Wilfred Hirst

Notice anything different with your search ranking and visibility data in the past few weeks? If your website’s traffic has seen drastic increases or drops, it may be because of the latest updates to Google’s comprehensive guideline, the new Phantom Update III. With this update, Google is punishing low quality, irrelevant or spammy content, while enhancing the ranking of high-quality pages.

What is the Phantom Update III, and what does it mean for SEO rankings?

When Phantom II rolled out in Spring 2015, it significantly affected how-to sites, name-brand sites and pages with self-starting videos and pop-up ads. The Phantom III update further seeks to improve the quality guidelines by focusing on user search intent. The better a page’s content is able to satisfy a user’s intent, the better its visibility on result pages. In Brafton Marketing Director Katherine Griwert’s recap of SEJ Atlanta (two days before the update went live), she noted Search Metrics Chief Evangelist Jordan Koene’s speech, which emphasized understanding user intent before building content.

Here are three things to know about the update:

1. It makes allowances for useful duplicate content

The Phantom update also serves to help pages that were erroneously punished by previous updates affecting duplicate text and content. Certain types of websites like online dictionaries, or pages with song lyrics are now exempt from the penalty.

Merriam-Webster’s SEO visibility through Phantom II and Phantom III (searchmetrics.com)

2. It enhances brand search presence & penalizes affiliate pages that use brand keywords

Web pages that feature branded keywords for other brands are reeling from this update. This is because Google assumes that a user searching for a brand intends to go to that brand’s site, not an alternate site with similar keywords.

3. The update favors pages that provide quality content fast & efficiently

Below are two web pages, both featuring recipes for homemade cheesecake. Google’s new Phantom update aims to reward content that can quickly and fully satisfy a search.

This page requires too much reading or scrolling before getting to the actual recipe and instructions.

While this recipe page looks modern and professional with high-quality photos and original text content, it dropped in ranking because the intro text was too general and did not relate directly, or soon enough, to the recipe. It also has an autoplaying video at the bottom, and a popup ad further reducing its viability under the new Phantom update.

This page increased in ranking because it got straight to the point. Even though its design might not seem as contemporary or flashy, Google recognizes that it is more likely to satisfy what a cheesecake-recipe-searcher is looking for: a cheesecake recipe, as easily accessible as possible.The photo, ingredients and instructions are visible on one screen, without scrolling, and it gets right to the important content.  

This page is rewarded by Phantom III as it clearly, effectively provides the information that searchers are most likely to look for.

While content is still crucial for marketing and SEO, having content that matches the users’ intent, rather than content for the sake of filler and keywords and, is paramount to ensuring healthy SEO.

How to avoid having your SEO hurt by this update

Here’s Wilfred Hirst, Brafton’s Client Strategy Director’s advice for staying in compliance with this update, and keeping your website visible with healthy content:

  • Make sure the first paragraph of text directly relates to the title of the article
  • Longer content ≠ quality content. Focus on creating useful and informative material rather than just more.
  • Update copy on existing blog posts: get rid of the fluff and make sure you’re providing useful and actionable information to your users.
  • If the information you’re providing is out of date, make a new post and link the old post to the new one. If the information is current, but you think it could be better, just add to the post!