The Latest Google Penguin, Phantom & Possum Updates

Hi, I’m Paul Steinbrueck and welcome to OurChurch.Com’s monthly SEO Update for October 2016, keeping you up to date on what’s happening in the world of search and how it affects you.

This month’s update is all about Google because Google has released 3 major search engine algorithm changes in the last 6 weeks – Penguin, Possum and Phantom. One or more of these, has probably affected your website.

These updates can often be very technical, so I’ll do my best to explain what they are in plain English and explain how they could affect you and your organization.

1) Google Penguin 4 Update
After 2 years, Google released its latest and final Penguin update. Penguin is the name of a special algorithm Google introduced several years ago to combat spammy links people were creating to try to trick Google into improving their search rankings. This update is much different than previous Penguin updates in 3 specific ways.

First, Google is no longer penalizing websites that have spammy links linking to them. Instead, if Google looks at the quality of the web page the link is on, and if it determines that page is low quality, it ignores the link, so that link won’t help the search rankings of the web page it links to.

Second, because Google is ignoring links on low quality pages and no longer penalizing sites with spammy links linking to them, any sites that received a penalty the last time Google did a Penguin update have had their penalties removed. These sites will probably see an improvement in search rankings, but not back to pre-penalty levels, because the links that got them their pre-penalty rankings are now being ignored.

Third, Google has made Penguin a real-time part of the Google algorithm. So there will be no future Penguin updates that cause massive changes in search rankings as sites are penalized or unpenalized. Instead, Penguin will continuously look for links on low quality pages and ignore them when it finds them.

If you’re wondering what kinds of links Google considers spammy, they include things like links on unmoderated blog posts, discussion forums and directories.

Whew, and that’s just the first Google update.

Google updates Penguin, says it now runs in real time within the core search algorithm

2) Google Phantom Quality Update
The next Google update I want to discuss is Google’s quality update, which some call the “Phantom” update because at first Google wouldn’t even admit it had made an update, and then once they did wouldn’t say anything about it. The Phantom update is also referred to as the “quality update” because it penalizes websites that give their visitors a low quality experience. Some of the characteristics of sites penalized by the Phantom update include:

• Intrusive ads
• Pop-up windows that cover most of the content
• Pages with just a tiny bit of content followed by lots of “related content links”
• Deceptive ads
• Ads not labeled as ads

There probably aren’t many of our users or readers who are doing any of these things intentionally, however, if you are using the free version of our WP-EZ website builder and your site has ads on it, this could be an issue. So, I highly recommend upgrading to WP-EZ premium which will remove the ads and give both your users and search engines a better experience.

Why Google’s quality updates should be on your algorithmic radar [Part 2]: The connection to low-quality user experience

3) Google “Possum” Local Update
The third and final update I want to talk with you about is the update Google made to their maps and local search rankings. Some people are calling this update “Possum.” This impacts local organizations like churches, schools and local businesses.

Google has not said anything officially about this update, so everything we know about it is based on observations. There are two observations we can state with a high degree of certainty.

First, Google is filtering results based on address and affiliation. For example, in the past a medical practice with two doctors might have 3 local listings in the search results, one for each doctor plus one for the practice, all with the same address. Now, Google will often show just one of those listings in its search results, providing more diversity in the results, which is probably a good thing.

However, we’re seeing some unintended consequences for some churches. If your church shares space with another church, Google may not show both churches in its local search results. Or if a church closes its doors and another church buy the church building and moves in, the listing of the closed church may cause the listing of the new church not to appear in the search results. If your church is in one of these situations, you may need to contact Google or work with a professional SEO so your Google local listing is displayed in Google’s search results.

Note this does not appear to be affecting churches that share space with organizations in different categories, such as churches that have a school at the same address or churches that rent space in a public school or theater.

Everything you need to know about Google’s ‘Possum’ algorithm update

That is all for this month’s update.

Remember, your website and its search rankings can have a huge impact on your ability to live out your mission. I hope this update has given you some insight and ideas into how to do that better. If you have any questions or comments, please post a comment below.

And if there’s anything else we here at OurChurch.Com can do to help you live out your mission online, please contact us. We’d love to help!

Thanks for watching!

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