Google Phantom Update

The Google Phantom update (or core algorithm update) is a change in the algorithms of the search engines which led to some major changes in the SERP positions of numerous websites. Google initially denied such changes but then confirmed the update after increased demands from experts and key media. Therefore, the update that was meant to address the quality of websites was called Phantom.

General information[edit]

At the beginning of May 2015, reports of severe shifts in the SERPs were circulating. Many agencies and webmasters noticed that certain sites had losses in visibility. Some domains lost up to 60% of their visibility. Both small and large websites were affected. The type of site could not be narrowed down either. Initially it was suspected that it mainly concerned advice-type websites but informational platforms and large brands were affected as well.

It was originally believed that an update had been rolled out, which could be related to the Panda or Penguin updates. Google denied this.[1] In addition to an unnamed update and the mobile update, this one is the third in 2015. Google did not confirm it initially though. Only when the magazine Searchengineland made several inquiries, it was made known that Google had improved the algorithm which was responsible for the evaluation of quality signals from websites.[2]

Searchengineland called it the quality update, other sources spoke of the Phantom or Phantom II update. However, Google did not announce any details about specific aspects of the change. Only the manner how the algorithm processes the quality of sites was mentioned. Given that Google probably uses more than 200 ranking factors to evaluate websites, webmasters were unsure how to react to this update.[3]

Practical relevance[edit]

The current state of knowledge with regard to the Phantom update can be summarized as follows:

  • The update will improve the quality of the search result lists by adjusting the core algorithm.
  • A strategy for responding to the update, is the general and especially long-term improvement of the different websites of a domain. This refers primarily to user value of unique content and only after that technical aspects such as usability, crawlability or mobile optimization.
  • Google refers in this regard to older blog posts,[4], the Webmaster Guidelines, and webmaster questions.[5]
  • Google recommends to consider the update as an attempt to discover the needs of users. They don’t want - so the assumption - content that was created for search engines, but content with added value for genuine users.

Relevance to search engine optimization[edit]

The Phantom update is the second unannounced update in two years, which was rolled out by Google. It can be assumed that Google is silent about the update for various reasons. Firstly, because the core algorithm is also the main component for Google’s business model. To talk about modifications would mean giving up a competitive advantage. Secondly, it is sometimes not even necessary to publish details because Google has clearly communicated in recent years about the quality of websites.

The update possibly affects aspects that are already known anyway, only the results or effects of the algorithm change were surprising for webmasters and site operators. Thin content, duplicate content, and over-optimized sites without relevant content could be the focus of such updates.[6]

Just as before, webmasters should work to provide high quality content for users and make it available for search engines. You should not jump to conclusions and take short-term measures. Instead, many experts advise to remain calm because Google frequently makes such changes. That does not mean that the basic strategy of a website should be changed on short notice.


  1. Google Says No Panda Update Happened This Past Weekend Accessed on 06/22/2015
  2. The Quality Update: Google Confirms Changing How Quality Is Assessed, Resulting In Rankings Shake-Up Accessed on 06/22/2015
  3. Google's “phantom” algorithm update hits websites Accessed on 06/22/2015
  4. More guidance on building high-quality sites Accessed on 06/22/2015
  5. Create valuable content Accessed on 06/22/2015
  6. Phantom 2 – Analyzing The Google Update That Started On April 29, 2015 Accessed on 06/22/2015

Web Links[edit]