Bombshell Updates in the World of SEO

May 2024

By: Justin Rockow (SEO Manager) and Walton Kay (VP, Digital)

 

 

In case you missed it, the SEO community is up in a frenzy after Rand Fishkin of SparkToro (also the original founder of Moz) dropped a massive data leak containing thousands of leaked Google Search API documents. Much like others in the community, the RyTech team is deep in research mode extrapolating new insights that we can begin using immediately to help our client base move up in Google rankings and therefore increase their revenue/bottom line. 

Google, who notoriously stays silent on all matters related to their search algorithm, has given a rare response to the leak. They are essentially confirming the leak but urging caution saying that it lacks context. Google’s official response is as follows:

“We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.”

The importance of testing remains high, but these new data points provide much needed information and insights around what types of tests our team should be running.

 

Here’s What Google has Told us Mattered in the Past:

(spoiler: they lied and we always thought they were lying)

  • Content quality: Google wants to show users high-quality, relevant, and informative content. This means that content should be original, engaging, and provide value to readers. It should also be well-structured with subheadings, bullet points, and paragraphs to make it easier for readers to understand.
  • Keywords: are a crucial part of SEO. Google says that content that contains the same keywords as a search query is a basic signal that the information is relevant.
  • Backlinks: from reputable sources signal to Google that your content is authoritative and valuable.
  • Technical SEO: including things like website loading speed, mobile friendliness, and domain authority.
  • There are additional details about ranking signals that Google historically told us they do not use, that were specifically mentioned in the leaked documents. Of course, Google’s official statement tries to downplay these things and do damage control, but the cat is out of the bag now and we are not convinced.

This is a small snippet of what SEO’s have been focused on for clients… until now.

Now everything has changed and things are continuing to rapidly develop.

 

Here’s What we are Focusing on Right Now*: 

(*note: as of the date of publication; we are still sifting through hundreds of pages of data)

  • Google Uses Click Data to Determine How to Weight Links in Rankings. Here’s what that means:
    • In their words: “Google has three buckets/tiers for classifying their link indexes (low, medium, and  high quality). Click data is used to determine which link graph index tier a document belongs to.
    • How this works: If Forbes.com/Cats/ has no clicks it goes into the low-quality index and the link is ignored or shown less on search results. If Forbes.com/Dogs/ has a high volume of clicks from verifiable devices (see below: Chrome-related data is being used), it goes into the high-quality index and the link passes ranking signals therefore getting increased visibility on Google.
    • Google appears to have ways to filter out clicks they don’t want to count in their ranking systems, and include ones they do. They also seem to measure length of clicks (i.e. pogo-sticking – when a searcher clicks a result and then quickly clicks the back button, unsatisfied by the answer they found) alongside impressions.
  • Homepage Trust: Google decides how to value a link based on how much they trust the homepage.
    • We are always putting emphasis on our clients’ homepages, but this gives us renewed focus and validates our efforts.
  • Domain Authority: there is a real ‘site-authority’ metric that is employed by Google’s algorithms. It may not be exactly what we look at in terms of SEO tools and 1 to 1 correlation of backlinks, though. However this is confirmation of something that the tech giant has long denied. Our team is not surprised to see this.
  • Google Chrome browser returns more data to Google Search than other browsers:
    • One of the ranking signals related to page quality scores features a measure of “views” from Chrome users.
    • It seems like the sitelinks feature on search results pulls data from Chrome to figure out which pages should be highlighted in results as well
  • Authors matter online: it’s important to list an author for all content pieces and can help bring online visibility (this was surprising to our team). Dates of publication for content pieces are also important. We’ve long advised our clients on the value of updating existing content alongside generating net-new. Our strategy here has been confirmed by data.

 

Here are Things we Should Avoid Moving Forward:

  • Anchor mismatch: when a link does not match the page where you are sending users (ie: dishonesty or bait and switch), it can lead to a demotion in rankings. This was not a surprise to our team.
  • Location demotions: Google loves to associate pages with a location when possible. We are looking into this more since general service pages for businesses do provide value for users. More to come here.
  • Exact Match Domains Demotion: exact match domains would not be given as much of an advantage or visibility as they historically did. When creating a new business or domain, do not keyword stuff the name as it’s now a specific demotion. (plumber in nyc -> www.plumberinnyc.com)

 

RyTech Motto: Don’t Blindly Believe Things Without Testing 

In conclusion, this was a HUGE week in Google Search. Our team has a combined 20+ years of experience in the field of SEO and we have never seen an information dump of this depth. We will be diving into this and running tests on client websites for weeks, months, maybe even years to come.

Our goal remains to focus on the strategies and tactics that will move the needle most effectively for our clients while matching the investment being made into marketing. With that being said, it’s important to never blindly believe everything you read in the world of marketing but rather, using data driven tests and decisions to come to your own conclusions. This is how our team at RyTech operates and we will be working tirelessly to confirm or debunk over time.

 

Much more to come!

Additional resources to check out:

  • Google Ranking Signals: an index of 14,000 ranking signals from the leak in an organized and searchable database

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