While the whole world was watching mobile SERPS in anticipation of ‘Mobilegeddon,’ it seems Google was plotting another update behind the scenes. Numerous site owners have flagged up drops in traffic over the last two weeks – and we’re talking large, overnight drops.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the mobile friendly update that rolled out on April 22nd. Many of these reports are coming from mobile optimised sites and their drops are for both desktop and mobile searches. Big names appear to have been hit as well – including HubPages – which saw no impact from the mobile update, but has seen its traffic drop 22% from some other algorithm change.


So what’s going on here?

Sadly this isn’t the first time Google has hit us with a ‘phantom’ update. The search giant secretly rolled out a similar changes on May 8, 2013, and two years down the line we’re looking at the same scenario. There was even suspicion of a Panda update over the first weekend of May, but Google quickly denied any changes to its algorithm at all.

Well something has certainly happened, because numerous webmasters are reporting 10-20% drops in traffic and some bizarre fluctuations have been flagged up as well. Let’s not pretend this would be the first time Google has pulled a fast one on us (or plain lied to our faces) but it’s more important we focus on the key question here: what are these sites being penalised for?


The root cause of phantom updates

It’s still too early to confirm what this new algorithm is targeting, but last time around it was largely a question of quality content. So it makes sense that Panda alarm bells were ringing over the first weekend of May and also that sites which rely on content – like HubPages – are seeing drops. Dig in to the data we have available and early signs suggest the same thing, that content could be the culprit this time around as well.

Another clue comes from the webmasters who have been in contact with us over the last two weeks. After looking at their sites and affected pages content comes up as a consistent weakness in one way or another. So at this stage it looks likely that the rules on quality content have become more strict than ever – and there could be worse to come yet.

So what about links?

If it turns out low quality content really is the target of this update, the remaining question is what about links? The quick answer is we’ve seen nothing that specifically points to link penalties, but it’s too early to rule this out. While it’s also worth remembering Penguin 2.0 rolled out just a few weeks after the phantom update two years ago. This is pure speculation of course, but you can expect some rumours of a Penguin update to circulate over the coming weeks.