The Content Imperative
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Tara West
Media Manager

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Image source: Kārlis Dambrāns

Creating valuable content for Google's Phantom 2 update

| 26 August 2015

Back in May 2015, the internet experienced a big change, with some sites losing over 50% of their traffic. What was this big change? It was Google’s Phantom 2.

What is Phantom 2?

Phantom 2 is a quality filter that has been added into Google’s core ranking algorithm, changing how it processes quality signals. It’s not an update that is refreshed manually by Google, you could experience Phantom 2 changes at any time.

What will get you in trouble with Phantom 2?

Too many ads above-the-fold

If your site has lots of ads above the fold of the page, particularly pop-ups and banners, you could find yourself affected by Phantom 2. This is because if a user clicks a search result and lands on a page which has no valuable content on the first half of the page and lots of ads, Google assume this as a signal of a poor user experience.

Click-bait articles

Click-bait articles reel users in with sensationalist style titles, only to land them on somewhat less sensational content, causing the user to leave the site swiftly. This swift exit contributes to a low average session duration (how long the user spends on a site), which is one of the signals Google are thought to be using to indicate poor quality content.  

Duplicate content

The fact that Google are penalising sites with duplicate content is nothing new, but Phantom 2 seems to have taken this a step further. This is particularly true in the case of ‘How to’ websites which are full of user generated content that is often duplicated and pasted on multiple websites.

When it comes to Phantom 2, duplicate content doesn’t just mean exact duplicates, but even instances where very similar content appears multiple times on the same website. For example some sites use the same content and spin it on multiple pages of their website to allow them to rank for several keyword variations. This tactic is a no-no if you want to keep in Google’s good books.

Fine content

Thin or fine content is also a problem for Phantom 2, so even if your content is unique, you need to make sure it’s of good quality. One identification factor of thin content is a low word count. If your content is supposed to be a reliable information source on a topic and doesn’t include some of the obvious related words for that topic, it also indicates that the content is of low quality. For example if you have created a blog post about tyres, but didn’t mention words such as wheels or car, it might indicate that your content isn’t very thorough.

Too much user generated content

User generated content is hard for brands to audit, which means it is often of poor quality. This update suggests that Google are reducing or removing the rankings of pages which contain a lot of low quality user generated content, such as pages and pages of old comments.

Poor navigation

Hard-to-use navigation puts users off of exploring your website, and so they might leave promptly before looking at multiple pages. This will increase your bounce rate, which is a red flag for Google, especially if combined with a low average session duration.

Related article recommendations

If your site has more of the page taken up with related article recommendations, than the actual article takes up on the page, then you could find yourself a victim of Phantom 2. This is for the same reason as sites with lots of ads on the page are being penalised.

Self-starting videos

Picture the scene:  You’re hunting for some information online. You’ve got loads of tabs open because you haven’t quite found what you’re looking for yet. You open yet another tab from Google’s search results, and then suddenly video audio starts blearing out your laptop, tablet, or phone. After some fumbling between tabs you manage to find the culprit and close it quickly. This experience is very annoying, and possibly a bit embarrassing if you’re on the ‘Quiet Section’ of the train, or in a quiet office!

Self-starting videos are another example of a frustrating and poor user experience, and Google are now reducing or removing the rankings of web pages with self-starting videos to avoid sending their users onto sites with a poor user experience.

What does Phantom 2 mean for brands?

Most importantly it means you need to create content that provides value; answers a question, or fulfils a need. Gone are the days of content for the sake of content. You now need to research and understand your audience, and create content that they will truly find valuable.

If you want to take advantage of this algorithm change you should create content that is completely new and innovative. A great example of this is publishing research you have conducted. This helps to show your brand as an authority in the field, which is something Google want to see in their top ranking search results.

You should look to work with a content marketing agency to create relevant and valuable content. This is true even on ecommerce site product pages. If you want your product pages to rank well, you need to move beyond the factory description and write something unique and of a relatively good length.

There’s no magic number on how long a piece of content should be, but you should try to write as much as is needed to cover the subject in depth and detail. Having said this, don’t ramble on, as long irrelevant content is worse than shorter concise content that covers the subject in detail but succinctly.

We’d all like to think this is obvious, but avoid spelling or grammatical errors in your content, as Google see these as signals of low quality.

Some pages naturally have thin content because they are there to serve a simple purpose, such as login pages. You should use a no-index tag on these pages, so Google understand that your site doesn’t have low quality content that you expect to index.

Avoid excessive 404 errors, as this can make your site appear to offer a poor user experience with lots of broken links.

If your blog posts gain lots of comments, consider closing comments after they become 50% bigger than the post itself. Alternatively you could have a separate URL for comments and place a no index tag on it if the comments become excessively long.

User experience is key to fairing well after Phantom 2, so review any potential issues on your website like poor navigation which could be negatively affecting the user journey. You could even hire a user experience professional to help you improve the UX of your site, which will not only help with rankings but conversion rates too.

Overall, brands need to focus on fulfilling consumer needs with their content. This means understanding their audience, and planning and producing highly relevant and unique content, which is of high quality and covers a subject in-depth.