Google Phantom 3 Update – How does it affect ecommerce SEO?

Google Phantom 3 : Less Phantom like or more mystery for ecommerce SEO?

[box type=”info”] Update (27th January 2016): Google’s core algorithm was updated on the 12th January 2016, to encompass real time Google Panda which targets thin/poor quality content. It has been suggested within SEO circles that this could be heavily related to the considerable shifts in Google Tech related to Google Phantom. [/box]

The latest Google algorithmic Update ‘Phantom 3’ has now been documented to have occurred on 19 November 2015, with further ripples on the 28 November 2015. For ecommerce managers and businesss with shopping cart sites, what does it mean?

In this post we compare before and after results for ecommerce and lead generations websites to understand this new area of SEO. With Google’s latest support information for webmasters and ecommerce managers we also cover what proactive actions you can take to safeguard your shopping cart site.

What is Google Phantom?

Google Phantom has been linked to websites seeing SEO visibility changes.  In May 2015 Phantom 2 (also referred to within the SEO industry as the ‘Quality Update‘) caused some significant drops or uplifts.

The growing SEO area of content quality and user design is where you’ll find the Phantom. It’s named ‘Phantom’ because this area of website quality is very subjective and its unknown as to how far advanced Google are with assessing user experience (UX). On Thursday 19 November 2015 Google provided Search Quality Rating Guidelines (view here). Not everyone has the time, will or inclination to read the 160 pages, but we have… and here are some salient points to read up on from this helpful PDF document:

  • What is the Purpose of a Webpage? So in other words confusing, ambiguous, nondescript pages could struggle.
  • Your Money or Your Life Pages – ‘pages could potentially impact the future happiness, health, or wealth of users. ‘ (transactional web pages for example – so a real consideration for ecommerce SEO)
  • Website Reputation. Google’s manual analysts are encouraged to search externally for signs that the website and possibly company demonstrate good reputation.
  • Highest Quality Pages
  • Lowest Quality Pages
  • Rating that highly meets / cannot be fully met

Google Phantom – does it hit ecommerce sites?

is google phantom 3 a threat to etailers
In February 2015, there was a minor amount of SEO gossip around a Google ‘brand’ ecommerce update, which allegedly could have been designed to protect product manufacturers in the commerce space and marginalising price comparison / advertising sites further.

Early analysis we’ve seen looks at the correlation between May and November Google updates so we can further understand what Google Phantom is. The thinking is that where Google Panda is about content quality, Google Phantom is about user engagement with the intention of penalising poor user experience design. The question that is being raised is ‘do we think that Google Phantom is focusing in on ecommerce sites more than other website types?’

We have analysed tens of sites that we manage and observed case studies of websites from key SEO software players. There were some interesting findings and certainly more moderately positive jumps than negative.

Below, you can see 3 lead generation websites and their SEO visibility in 2015:



This is a lead generation website that has historically had no SEO traction and then has embarked on a new campaign since July 2015. Quite a jump.


This website has potentially been hit by Panda and Phantom (a cruel combination in the modern day of SEO). However look at the improvement in mid-late November.



This lead generation website has hit on an early Christmas present – lots of new page 1 coverage with changes to the content depth on 2-3 of the most trafficked pages.

Then compare these results against 3 ecommerce websites:


Search metrics doesn’t display this website’s actual traffic and other long tail ranking analyses that have seen this particular website grow all year.
So it seems there has been a small, controlled pick up in rankings for this and many others.


Another example of ecommerce SEO uplift but no real significant spike.



This ecommerce website has been hit by numerous updates in the past 18 months but is showing a sign in November
– so more work to do but certainly indicates a reprieve in the broad area of search quality.

In conclusion, we don’t see any correlation with Phantom 2 / 3 updates clamping down on ecommerce websites. Certainly some of the thoughts about YMYL pages might impact negatively on lead generation sites (or pages) that have modal windows like this:


Watch this Phantom space!!

Ecommerce Priorities for Google Phantom 3

The ‘your money or your life (YMYL) concept is key for ecommerce because Google is explicity highlighting transactional web pages (shopping cart / checkout) as areas where their quality guidelines are very strict. The best place to begin when protecting your website’s SEO traffic in terms of user experience is definitely the basics. Concentrate on these 3 areas as key priorities:

  • Your cart, checkout and confirmation pages need full testing in desktop, tablet and mobile. Is the user experience as smooth as the major retail sites such as eBay, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Alibaba and Asos to name but a few.
  • Analyse your catalog pages (category, sub-category and product pages) critically from a shopper’s perspective. When you land on a category page you need to be competitive in one or more of the following: price, product range, providing new products before competitors, displaying value/promotions, decent photography…and any other shopper signals you can think of.
  • Ongoing page load speed and mobile usability testing with Google’s Developer Tools: page load speed here and mobile UX here. Using Google Analytics you can then look at page load speed at a page level – it might be really important to look at your checkout page performance daily to ensure that these pages aren’t loading really slowly (definitely a fundamental ecommerce UX issue).


The Quality Update: Google Confirms Changing How Quality Is Assessed, Resulting In Rankings Shake-Up

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