Google updates its guidelines all the time, making slight but significant changes to what your website needs to do to claim that all-too-valuable real estate on the first page. Are you aware of changes made with Phantom Update III?

Updates to Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines aren’t always announced, but they’ve always attracted attention. The first happened in May of 2013, according to Glenn Cabe at GSQi, followed by another in May of 2015. He named them the Phantom Updates – and this past November seems to have brought Phantom Update III. And it looks like some of the changes could boost your site’s standing, even if they hurt it before.

Go ahead, repeat yourself

The best example of this is duplicate content. Having duplicate or stale content used to really hurt page rankings. But according to the new guidelines, it’s not such a big deal anymore. With Phantom Update III, Google is taking it easy on duplicate content, if only because it’s sort of the nature of some sites.

In explaining how it all works, Searchmetrics shared, “Google offers the example of song lyrics: the text always remains the same, but this content is not duplicated. Users can compare the accuracy and quality of presentation of the results they find.” Other sites this could apply to include dictionary or cooking sites, where information is often duplicated, but relevant and open to interpretation.

Quality still matters

But if duplicate content is no longer an issue, low quality content most certainly is, as the new update focuses on the quality of information and the user’s intention. So if a user searches for a brand based on keywords, for example, but ends up at an affiliate site… well, that’s likely not their intent.

Or a user visiting a food site expecting to find a recipe when they click a link, but instead finding a long, unrelated intro to the recipe. These are examples where rankings would be negatively affected.

In short, “With this update, Google is punishing low quality, irrelevant or spammy content, while enhancing the ranking of high-quality pages,” is how Brafton puts it. That’s not a bad thing! Unless you’re a spammer, I guess…

Fix now, or forever lose your rank

Okay, probably not forever, but for the moment at least! These are the types of things you might not realize matter, but they do. Fix if your site is guilty of:

  • Self-starting video – as with past updates, these will still negatively impact your ranking according to the Quality Rater Guidelines.
  • Spammy comments – comments sections are a big deal. If they aren’t moderated properly and spam lives “downstairs” you should check in with your developer team to clean it up.
  • 404 errors – make sure your outbound links are actually going somewhere.

Something else to consider? Bounce rates. Even though these don’t affect Google rankings, you might want to figure out when and where users are leaving your page on your own – in case there’s a pattern you aren’t seeing. This could alert you to something Google IS measuring in time to fix it.

Because whenever you can, you want to set yourself up for the best ranking Google can give you. At least for now you can stop sweating duplicate content. We’ll see what Phantom Update IV brings – whenever that is.

And remember – working off of assumptions until something “disrupts” the old way won’t cut it anymore. Tiny tweaks are happening all the time and if you don’t watch for them and quickly adjust, you’ll miss out.