Has Google released another ‘Phantom’ Algorithm update?

When Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm rolled out on April 21st there was a collective “is that it?” from marketers and business owners around the world. After all the hype we were left staring blankly at mobile SERPs in what is probably the biggest anti-climax in Google algorithm update history.
However, it didn’t take long to see fluctuations in search rankings – some serious fluctuations at that – but not the kind we expected. And now all signs point towards a second algorithm update, released on April 29, that’s shaping up to be a big one.

So What’s Going On?

First of all we should make it clear that this has nothing to do with the mobile-friendly update that rolled out on April 21st. Many of the sites affected by this second algorithm are optimised for mobile and the impact is consistent for both desktop and mobile searches.
Many sites are reporting between 10-22% drops in traffic, while others are seeing a sharp rise, after fluctuations on the SERPs started over the final days of April. There were a few cries of Panda circulating on Twitter but Google was quick to deny this , saying there was no rollout whatsoever during the first weekend of May.

Looks Like Another ‘Phantom’ Update

This wouldn’t be the first time Google has snuck out a mysterious algorithm update. In fact, it did the precisely the same thing two years ago, almost to the day. This release became known as a phantom update and it looks likely we’re experiencing the sequel now – despite Google’s denial.
Big sites like Hubpages, eHow, WikiHow and Answers.com have suffered major drops over the past couple of weeks and this doesn’t happen for no reason. So what are Phantom victims being penalised for?

Content The Likely Cause

Looking at the sites that have been hit, as well as the webmasters who have contact ourselves and the data we have available, it seems Phantom 2 is targeting low quality content. This makes sense, because many of us mistook it for Panda and all the sites we are aware of being hit are either reliant on producing content (like HubPages) or have weaknesses in their content strategy.
Actually, Search Engine Journal has just come out and pinpointed ‘How-To’ articles as one particular culprit. And, while it’s too early to know for sure, this would explain a lot when the likes of eHow and WikiHow are among the biggest victims.

So What Do We Do Now?

If you’ve seen a significant drop in traffic over the last couple of weeks then it’s a good idea to crawl through your website with a keen eye for duplicate, similar or thin content and “How-To” articles on your blog page. It’s too early to confirm the cause of these drops, but all signs suggest Google has just made the rules on quality content more strict than ever.