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Google Phantom 4 Update

Quality Offensiv: more focus on the users’ intention
reading time: 4 minutes

The Phantom 4 update probably happened in late June/beginning of July 2016. As always the search engine concern kept silent about it. It is undeniable, though, that Google danced tango in the SERPs with a new update at this point of time. Firstly in the USA and later also in Europe, SEOs and measuring tools reported severe fluctuations
in the rankings.

As always Google didn’t announce whether changes in the algorithm were actually causing this. By now it seems obvious, though, that it was an update. Again, Google brings the quality of content into focus and factors in more the intention of the searching person once again.

The most recent update hence is no turning point but confirms and accelerates Google’s proclaimed aim to be a semantic-holistic search engine understanding better and better what searching people intend with and want from their search request.

Phantom 4 Update – Google sharpens its Quality Offensive

Already in the last two Phantom-Updates (May and December 2015) sites were amongst the losers whose contents were of too little quality. Sites with too scarce contents also lost visibility again as a result of the Phantom 4 update.

Sites, for instance, were affected with significantly more advertisements than content. Further FAQ sites and forums lost out that had not enough depth. Questions were only answered inadequately or with a lack of trustworthiness. Forums and comment functions should therefore only be indexed in exceptional cases in future. Namely only then if a post gives a good result for a possible search response. Nobody looks up nonsense answers and much-known blah-blah. Google rewards site owners on the other hand that accomplish to position their users’ competence advantageously for others.

Glen Gabe uses in his analysis Phantom 4 update an online shop as example that benefited from the update through the targeted implementation of rel next/prev markups and dem rel=”canonical” link respectively. With the help of these routing elements the webmaster can give Google cues that certain pages have to be treated in a logical sequence. As product sites often work with page numbers valuable user comments of an entire product group or category can be of benefit via these routing elements.

The update penalises sites not meeting the search intention

The Phantom 4 update happened around the same time when Google announced that RankBrain is involved in every search query and consequently ever SERP by then. RankBrain is a self-learning, artificial intelligence that for example makes assumptions on a search request’s intention. In the beginning, one of the main tasks of RankBrain was to deliver reasonable results for search queries made for the first time, which it achieved in 85% of cases straight away.

For that RankBrain doesn’t only analyse the search queries, but also the content of websites as well as the behaviour of users that are being lead to these sites.
RankBrain captures the value of sites for users that way basically multi-dimensionally and in much more depth than Google could before. Back then Google depended on recommendations trough backlinks primarily, now a semantic understanding of web offerings is added. This new understanding of web offers finds its further development within the Phantom 4 update.

While portals with various mixed offers (e.g. the comparison site idealo) were lost, sites gained visibility on which users could immediately find what they were looking for. So once again Google tends to prefer product and special sites and are honoured with top rankings. Google stays true to itself leading users to sites on which they don’t have to click any further to find the information or transaction they are after.

Phantom 4 Update penalises bad user experience

Also affected by the Phantom 4 update are sites whose user experience is rather negative than positive. You might find the experiences with RankBrain again here. For Google obviously not only analyses users’ experience in relation to user signals like bounce-rate or visiting duration, but also includes the content offerings.

Searchmetrics uses the example of recipe sites that have lost visibility, because they don’t deal with a topic in depth as much as the competitors do. While competition, for instance, also gave photos of preparing the recipes and even wine recommendations, such contents were missing on the less ranked sites. In a nutshell: Google looks for relevant sites answering each search request as comprehensive as possible.

Phantom 4 Update penalises domains with too many 404 errors

404 errors. Therefore it’s worth it to regularly check this in the search console. Make sure that the correct 404 status is given back by the server. This way Google bots recognise fast and distinctly that an URL is not available anymore.

What to do after the Phantom 4 Update

If a lot of 404 errors or too much advertisement is on your site you don’t have to ponder too long. The errors should be got rid of and the number of ads should be reduced. For all others it is advised to look closely at the sites that have a high bounce-rate. These probably will be sites that serve the keywords, but in a way that doesn’t meet the users’ expectations. Once more the conclusion of the latest Google update is that one has to more focus on the users’ intention.

For sites to be on fire with Google in the long run, you need content covering the searching intention. The content marketing therefore can’t be limited to only offer long texts with an optimal keyword density anymore. Also shorter texts can work if they are cleverly framed with pictures or videos from which users can draw information from they are searching. For SEOs and website owners this has the disadvantage that the simple recipes that were good enough as ranking booster in the past don’t read to success with the same reliability anymore. Individual strategies and concepts, in contrast, are demanded through which websites stand out from the competition.