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What you need to know about the Google Phantom update

June 2, 2015 - 2  min reading time - by Emma Labrador
Home > SEO Thoughts > Google Phantom update: all you need to know

A Google “phantom” algorithm is rolling out since the May 8th and seems to have impacted many websites and especially websites sharing “how-to” content. Sites like HubPages, eHow, WikiHow and have seen their ranking drop drastically.

Glenn Gabe, from G-Squared Interactive, is the one who called this update “Phantom” since it comes by surprise and because Google did not confirm first its existence.

Phantom shares some common points with Panda as it is content-focused. On May the 20th, Google finally admitted that its algorithm had been updated and especially the way content quality was evaluated.

Who is concerned by the Phantom update?

As this update shares common ranking factors with Panda it seems to penalize sites with:

  • low quality content
  • thin content
  • affiliate content
  • clickbait article
  • too many ads
  • pop-ups
  • stacked videos
  • pages difficult to navigate

This update seems to penalize more than ever websites with poor quality content by punishing entire domains just for a few part of thin content.

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Paris Match has faced a clear problematic: deeply auditing its site, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, determining its priorities and fixing the blocking factors for Google’s crawl. The SEO issues of Paris Match’s website are the commons ones of news sites.

Phantom: 5 points to pay attention to

Glenn Gabe has been analyzing websites hit by Google’s Phantom update and sorted out 5 points to look after:

Link Source vs. Destination

Websites with unnatural links are hit strongly. But these were not spammy websites with fake links, but websites linking to many others using followed links instead of nofollow. Moreover, in many cases, those sites were regarded as authority ones but did not respect Google guidelines with regard to external linking. This rank drop shows that even authority websites are not spared.


Websites cross-linking to each other using exact anchor text links have been penalized.

It occurs with sisters websites for example or when you own a high amount of domains and that you are cross linking between them using the same anchor text on links. If you are in this situation, you should definitely review your strategy.

Risky Link Profiles

Sites with spammy directories, comment spams and low quality articles are driving many unnatural links. But again, these sites were authority ones, with a strong link profile.

Spammy directories linking to a website with exact match anchor text are the biggest problem. And it also concerns historic link profiles which were already deleted.

Link issues seem to be a main ranking factor for that Phantom update.

Scraping Content

Scraping content in order to make your website look like more furnished is penalized. It can be scraping by providing excerpts of content by linking to it or by including larger parts of text from destination page without linking to it.

Already Hit by Panda

The sites analyzed were previously hit by the Panda update. This statement is not sure, but it is interesting to see that there might be a correlation between Panda and Phantom.

To sum up, the Phantom update has not finished creating extensive press coverage and it would be good to receive some clarification from Google itself.

Emma Labrador See all their articles
Emma was the Head of Communication & Marketing at Oncrawl for over seven years. She contributed articles about SEO and search engine updates.
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