Google’s Phantom Update is the Quality Update: No More Thin Content, Quora Quality & More

Remember earlier this year when Google once again shook up content ranking as we knew it with some mysterious update they wouldn’t even admit to? Now it has a more official name, and we have a lot more information.

The Google Quality Update: Formerly Known as Phantom

Out of the blue last May, sites suddenly started seeing mysterious drops in their Google rankings. This was especially true for how to and hub based sites.

Nobody knew exactly what had happened, but they knew it was clear, despite Google’s denial of its existence, that Google must have once again changed up its algorithm. Since it had no other name and had appeared out of seemingly nowhere, it was coined the phantom update.

Since that time, Google has admitted that it did make a change, and we have learned more information about what happened and what it means for content marketing.

Because the change is no longer cloaked in as much mystery, Search Engine Land coined a better name for it: the Google Quality Update.

Search Engine Land’s Vigilance

Search Engine Land, the leading daily publication on all things search marketing, has been on top of Google about this update. When it was first reported, they got in contact with the search engine giant and asked if there had been an update. Google denied it.

After continued requests for information, they finally got an answer. There had been an update to the algorithm. But they were quick to point out that it was not a spam-related update, such as Panda and Penguin. Instead, it was a change to the core algorithm.

No matter how you word it, though, there was an update, and it has made obvious changes to page ranking.

What the Google Quality Update Is

While more information is now known, there is still a lot that needs to be determined. Right now, it is unclear just what the quality update has done.

When it was first examined as the phantom update, the trend seemed to be that whatever had been done hub-type pages, such as HubPages, and how to sites, such as WikiHow, were being hurt the most.

There were many theories about why this was. One was that Google had decided to disfavor sites of this nature. However, that was soon turned with the realization that this was a domain change instead of a page change meaning that the updated algorithm looks at the site as a whole instead of at each individual page.

Google was punishing sites with poorer quality content by lowering their rankings across all content on the site, even good pieces. In other words, it didn’t matter that you also created great content if you still had poor content on your site.

It was affecting how to and informational type content because many such sites, while offering a lot of great content, also tend to have lesser value stuff. But the update was not designed necessarily with them in mind.

The update is intended to rank any site with poorer quality content lower as opposed to just the sites it has most obviously affected.

The Knowledge Graph

Furthermore, as Ari Levy pointed out in his CNBC article, how to sites are also being affected because of Google’s new search display. If you search for “How to … “ the information will generally appear on the top of the page though it is the content of another site.

For example, if you Google “how to boil eggs,” which was the first thing to pop up when I Googled “how to,” you will immediately see directions that have been taken from Martha Stewart.

google how to

Similarly, if you ask a question or search for anything with information housed in Google’s knowledge base, it should pop up at the top of the research. This is all part of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which was first released in 2012.

This system is intended to save users a step in the search process. Instead of cutting out the middle man, though, which in this case would have been Google itself, it opted to turn the middle man into the source of information.

While this is useful to users, it is not as useful to owners of the information. Since this means that people less often need to click on the actual website, it also results in lower traffic on these sites. In combination with the other updates, the results can be brutal.

Quora & The Quality Update

Now that we know a little bit about this new update, let’s look at how it affects sites such as Quora.

What Is Quora?

Quora is a question and answer site where users may ask a question and, as you might have guessed, get an answer. The idea behind this site is that people not only get answers to their questions, but that the answers come from vetted, knowledgeable users.

It allows users to pick the topics they are interested in and those topics show up in the users feed.

quora main

The Effects of the Quality Update

Because of the type of information found on Quora, which is “how to” in nature, you would think that it would be negatively affected based off of the update. However, instead of falling in the rankings, Quora actually jumped.

What sets it apart from other, seemingly similar sites? As Contently points out, a big reason for the jump is that Quora consistently enforces high quality standards.

Google does not like content that is self-promotional or generic. It wants to promote detailed content that actually adds value to the searcher. And Quora is clearly doing a good job with this.

The site works through an upvote system wherein readers vote for helpful answers. Some answers, like this one on “Overcoming Procrastination: How do I get over my bad habit of procrastination?” have received over 30,000 upvotes alone.

site works

Since an upvote tends to mean that an article has been well-received, it goes to show that the site is a good source of content that adds value to the searcher, which is what Google wants.

The Next Steps

While we do not know everything about the way the Google Quality Update works, there is a lot that we do know. For instance, take a look at the update’s unofficial name.

While Quality Update is not the most original of names, it is very telling. Search Engine Land did not come up with the name out of thin air. The update, like changes before it, is intended to promote quality content.

Thomas Smale, an Entrepreneur contributor, discussed many of the things that people should be doing in order to keep high rankings even with the new algorithm.

  • Do not use duplicate material (e.g., do not post the same or similar article in multiple places in an effort to seem like you have more content than you do.)
  • Create high value content. Make your content more detailed and helpful. If you are explaining why the sky is blue, for example, don’t just say because of science, go into it. Really teach people about the subject. Basically, be a place that meets the users’ needs.
  • Be credible. Prove that you know what you are talking about. Use sources to back up your points. Basically, make people, and thus Google, trust you.
  • Make the site all about the user. While ads on your site may be an important part of your website’s revenue, they should never take away from the user experience.
  • Do some quality control. Make sure your content is informative and free of errors, both factual and grammatical.

Quality content has been growing in importance for a long time. Because of this, most of your content should already be high value. This means that hopefully you will not have to do a lot to get yourself up to Google’s new standards.

And if Forbes contributor Jayson DeMers is right, you may not have to worry about another one again.

Final Thoughts

In the end, this update, like the ones that came before it, shows us one very important thing. Google really likes good content. Hence the Google Quality update.

It cannot be stressed enough. Do not just throw up content for contents sake. If you don’t have time to do it right, don’t bother writing it at all. Content is important, though, so if you don’t have time to write quality content, then get someone to do it for you.

While bad content will not get you ranked very high on a Google search, no content means you won’t get ranked at all.

To get that great content without having to sacrifice your valuable time, try out our content marketing services.

Photo courtesy SearchEngineLand

Screenshots taken June 2015

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