How to avoid penalization in a Google Phantom Update
Sometime around the end of last April and beginning of May, sites such as HubPages raised an alarm when they detected serious loss of position among SERPs and an inexplicable loss of traffic. The following days saw significant changes in the websites that rapidly dropped in terms of Google results, losing up to 20% of their traffic, while other quickly rose in the lists without making any changes to their sites, which indicated that an important update in the Google algorithm had been implemented.
After several days of changes in the SERPs Google publicly denied making any updates to Panda or Penguin but admitted that its algorithm was updating continuously and that there may be changes in it, pursuing what appears to be a new policy of secrecy in relation with updates to its algorithm.
As Google did not assign a name to this update, it was soon baptized among the SEO community as the “Google Phantom Update“.
What is this Google Phantom and how did it affect the search results?
The changes in the value of the factors applied by this algorithm have not been made public by Google, and the only thing we know about it are deductions made after observing the results of searches.
This update continues with the position taken at Mountain View on penalizing low quality content, and the Google Phantom has punished pages with the following problems:
- Poor or low-quality
- Pages with a large number offilters and indexed tags that generate duplicated content.
- Websites with design flaws that offerpoor user experience.
- Pages that operate as link farms, even when it is for guest posting.
How to detect penalization from a Google Phantom Update and avoid it.
A few weeks after the Google Phantom Update we were contacted by an e-commerce site that had suffered an unjustified fall in traffic and wanted us to find out what caused it and to put forward solutions.
The first thing we did was to study their analytics, where we discovered that their fall was due to a loss of organic traffic despite them not making any changes to their web.
After finding that it was organic, we used the tools Semrush and Sistrix to analyse the keywords used and the changes in their positions in Google results and the visibility index.
As you can see in this image, the visibility index suffered a sharp and severe drop, which made us think of a possible algorithm penalization. The descent happened at the end of April and continued into May, which made us suspect the effects of the Google Phantom Update.
When we analysed the content, we saw that the website contained the following characteristics:
- Poor contentin categories, sub-categories and product families.
- A shortage of contentin product files and copied content.
- Duplicated internal
- Indexed product filtersthat generated duplicated content.
With all this information, we could only conclude that the e-commerce had been penalized by the Google algorithm and its phantom update. We put the following measures forward to avoid the penalization of the Google Phantom:
- Improved contentcategories, sub-categories and product families, enhanced by key business words that they had not been using until then.
- The creation of original content in the product files.
- De-indexing filters and tags that generate duplicated content.
- Improve the internal link structure.
Applying measures like these is difficult in some cases. In this particular case, some of the filters that generated duplicated content had been positioned well and had returned good search results until the end of April, well above the pages of categories or product families.
Although many of these URLs had lost position, they were still in the first page of results, as opposed to other categories or product files which did not appear, and de-indexing these filters meant that these URLs disappeared from the first page of Google for a time. We also knew that there would be a time lag between the implementation of the changes and a return to high positions, as it may take several weeks for Googlebot to examine and index the whole website, and that in these circumstances the owner of the ecommerce shop or website would logically be reluctant to make drastic changes.
The client placed his trust in our suggestions and, although the application of the changes to the website led to reductions in traffic for the reasons we explained above, the visibility index began to recover shortly after 6 weeks and continues to improve to date, as does organic traffic as this figure showing its visibility index makes clear.
Have you heard of any similar cases, or suffered alterations to your traffic in the wake of the Google Phantom Update?