Does Google's Phantom terrify your site's rankings?


Google tends to announce significant algorithmic updates. Take for example the Mobile Friendly Update which aims to boost finding more mobile-friendly sites on search results.

On 9th of May 2013, many webmasters at WebmasterWorld reported changes in their organic rankings and traffic which were not the result of a known update such as Panda or Penguin. Google didn’t acknowledge the update, instead made the following comment:

We have nothing to announce at this time. We make over 500 changes to our algorithms a year, so there will always be fluctuations in our rankings in addition to normal crawling and indexing.

— Mentioned in SeroundTable

A day later, the former head of the webspam team at Google Matt Cutts said that this wasn’t a Penguin update.

On 3rd of May 2015, there was another similar update. Many webamsters and SEOs noticed significant changes in their organic rankings but Google said on record that there was no update over the weekend.

CNBC reported that the Phantom update was impacting publishers of “how-to” type of content.

HubPages said they lost 22% of Google organic search traffic because of that update!

After persistent follow-ups and case studies, Google admitted the update. The update was part of changes that Google did to their core search ranking algorithm in terms of how they process quality signals.  Since then Phantom was dubbed as the Quality Update or the Quality Algo.


Phantom is quality related algorithm focusing on user intention / signals and it’s acting on page level. If your site is affected by it, you will see low quality pages having lower rankings and getting less organic traffic from Google than before. It’s important to know that if you have a large amount of under performing pages on your site, it will eventually and indirectly affect the entire domain.

Google Phantom – Quality SEO Common Cases

Since 2013 Phantom has been updated 4 times and new “quality” signals have been added to the core ranking algorithm.

Ads & Popups

Exessive amount of above the folder ads and / or annoying popups can disturb the user experience and send the wrong user signals to Google for your site.

Duplicate content

Duplicate content is very important quality indicator for Phantom and Panda. User Generated Content (UGC) which is found on “How To” type of sites is very often duplicate as it’s copied from other sites.

Branded Keywords & Affiliates

If a user is searching for a particular brand then its indention is very clear. If that user via his search lands on an affiliate page where that brand keyword is mentioned, that could mean that his expectation is not fully met.

Auto-playing videos

Auto-playing / self-started videos can be  as annoying as popups and have a negative impact on user experience and on your site’s organic performance.


Clickbait Thin content

Having thin content articles or pages on your site that act as Clickbait without providing much or any value to Google’s users filled up with ads or other supplementary content will trigger Phantom.


404 & Soft 404 Status Codes

404 and soft 404 is another issue that can have a negative impact on user experience. Having an excessive amount of 404s indicates a poorly maintained and probably outdated website.

Design & UX

Design has a big impact on user experience and signals. If your site looks spammy and users find it difficult to navigate, you can expect Phantom.


Poor content

Except from duplicate and thin content, having poor content can also be a bad thing for your site. Poor content is a copy that’s extremely difficult to read or doesn’t actually explain the topic failing to match the user’s query.

Our Approach to Phantom Recovery


Assess The User Signals

We identify the areas on your site that have send the wrong user signals by looking at he time on site, bounce rate, page views per visit, exit pages and user intent.


Technical & Onsite SEO Audit

We perform an in depth technical and onsite SEO audit in order to see what issues is Google seeing on your site in terms of crawling, server errors, content & outbound links.


Create a Phantom Recovery Plan

We arrange a meeting during which we present the findings from our audits and discuss the priorities and action points that will take to recover your site.


Execute the Recovery Plan

We put the plan in action and at the same time we make sure that all adjustments comply with the webmaster guidelines and your site sends the correct user signals.


Unlike with Penguin, Phantom A.K.A Quality Update is a change to Google’s core ranking algorithm and it continiously adapts how it process quality signals.

It also doesn’t have to be updated manually, instead it will be updated in real time. You will be able to see results as soon as you start implementing the recovery strategy and tackle the quality issues on your site.

Ready to Recover from Phantom?

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