What has Stardoll got to do with Google Phantom?

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Emma Barnes

Branded3 is a Search Agency in Leeds UK. Guess what most people who use the site search in the top nav search for. SEO? Services? Stephen Kenwright? Nope. Since I started in 2011 to writing this post today, the most commonly searched term is… “stardoll”.

Top Search on B3 Website

I thought that was strange so I decided to find out why.

Note to anyone who just searched “Stardoll” and found this post: You probably won’t find what you’re looking for on this website, sorry. We’re an SEO Agency. Have a nice day and good luck in future searches.

What on earth is Stardoll?

I had to Google this. Stardoll is a browser game where you create an avatar and dress it up. You can buy virtual items using virtual currency. They have 300 Million Members worldwide.

For those of you who must know, here’s some famous teens as Stardolls:

Stardoll Teen Stars

What does Stardoll have to do with Branded3

Not much except for the fact that both Branded3 and Stardoll attended Conversion Conference.

Why do people land on Branded3 and search for stardoll?

Turns out that Branded3 rank #1 for (true on 09/03/17) “Javascript Edit Code Stardoll”.

Stardoll Branded3 Keywords

According to Google Keyword Planner, this term has between 0 and 30 searches a month (10 on average), so it’s quite niche.

The page that ranks for this term is a post from 2008 called Cut and paste one line of code to make any website editable. This page is the 2nd most visited page on the Branded3 website as well as one of our most linked to pages. Everyone who searched for “stardoll” (or a variant) landed on that page.

I’m assuming that they land on this page and then, because the page has nothing to do with Stardoll specifically, search for “stardoll” internally in hope of finding a more specific answer.

What does that article have to do with Stardoll?

Nothing specifically.
Nothing on the page mentions Stardoll.
Nothing within the code mentions Stardoll.
None of the links pointing at it contained anchor text to do with Stardoll.
None of the links pointing at it came from websites (that I could tell) were related to Stardoll.

Yet… Google sees something.

Branded3 Stardoll Site Search

So I decided to get my UV ray and my luminol out and investigate.

I found this comment by Kiara.

Stardoll Comment Branded3

When you interact with it on site, there’s nothing suspect.

I spray some luminol on it log into WordPress to see the truth.

Stardoll Comment in WP

Kiara added a link to their website: Stardoll.com.

So, Google is crawling my CMS data?

I remember back in 2011, Andy Rogers had a similar problem except it was with unpublished comments on his blog. No one seemed to have an answer to his conundrum. We currently use Disqus plugin for comments. It has been proven that Google does index comments that are generated via Disqus.

So, if I go directly to the Disqus Thread (note: this is not hosted on the Branded3 website, but Branded3 does pull it in via a plugin) we see our friend Kiara again, but again, no link to Stardoll.

Kiara Disqus

And look at the source code…

Stardoll in Source Code


Now here’s where the interesting bit starts. Branded3 didn’t always get traffic from “stardoll” based searches. They seem to have only started in late 2014 and picked up around April 2015.

Stardoll Searched on b3

If we look at Branded3’s SearchMetrics graph for the same time period we see that Branded3 had a bit of a visibility uplift around the same time as the Stardoll visitors started coming.

Search Metrics for B3

This is around the time of a Phantom 2/Quality update to Google’s algorithm. Does this give some insight into how the mysterious Phantom operates? Do meta signals from associated websites such as Disqus have more weighting than before, or has Phantom just enabled Google to become better at crawling and understanding them.


  • 2004 – Stardoll launches
  • ??? – People are searching on Google for “Javascript Edit Code Stardoll” (I presume to create fake screenshots? If you’re a Stardoll user, please tell me why you’d want to do this.)
  • 2008 – Patrick writes a blog post called “Cut and paste one line of code to make any website editable”
  • 2010 – Kiara comments on this blog post and inputs their URL as StarDoll.com
  • 2013 – Branded3 begins using Disqus
  • Unknown – Disqus comments become indexed, including the meta data that Kiara input
  • Late 2014 – Branded3 begins rankings for “Javascript Edit Code Stardoll” with Patrick’s post
  • Late 2014 – People come to Patrick’s post, get confused and search for “Stardoll” on the Branded3 site
  • Apr 2015 – Phantom 2 Update
  • Early/Mid 2015 – Branded3 get a significant amount more Stardoll searches
  • 2017 – I find the analytics data fun and write this blog post

Is the Phantom responsible for associating Branded3 with Stardoll? Or is there something else behind the mask?


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