6 actionable tips for Google quality updates (2016)

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Phantom Google updates

In late 2015 when I covered Google’s Phantom update in this post, the name of the quality targeted update was coined by Glenn Gabe due to its unannounced nature. Phantom updates focus on user experience elements, penalising sites for failing to meet the algorithm’s standards and as such, the updates are also referred to as site quality updates. My previous article focussed on uncovering updates of this kind and how you might go about reversing any negative effects.

This article is the proactive follow-up to that post, detailing actions to prevent negative impacts in the future. Why? Based on the trend in quality updates we saw in 2015, I expected to see further quality updates in 2016. As the final quarter of 2016 approaches, we’ve seen three large updates to the Google algorithm throughout the year, two of which have been focussed on site quality.

E-commerce sites beware

It’s safe to say that updates of this nature have been and will continue to be a big focus for Google. Having worked on and analysed mid-sized and large e-commerce sites which have been impacted both negatively and positively whilst these updates rolled out, I’ve pulled together three high priority actions you can take to prevent further negative impact from updates, and hopefully recover value if your site has lost rankings already.

Phantom update

  1. Navigation structure

Sites impacted by the update have often implemented confusing site navigations which provide a bad user experience. In my previous post on Phantom updates I mentioned site navigation structure and ensuring that there is a clear category structure. A further issue uncovered in this area was an inconsistency in how category pages are linked to from the top level navigation.

When optimising site navigation, aim for consistency and symmetry when linking out to landing pages. I found a number of sites which were impacted by linked out inconsistently from the navigation; some links opened a drop down menu, others took the user through to a category selector page, whilst others linked through to category pages. Also, ensure that navigation design is similar across different product areas.

The overarching message is simple but it can sometimes be forgotten by those who come into contact with a site on a daily basis, when it comes to navigation ensure users are easily able to find any category or product area they’re seeking. An easy way to test user friendliness is to create a product list and task people who’ve never seen the site before to find these products and add them to a basket. A fresh pair of eyes is always helpful in spotting issues which have been missed.

Action: Keep your category linking consistent in your site navigation

  1. Homepage linking structure

Homepage links are a great way to pass value through to internal pages, and boost rankings across high priority category pages. With that in mind, sites with considerable amounts of homepage links or repeatedly linking out to the same page suffered when Phantom IV was rolled out in early March.

Try limiting homepage links to the top performing category pages, include images and text links and remove large amounts of exact match anchor text in bodies of copy which exist purely to pass on page rank/link value.

After making some simple homepage and navigation changes to a small e-commerce client’s site, we saw organic visibility increase by 60% in Searchmetrics. (The Phantom update is represented here with a blue G)

searchmetrics phantom update

Action: Pay strict attention the volume of links from your homepage to internal landing pages

Phantom effects ecommerce

  1. User intent

Phantom/site quality updates are aimed towards increasing the number of user-friendly landing pages in the result, so it’s imperative that your landing pages match the user intent behind the search queries that sent users there. This is an extremely broad area, but quick fixes are there to be had.

Ensure there is applicable content or products to the keyword searched on the landing page, and that there is enough content to meet the demands of the query, e.g. if you’re product pages contain 1-4 products, a competitor with 20 is probably more relevant to the query and may rank above you for this reason.

Alongside this, your site shouldn’t be targeting the same keyword across multiple pages. Remember that pages can target multiple keywords but don’t use multiple landing pages to target one keyword. The result of this will most likely be lower rankings across all the pages targeting the same term.

Sometimes this can be hard to avoid, for example, Google’s algorithm may mistakenly rank a blog post over a category page if the blog post is covering a topic directly related to that category page. To avoid this use internal linking to point users towards the category page from the post, this will help the algorithm understand which page is more useful to the user and will assist in helping the correct page to rank.

Irrelevant content on the page can harm a page’s ranking potential as it dilutes the keyword relevancy of landing pages. As mentioned in my last post on the Phantom 3 update, banners and ads can also hinder search performance for this reason and should be kept to a minimum across landing pages.


  • Ensure your product categories are well populated, as long as the products are relevant
  • Be conservative with banners and ads, particularly any that might affect user experience negatively
  • Avoid targeting the same keyword over different pages, or make it clear which page is the important one with links
  • Don’t build targeted pages that spoof or trick users without matching their search intent

We can expect more site quality updates in the future, as a component of Google’s core ranking algorithm it will be changing without notice and impacting site rankings as it adapts. Keep user experience at the forefront of any changes made to your site and you can keep ahead and avoid any steep drops in visibility after the next Phantom update hits.