Quality Time with the “Phantom Update”: Content Strategy Implications for Google’s Latest Organic Algo Change

Post by Cameron Moore, Copywriter, and Nonie Carson, Marketing Specialist

Google just confirmed a core algorithm update that changes how it determines quality content, and it’s already impacting organic rankings on the search engine results page (SERP). This update, deemed the “Phantom Update,” came right when Google’s “Mobilegeddon” was the focal point for everyone tied to search. According to Performics’ data, “Mobilegeddon” has yet to impact brands that were prepared.

Yet, webmasters began to notice significant SERP changes due to something else. Google, initially coy in response to inquiries about another algorithm update, finally confirmed with Search Engine Land that “there were changes to its core ranking algorithm in terms of how [Google] processes quality signals.”


Brands are now reporting Google organic traffic variances across their entire sites. While some are seeing increases in search traffic, others are startled to see negative implications from Phantom (e.g. HubPages, which recorded a 22% loss in traffic across its site).

While Google confirmed that the core algorithm update is to better determine quality websites, no specifics have been spelled out. Initial data from Stickyeyes suggests that Google may be rewarding sites with:

  1. Stronger social signals
  2. Higher time-on-site
  3. Lower bounce rates

However, industry players are waiting on the edges of their seats for larger and more conclusive sets of performance data to analyze.


True to each algorithm update from Google, brands should align their content strategies to protect and rectify areas on their websites prone to organic search traffic volatility. As Google continues to strengthen its rigidity against serving poor and “spammy” content, brands must shift attention to producing quality content across their entire sites to ensure no loss in visibility. Once again, quality content wins—on Google and with your customers.

  • Perform a site-wide audit: Sources claim that Phantom is affecting traffic across entire websites, not just individual pages. Brands need to work with their SEO teams to ensure that content being produced across the site is from quality sources and is hyper-relevant to search interest. This means deleting duplicate, dense, irrelevant content that was created only to attract high traffic.
  • Focus on content that is easily shareable: To achieve optimal visibility, it’s necessary—now more than ever—to have a strategic platform in place that enables quality content to be easily distributed through social channels. This is especially important in light of Google’s recent introduction of tweets to its SERP, and Facebook increasing the ease with which mobile users can link to noteworthy content. To maximize visibility, there’s a burgeoning impetus for brands to create content that is easily shareable across the Web.
  • Follow quality content best practices: Create a content strategy around all types of content pages on your site. While the amount of social shares that your content receives is a good tell on understanding if your content is resonating with your audience, quality content is not just about shareability. Content should be created with the user in mind. Drive up your time-on-site and social shares with content that is clean, easily digestible and directly addresses searchers’ needs. Capture attention and engage your audience with content that has unique utility to real people, not content created merely for search engines.


This Phantom Update is by no means a reformation of epic proportions. However, it should serve as wake-up call to brand managers and content creators alike who have been lulled into crafting mediocre content en masse, choosing to match competitors in quantity instead of quality. As search engines—through which people find their ways to our content—improve, so too must the underlying content.

To learn more about creating exceptional content that finds its way onto searchers’ screens, please contact your performance account team today.

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