Google Quality Update Hits Article WebsitesGoogle has finally confirmed what many search engine optimizers (SEOs) suspected… Google have made a algorithm change to their core search ranking, and it is being dubbed as the “Quality Update”, and formerly referred to as the Phantom Update.

Earlier this month, some search engine optimizers (SEOs) began noticing changes to Google’s search results. Many had asked Google if this due to a Panda Update or any other type of update, but Google replied no. Since then, more reports came in, with the change even being dubbed the “Phantom Update” because something did seem to have happened, even if Google wasn’t acknowledging it.

Google has now said that while no spam-related update has happened, there have been changes made to its core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals. However, Google has not provided any details about how quality is now assessed. Search Engine Land explains that, based on past statements from Google, the quality of a particular page or website is determined by a wide range of factors. One possibility is that the search giant is now weighing some of these factors more and others less.

The release came on the heels of rumors that have been circulating concerning a supposed new version of everyone’s favorite discerning Panda. People were so afraid of this new update they began referring to it as the people referring to this new update as the “Phantom” update. Google has confirmed that the update is in fact live and it’s simply called the “Quality Update”, which turns out to be as vaguely threatening as it sounds. The new update is focused on rooting out weak “How to” websites.

It seems that while some websites have been affected in a negative way by the recent changes, there are others who have experienced an increase in organic traffic since the “Quality Update.” Perhaps this is due to the fact that when a page is lowered in the search ranking results, there is another page that is being considered higher quality and is therefore moving up in the results.

Google wouldn’t provide specifics about how quality is now assessed. We know from past statements by Google that quality for a particular page or site is determined by a wide range of individual factors. It could be that Google is now weighting some of those factors more and others less.

This quality update isn’t so much about punishing low-quality sites – although that is a side effect. It is rewarding quality content with higher rankings and then as a result of this, with more traffic. But as these sites with higher quality content are rising in the search results, it naturally means they are pushing other, less desirable content down further in the search results.

While this update has been dubbed the “quality update”, you could also view it as being a reverse Panda. While Panda negatively impacted thin and low-quality content, this quality update seems to positively impact great quality content instead.

Because of the way this update is affecting content, it is likely why many people suspected it was initially a Panda update. After all, for every good page that goes up in the search results, it means another page has to drop down. Since the types of sites that would be negatively impacted by Panda would also lose rankings with this new quality update, it isn’t surprising that many suspected it was Panda.

We have recently seen three significant algo changes have all been changes that are rewarding for good, rather than demoting for the not-so-good.

We have seen the mobile update, which gave a boost to mobile-friendly sites in the mobile search results. The HTTPS ranking signal, although it turned to be less of an impact than many SEOs had hoped, also gave a bit of a boost to HTTPS sites. And now the quality update is rewarding the quality content.

Page level, not site level

As with all of Google’s core algo changes they make, this is confirmed to be on a page by page level. This is good news for those who need to improve their content, as they can focus on the most important pages first.

There was some speculation that it could be impacted on a site-wide level, primarily because Panda is on a site-level, but it is page level.

Page level also has another perk for many webmasters who were relatively unscathed with this update. It is a great opportunity to look through for individual pages that seemed to have been passed over for the boost, and improve the content to see those pages get more traffic. With real time updates, webmasters won’t have to wait too long in order to see the increased traffic, as long as they aren’t impacted by another of the signals for those particular pages.

Real time updates

Again, because this is a core algo change, the updates confirmed to be real time. So webmasters do not need to wait for the push of a button from Google in order to see changes with the quality update. Of course, it also relies on Googlebot crawling updated content and there is always the possibility pages that didn’t receive this quality update boost are also impacted by one of the many other signals in their search algo – in fact, one could argue that it is very likely there could also be something else in play for pages that did not seemingly get a boost, since poorer quality content pages tend to have more issues than just bad content.

For SEOs used to languishing while waiting for an update, like they do with both Panda and Penguin, this is a nice change.

Affiliate linking and sites

There was initial speculation that this could be somehow targeting affiliates, particularly those with an over-abundance of affiliate links on a single page. But again, this seems to be a side effect of other sites being boosted. But just like any other type of site, there are affiliate sites with poor content and affiliate sites that are rocking the quality content, so naturally those with better content will perform better.

Recovery, If you were impacted

Again, this update seems to reward for positive rather than specifically demoting the less-than-stellar content. This is good news for those who saw their rankings go down because it is much much easier to reverse and correct something that is updated in real time, as opposed to dealing with something impacted by Penguin or Panda which requires a button to be pressed for updating.

Recovery-wise, since this latest update is part of Google’s core ranking algorithm, I’m extremely interested in knowing if sites can recover in real-time. For example, as changes are picked up, can the sites rebound quickly or will it take longer (like the way Panda or Penguin victims need to wait for a refresh or update)? User engagement is key with content quality problems, so my guess is that it will take some time for Google to first pick up the changes, and then assess “quality” based on user engagement. Time will tell.

Quality content bandwagon

Bottom line, Google has been talking for years about the need for great quality content. While they have been penalizing for poor quality, this is a nice change to see them reward for great quality instead. As is often the case, while great quality will see an uplift as poor quality is penalized, having a new algo signal that specifically targets and rewards those with great content is something that many webmasters and writers have been wanting for some time.

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