they looking to find out more about the brand or business in general? As Google’s RankBrain had correctly identified, it would seem that the latter is more likely. For this reason, price and brand comparison pages which simply list products have lost rankings for brand searches such as Abercrombie, Canon, Logitech, etc.

The following charts show the price/brand/service comparison domains which have lost rankings, whilst specific brand domains have gained:

Prominent losers (sample)

Website Change % -43.27 -35.60 -34.90 -32.87 -26.98 -26.81 -26.65 -25.81 -25.80 -25.17 -25.16 -23.40 -23.25 -23.17 -23.00 -21.25 -21.17 -20.78 -20.46 -19.21 -18.85 -18.78 -18.26 -17.98 -17.94

Prominent winners (sample)

Website Change % 64.38 43.14 36.41 36.33 36.24 28.10 27.08 26.60 26.20 26.09 25.95 24.67 24.66 24.49 24.31 23.83 23.79 23.05 21.70 20.93 20.40 20.22 19.28 18.36 17.93

Preventative action for the next update

So what quality control measures should you be taking on your website to avoid losing rankings?

As we’ve already determined, user value and intention should be your primary concerns. When working on the structure of your website, this means paying particular attention to the following questions:

  1. Is your content generic and widely known? Or has it been created by an expert with specialist knowledge?
  2. Does an article quench the user’s thirst for information? Or do they still need to look elsewhere?
  3. Does your website exist purely to rank for certain keywords or has it been conceptualized with the user in mind?
  4. Is your content unique, or has it been compiled using various existing sources without actually adding anything new or original?
  5. Does your content offer clear value for the user when compared to thematically similar websites on page one of the search results?
  6. Is your website of sufficiently high quality that it is linked by other sources in your sector?

Finally, bear in mind this interesting and frequently forgotten aspect of landing page optimization:
What stage is the user at when visiting your website and why are they carrying out this particular search?
It’s one thing to produce content which is 100% optimized for SEO and factually correct but have you understood the exact needs of your users? SEO has changed dramatically in recent years and it’s no longer enough to simply comply with all the technical specifications of a website – there has to be a human strategy behind every landing page.

Our tip: When planning your strategy, always consider what the user wants.

Author: Maik Benske