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Phantom II: more changes to Google's algorithms

cartoon ghost Phantom2 webAt the beginning of May 2015, Google instigated another of their core ranking algorithms updates which changed how Google processes quality signals.

What did you just say?

The algorithm is the secret formula Google uses to work out just how good a website really is. It's a sort of check list of things Google likes to see on a website - and what it doesn't like to see. A quality signal is a feature of your website that Google looks out for.

Why is this important?

Changes to this algorithm affects how Google ranks your website and whether it appears above or below your competition in the search result.

  • If your website doesn't tick enough boxes, it falls down the rankings.
  • If your website earns more ticks than your competitor, it rises up the rankings.

Phantom II might have ticked more boxes, but chances are, it's actually unticked many more, which could be bad news for your website. Read on how to discover how you can 'ghostbust' Phantom II.

Is this something new Google is doing?

Not really. Google makes dozens of tweaks to their algorithms every year. They usually announce any mega changes in advance and give them a cuddly name, such as Panda or Penquin.

However, unlike previous updates, Google didn't actually acknowledge anything had been changed until the middle of May 2015, despite starting the rollout of Phantom II at the start of the month. Only when SEO gurus started to notice the impact on their rankings did Google put their hands up to it. Hence the name, Phantom and the sequel number II, as something very similar happened in May 2013.

What is Phantom II?

Phantom II is a Page Level Quality Filter that gives Google a better indication of the quality of your website in terms of content. Unlike other updates such as Panda, it works at a page level, not a domain level. So, if you website has one or two poor quality pages on it with very little content, only the ranking for those pages will be affected, not the whole site.

What does Phantom II like?

This update seems to have boosted the ranking of sites with good quality, unique, authoritative content. Note the word 'unique'; same site duplicate content is even more of a no-no than before.

What does Phantom II hate?

It appears the update is not keen on anything that disturbs the user's experience of the core content, including:

Duplicate content. This is nothing new; previous updates like Panda hit sites with duplicate content too. That's duplicate text on the same site, by the way, so make sure all your Product descriptions are unique. 

Poor quality content or very little content. Poor quality content is text that doesn't inform or have contextual phrases. So, if your article was about home cleaning services and didn't mention bathroom, kitchen, floor, window or carpets, Google might get suspicious of your text quality. (That's why another nickname for Phantom II is "The Quality Update".)

Self-running videos, especially advertising videos, that run when you open the page.

Too many ads above the fold of a website page, particularly pop-up ads. As Searchmetrics say in their blog * "There is a hierarchy of annoyance in terms of ads. At the top are popups, and then all other ads, including banners, fall below that."

Visual website design. This is something new, since it goes beyond the technical design of a website, which has been rated before. Here, the emphasis is on attractive design, but the suspicion is that this is measured via user experience indicators such as bounce rate, etc. After all, a software robot cannot look at any website and say "Oooh, that looks lovely in pink!" (Well, not yet anyway!)

404 errors. These appear when a page is missing or the page content has drastically changed. Google takes a large number of 404s as the sign of a badly maintained website.

Excessive comments. This is more to do with forums, but could affect your website if you allow comments on your blog. However, the indications are that if more than 60% of the text on a page are comments, it could get penalised.

How you can protect against the Phantom menace

Pop away the light sabres for now: newer websites built by Akira and with plenty of copy written by yourselves or Kirsty will be fine. If your website has been around a while without changes, or doesn't have much text on it, here's a few steps to take.

1. Limit comments on your blog.
Unless responding to blog comments is a key part of your customer engagement strategy, turn comments off, or carefully moderate so not too many make the grade.

2. Check the content on 'short' pages
Ideally, you should have over 150 words on every page, and preferably more. You've probably added more services and features since your website was written, so add details in. Fill out short product descriptions with extra information or customer reviews. If pages are really short, like three sentences, consider amalgamating two or three to give one good quality page that ranks well rather than three poor quality ones that don't.

3. Flesh out generic content
Even if there are enough words per page, content can still appear poor quality to Google if it is too generic.
"We offer the best service in the area and our customers say we're great".
Beef up this kind of content with a few well-chosen keywords: 
"We offer the best car washing service in the Woodstock area, and most customers rate our car detailing at 5/5 every visit."
It's also more interesting for real people to read!

4. Ditch the ads
Let's make it clear, these are external ads, not graphics that advertise your own goods and services. (Google just sees these as internal links.) Most businesses won't have external ads on their pages anyway, but if you've an information site and have been selling advertising banners, for example, consider cutting the number of ads down.

5. Beat the Bounce
The bounce rate is the number of visitors who come to a particular page and don't click through to another page (in other words, leave your website). If you have a high bounce rate AND a low reading time for these pages (i.e. a few seconds), chances are your customers are not finding what they need on that page. So give them more to read and enjoy; maybe add a video (not self-running!), a sound file, something to savour and enjoy.

If you require any help with any of the above 'ghostbusting' remedies for Phanton II, who ya gonna call? Akira!


* http://blog.searchmetrics.com/us/2015/06/10/return-of-the-phantom/

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