Google’s Phantom Update Revealed

While most of the world was trying to avoid the “mobilegeddon” apocalypse, Google secretly rolled out a ‘phantom’ algorithm change that hit popular informational sites such as Hubpages,, Wikihow, eHow and

Paul Edmondson, CEO of Hubpages, released a blog post on May 11 explaining the platform’s current status. Hubpages is a collection of approximately 870,000 miniblogs primarily focused in publishing informational content. Findings show that the site experienced a drastic 22% drop in Google search traffic.

Similar sites offering ‘how-to’ content have also complained about several traffic drops leading industry experts to dig deeper into the issue. Read on to find out what we discovered about the undisclosed update.

What Update?

The nickname “phantom” was derived from the fact that the algorithm is yet to be officially confirmed by Google. The popular search engine company declined to comment on speculations, but has been giving hints that changes were made. Edmondson decided to call it “the update that didn’t take place”.

The Target

What we once knew as evergreen content may never be the same again. Glenn Gabe, of G-squared Interactive, released a detailed algorithm report after receiving dozens of emails from clients complaining about significant drops in Google’s organic search results. According to Gabe, most of the websites were mobile-friendly so it couldn’t be because of the highly-publicised mobile algorithm adjustments. That was when he figured out that another update was implemented preying on “low quality” how-to style content.

Most pages that were penalised contained:

  • Clickbait articles
  • Large portions of supplementary information
  • Stacked videos
  • Hard-to-navigate pages

However, it wasn’t as simple as that. Both Edmondson and Gabe revealed that the algorithm wasn’t just preying on individual page content. Entire websites started being pushed down the results pages despite containing relatively little content that matched Google’s ‘low quality’ criteria.

The Future of Search

Google is always a company that is known for looking forward. Consider them a book that has unexpected twists and sequences, often revealing that seemingly mysterious events were planned all along with an end goal in mind. Phantom was simply a sequel to the Google Knowledge Graph, a project officially introduced in 2012. This makes the jobs of content publishers more essential than ever.

While industry professionals do not know where this may lead their businesses, at 123Ranking we always encourage UK business owners to update their SEO strategies to stay on top of these regular shifts. Any plans should always focus on delivering unique, high quality content, as this is one element of SEO that we can safely say will never fall out of favour with search engines or users.

Avoiding Algorithm Penalties

We may not know exactly what online searches will be like in 10 or 20 years, but our team is sure of one thing – excellent content. Sticking to the fundamentals is always the best starting point, and continuously providing updated content will help ensure your business’ future, making it as update-proof as you can be.

If this is all new ground for you, you can set up a blog through your own domain to get your content up to scratch. If you haven’t started your website yet, there are a lot of very affordable hosting options that will suit your budget restrictions. You already know one of the golden rules of SEO just from reading this article, so you’re off to a great start.

If you’re already further down the line, did you notice major changes in your traffic this May? You might be affected by Phantom, so check what type of content your site is delivering against the criteria we mentioned earlier. Just call us for free on 0333 320 8099 if you require any help assessing your website’s current position.