Google really wants you to mind your P’s (though I guess they care nothing about your Q’s.) First there was Panda and Penguin, and now there is the Phantom.
The Ms. Manners of web traffic has secretly updated its algorithm (again) and made havoc for many content creators out there. Let’s take a look.

What is Google’s Phantom All About?

Earlier this month, HubPages, which as its name suggests is a huge hub of pages on informational content of all sorts, saw its traffic drop by 22 percent seemingly overnight. Other sites, such as WikiHow and eHow saw drops as well, though not as significant.
What had happened? No one was sure because Google is keeping tight lipped, but we do know it has something to do with what Glenn Gabe, a search engine expert, coined “the phantom” or, since this is not the first time Google has so covertly turned Internet searches on its head, “phantom 2.”
Basically, as far as the experts can tell, Google made a change to its algorithm that has the potential to hurt many websites who rely on Google to get traffic.
But what does this mean for you and your website as you try to create a Google-friendly body of content?

What All the Google Updates Have In Common With the New Phantom

I have talked about this before: you have to write good content. Forget for a second the fact that readers want good content and if you do not give it to them, they are not going to read what you have to say. So who cares if you pop up on Google or not? Let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s focus on Google.
What do Panda, Penguin, and Phantom have in common other than they all start with P and they were all Google updates (and they are all nouns)?  They were all created, at least allegedly, to weed out weak content.

  • Panda. This update was created in order to make low-quality sites or weaker content rank lower on the Google totem pole. What this meant was that higher-quality sites with strong content got bumped up in the rankings and made it to the top of Google searches. And let’s face it, who is going to page 10? The higher you are, the better your chances of someone clicking on you.
  • Penguin. This update was created in order to punish “link baiters.” Link baiters are the websites that post links back to themselves all over the Internet in order to appear like a quality site. (If you have ever wondered why someone would take the time to leave a comment on a post about, well, pretty much any topic, in order to mention their completely unrelated and often gibberish sales pitch with a link back to their site, now you know the reason.) Google was not fooled by this scheme and fixed their algorithm to reduce the success of these link impersonators.
  • Phantom. Now, there is the phantom. At first, Google was not commenting on the update, and so we were all left to speculate. What was pretty popularly decided was that Google was targeting informational sites and How to sites that had lower level quality content. However, we have since found out that this was a little misleading. According to a press release by ASEOhosting, Google is not targeting informational and How to sites. Instead, they are simply targeting sites with poorer quality content, which happens to include some informational and How to sites.

What this tells you is that the content game is survival of the fittest. If you create strong content, you are going to beat out weaker content. And the stronger your content is, the less you have to worry about Google. If everything they do is done in order to make life easier for quality content, you know that you are going to remain on top as long as you keep creating the best content.

Lesson: Do Not Write Bad Content

I am not repeating myself here. Write good content and do not write bad content are not synonyms. You could write good content and bad content if you wanted to. I would advise you not to, though. Google does not reward good content, it simply punishes bad content.
Ari Levi discusses Gabe’s, the search engine expert’s, assessment of the phantom in a CNBC article. What Gabe found was that even informative, well written pages were being ranked lower. In other words, an entire domain was being hurt because of its bad content even if it also created good content.
Basically what this means for you is that it does not matter how good some of your content is if the rest is awful. It is not enough to start writing good content, you have to stop writing bad content.

How Do You Write Good Content and Avoid Bad Content?

It is easy to say that you will get rid of your weaker content and start churning out good content. It is a lot harder to actually do it. With everything else you have going on in your career and business, how are you supposed to start over from scratch if you have not already been creating strong articles?
As difficult as it may seem, there are some foundational easy ways that you can do this.

  1. The first, and perhaps easiest, is to outsource. Hire someone else to write your content for you. Professional writers know what they are doing not only because they are good writers with a passion for words, but because they have to stay on top of things. Their job is to research what makes good content, how to properly use SEO, and what Google wants. They get training and alerts when the rules change. They make a living by consistently giving you good, quality content. So you might as well take advantage of them.
  2. If you do write your own content, whether entirely or even just some of it, do your research and perhaps get some training. Make it a point to keep up with these changes. Follow some blogs that talk about web writing. Maybe even take a training course on content creation.
  3. When you write, write for a human being. Yes. Make sure you know and use important keywords. Yes. Think a little about what Google might like. However, do not write for Google, write for your audience. But more about that in a second.
  4. Never write something just because you want to post something. Always have a meaning and a purpose behind your words.
  5. Be trustworthy. Back up your claims with research. Don’t just say, “Buy us because we are the best.” Say why you are the best and convince your readers that you really are.

Worry a Little Less About Google, a Little More About Your Readers

I mentioned it above, but it is important enough to merit its own section: worry more about your readers than about Google.
Google is smart. Google is kind. Google is important. But in the end, your readers are more important. Who cares if Google thinks you should be number one on people’s search results if the reader does not agree. They might click on you, but they won’t click back on you if you do not convince them to stay.
When you write, think about your readers. What do they want to hear? What do they want to know? Base what you write on those facts. In the end, it is the readers’ opinion and thoughts that will make a sale or conversion. So focus on them, and you will not have to focus as much on what Google is plotting in its secret lair hidden away from prying eyes.
Here is the thing, though. If you write what your readers’ want to know, then not only will it make your content better, but it will make you fall right into their searches anyway. That list of keywords your SEO guy sends you did not come out of thin air. It came from data about what your potential audience has been searching for.
If you write what they want, then they are going to be searching for what you write. It’s simple logic. So ultimately, if you write for your readers, you are going to rank higher in Google anyway. Win, win.

Cross Your Fingers and Hope for the Best

In the end, you can do everything I am writing, and Google can change the game again tomorrow. Even Gabe, who is a well-respected expert, admits to being at a loss as to what should be done and how to handle Google.
A lot of your web writing life is trial and error, guess and predictions. However, if you consistently create good content, you do not have to worry about all that. Google wants readers to find you, and even without searches, readers keep the very best websites bookmarked.
So what should you do about the phantom? Give it what it wants – high quality content that readers can trust. And you should be doing that anyway with or without Google.