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Google ‘Phantom’: Has it Reached You Yet?

Googlers are at it, again, and their actions have already started creating waves. Unlike Penguin and Panda updates, however, when the company was fairly vocal about the rollouts, this time, the global search major has been silent about the ongoing changes in its search algorithm. The to-be-confirmed ‘domain-level update’ is creating a fair amount of buzz in the digital marketing circles, colloquially called ‘Phantom’ – reasonably coined by Glenn Gabe, a New Jersey-based thought leader.

What We Know About the Update, So Far?

Online sources affirm that Phantom’s roll-out started as early as April 29, but it wasn’t until the first week of May when webmasters started reporting radical declines in the organic traffic received by their website, with claims of up to 60+ percent decline in Google organic traffic, overnight. Even established websites such as HubPages.com – a rapidly expanding pool of 870,000+ mini-blogs – hasn’t been able to escape the fury, reporting a 22 percent decline in traffic on May 3.

Besides the fact that, this time, Google has expressed its despise for ‘how-to’ style content, the search major also seems to have tightened the leash on webpages carrying thin content and click-bait articles, which should send an alert to the webmasters who have managed to survive the Panda 4.1 update – rolled out on September 21, 2014 – despite sharing low-quality content or click-bait articles.

Should You Be Worried?

Depends. If you have had your act clean with all your digital marketing initiatives, as always, there is not much to worry about. If, however, your content distribution and amplification strategies have an arbitrary inclination towards ‘How-To’ style content, you may want to screen your website’s backlink profile. The update already caused some radical changes in the rankings of sites publishing ‘how-to’ articles, with the list including reputable entities such as WikiHow and eHow.

So, about the question whether or not you need to worry; the answer largely depends on two factors:

Phantom

Caught on the Wrong Foot?

To be or not to be – that is NOT the question; the question is: where to BEGIN?

For starters, you can use Google Webmaster Tools to compile a comprehensive database of all backlinks pointing to your website and then appoint a screening team to check the content on all links. As this would call for substantial man-hours, it is advisable to hire a digital agency to execute the task for you, unless you already have an in-house digital marketing team with enough bandwidth for the task.

Once you have the details of all the links you need to remove, you can start contacting the webmasters to request link removal. In cases you do not receive any response even after repeated attempts, use Google Disavow Tool for link removal.

In all cases, keep a detailed account of all communications you have or attempt with webmasters. This information can prove to be particularly useful if your website is or gets penalized. Google requires proofs of link-removal communications with webmasters in order to qualify your website reconsideration request, and may not even screen your application without the details.

Surviving the Tide

Though Google seldom gives too much time for webmasters to respond to its updates, if among the lucky few to have survived the tide, immediately clean up your website’s backlink profile, removing all links to ‘how-to’ style content. In addition, if Panda updates have taught us anything, it is imperative to uphold almost-unreasonably-high standards of quality when it comes to content, be it text or rich.

Although Google Webmaster Guidelines leave no room for guesswork, more than a few marketers fail to read between the finer lines or adhere to them. Though it’s absolutely fine to establish credibility and brand value through persuasive conversations, marketer must know where to draw the line in order to ensure they don’t end up sounding like a rather annoying and pushy sales agent.

All in all, make sure the content present on your website, as well as that present on the backlink pages, not only helps accomplish your business goals, but is also aligned with the best interests of your target audience. Immediately take down all backlinks that associate your digital presence with any and all sub-standard avenues and focus on ethical link building practices, with the end goal of improving the web.

Conclusion

Though Google is yet to confirm it has once again incorporated some substantial tweaks in its search algorithm, we have enough data and verdicts to confirm Mobilegeddon is indeed not the last attempt by the Googlers to improve the quality of search results. Ongoing changes in site performances makes it evident that the global search major has recently put its foot down on ‘how-to style’ content, along with increasing the level of scrutiny for click-bait articles and thin content.

If you too have experienced a sudden decline in website traffic or sales during the last couple of weeks, there is a fair possibility your website is either hit by Google’s last official update – Mobilegeddon – released on April 21, or ‘Phantom’ might have crawled under the sheets! Feel free to speak with one of our search engine experts to find out the answer.