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Although Google never formally acknowledged it, they secretly rolled out a phantom update that seriously impacted some websites. If your sites saw a dramatic drop in organic search traffic the past few months, you might be a victim of Google’s latest phantom update.

What does this update penalize? 

The biggest losers from this update are those who rely on so called “thin content” that is, pages with low-quality content specifically. “How-To” pages like WikiHow and Hubpages, as well as clickbait articles have all taken a huge hit.

Here are a few of the red flags Google keeps an eye on. For a full list of sites affected by this update, click here.

Remove Duplicate Pages

One thing you want to avoid is having multiple pages that are identical on the same site. The danger is that this update even penalizes pages that are very similar to one another.

Even if you add a line or change a few words, your site could still be in danger.

For example, an e-commerce site that sells custom backpacks might have hundreds of virtually identical landing pages for every individual product. Even if you change a couple of lines of copy (like when talking about the colour or the designs of the backpacks), if the majority of your writing is just copy and pasted from other parts of your site, Google will start to notice.

The ideal solution to duplicate content is to just create completely unique content for all your pages, but this may not be practical for everyone. We recommend removing these pages immediately and thinking of a countermeasure since the penalty for these infringements are so severe. Maybe it would be better to just have three or four pages with variations (also known as a split test) instead of hundreds.

Don’t Drown out your Copy

Pages with relatively little copy compared to images, ads, and other elements are next on Google’s naughty list. This is bad news for a lot of “artistic” sites that have become quite popular lately.

Pages with a few high-res images but only a line or two of text run the risk of being labeled “low-quality” by Google’s algorithms.

This has a huge effect on pages where images, ads, and videos take up significantly more space than the actual content.  The same can be said for sites with excessive banner ads that crowd out the actual content of the page.

To avoid this, you have to buckle down and just start writing more content for all your pages. Cut down on the clutter and focus on writing high quality content. If there are any needlessly distracting elements on the page, we recommend removing them in favour of more copy.

We aren’t saying you need to fill every single page with text and make it boring, but you need to consider how Google’s little robots are reading your site.  As a start, give your page some colour with a few strategically placed images and use headers and subheaders to break your page up into readable chunks.

Looking for more advice? Here are five non-technical SEO tips that will give your site a major boost.