Google’s New Quality Update and Your Site

Quality is the new algorithm focus

Earlier this month, some publishers noticed that there appeared to be some changes in Google search results. According to Search Engine Land, when they asked Google if this was a result of an algorithm update, the search giant said no.

As a result, the industry dubbed the mysterious changes as the “Phantom Update” since whilst something appeared to have happened, there was no confirmation. Many thought that it was perhaps a Panda update, but Google dismissed this.

Now, however, it’s come to light that there was an update after all, although it’s not to do with spam. Rather, it’s a change to “its core ranking algorithm in terms of how it processes quality signals.”

This means that unlike Panda, sites that produce low-quality content won’t be penalised by this particular update, but are still likely to see their rankings slide. The “Quality Update” (or “Quality Algo” as it’s been dubbed) will instead reward sites that produce high quality content with better rankings. This will of course also have the effect of pushing lower quality sites down the search results.

Hub Pages Lose 22% of Traffic

According to Paul Edmondson, the impact of the update was felt at HubPages on May 3rd. The site saw a 22% reduction in Google traffic sitewide, which Paul described as “pretty brutal”.

“I feel tremendously bad for Hubbers and the team at HubPages that have worked extremely hard over the last several years to improve the site,” he said.

Hub Pages carried out some analysis to further understand why the traffic has dropped across the whole site. They found that when analysing each Hub by their own internal quality scoring system, there was very little difference between lowest-rated and highest-rated content. This led to good authors on the site losing “a tremendous amount of traffic.”

The story was similar across the entirety of the site. Not only did the team note that many of the hand-picked, high-quality Editor’s Choice Hubs see a 22% drop in traffic, but so too did professionally edited pages. The issue that Hub Pages seem to have picked up is that due to the (assumedly) poor quality pages on the site, the rest have also been affected.

Categorical Drop

“This means Google applied a site-wide ranking factor that ignores quality and subdomains. I’d call this a very blunt site-wide whack if your site is on the wrong side of this algorithm,” Paul said.

The biggest categorical drop that the site saw was in the Religion category and when the site compared this to another large, similar site that uses the same type of categories, it seems that there was some correlation between the categories, although the amount of traffic differed. However, as Hub Pages points out, that’s not a particularly useful connection when it comes to understanding how content can be tweaked to cope with the update.

90% of Subdomains Affected

Hub Pages also uses subdomains for its authors so that each “Hubber” can be evaluated on their own merit. However, 90% of the accounts that Hub Pages sampled in the wake of the update saw a decrease in Google traffic

Paul points out that whilst this wasn’t a Panda update, sites that have had “Panda issues tended to do poorly in this update.”

He also said that the following sites have been affected by the Quality Update.

Lost Traffic:

Gained Traffic:

Search Engine Land report that Google “wouldn’t provide specifics for how quality is now assessed” which is something of a pain for those of us who want to make improvements. However, we can make some educated guesses and make changes based on these. Search Engine Land speculate that it could be that Google simply now weights some ranking factors above others.

Analyse Traffic

In order to understand if you’ve been affected by the update, you should check out traffic in Google Analytics. It’s difficult to give specific advice as Google hasn’t been forthcoming about how the update is weighted, but you can concentrate on developing your site and its content so that it’s as good as it can possibly be.


  • Create longer blog posts – these tend to perform well in the SERPs. If this isn’t possible, mix up your word counts so there’s a nice mix of longer and shorter posts.
  • Employ a writer – if you’re not very good at writing yourself. Alternatively, employ an editor to go through and ensure that the posts are polished.
  • Share socially – content that gets plenty of engagement in the shape of shares and comments will climb the rankings as long as it’s of a high quality.

You should also, in the wake of Mobigeddon, ensure that the site is mobile-friendly and that your content is readable on mobile devices. These days, many of us spend time reading on tablets and smartphones and if your content is not particularly accessible then it won’t gain any engagement.

Give Value to the Reader

Try to mix site content up too – provide images in your blog posts (and ensure that they are lightweight in terms of file size, and responsive for mobile), add the odd video, perhaps even create a podcast. The most important thing to bear in mind is how much value does your content give to the site visitor. You’ll find that if you create posts that directly address a problem that your reader might have, then it’s more likely that they will want to read on and share the content. Nobody wants to engage with fluff that’s been written up just for SEO purposes – so don’t create it and be careful if you accept guest posts that the content is suitable and high quality.

The Quality Update is likely to impact on your site if you don’t produce any content, and if what you do produce is poorly constructed. Perhaps now is the time to have a full content audit carried out so that you can identify any areas which are low quality or otherwise lacking and address them before moving forward with a great site.

Kerry Butters

A prolific technology writer, Kerry was an authority in her field and produced content for a variety of high profile sites in her niche. Also a published author, she adored the written word and all things tech and internet related. Sadly she passed away in February 2016 after a valiant battle with cancer.

  • Sonal Sehgal

    Very nice and informative article Kerry