The Vault

Locked away in a vault for nearly 150 years, the Coca-Cola formula is one of the most secretive and highly-guarded pieces of proprietary information in US company history. The only rival worth comparison is the one and only Google Search Algorithm, that great unknown that dictates the lives of SEOs determined to win rankings. 

Google rarely shares how it decides what pages to show for which search queries, leaving SEOs to wrestle with the wimpy scraps of information that Google does reveal. However, scrappy SEOs have successfully reverse engineered the algorithm over the last two decades to determine the most impactful ranking factors. 

But it seems that the more SEO professionals discover about how the Search Algorithm works, the more Google tries to protect their “secret formula”. 

Hardly has a breakthrough graced the front page of Search Engine Journal before Google is issuing carefully worded public statements that confuse the true meaning, all in the name of protecting the algorithm.

What reasons does Google have to hold their ranking algorithm so secretive? Here are a couple to consider:

  • The most obvious would be to remain competitive and avoid any copy cats taking search market share. They have done this successfully and it has paid off dramatically for them as they have impressively owned over 90% of the market share for the last 15 years.
  • Google also wants to avoid anyone taking advantage of knowing the inner-workings of the algorithm by spamming and potentially jeopardizing a quality user experience.

Google API Docs Data Leak

Well, last week the “vault” malfunctioned. From credible sources, there was a reported internal Google API Docs leak that shed some light for the first time on what Google considers when ranking pages for keywords. Given the history of secrecy and occasional dishonesty from Google around their algorithm, this is a really big deal! Before we jump into our biggest takeaways from this leak it's important to note a couple of things:

Scoring of Importance

There is no information on a scoring system that Google uses to weight these ranking signals that were discovered in this leak. So testing is still very much necessary in determining the impact of these ranking signals.

SEO Knowledge vs Theory of SEO

  • SEO Knowledge is ranking signals we know from data and information given to us – and then tested – from Google from places like Google Search Console, Google Search Quality Raters Guidelines and the Google Search Blog - The Keyword
  • Theory of SEO is ranking signals that we are confident are part of Google's algorithm based off of extensive trial and error testing by SEO’s throughout the years. While we are confident of these ranking signals being a part of Google's Algorithm from testing various optimizations and seeing success, they had never been confirmed to be part of the algorithm. Until last week, that is. 

While it is very exciting to have confirmation of long suspected ranking signals, these ranking signals still very much fall in the middle of these two categories. Without a scoring system, we do not know how important or unimportant they are without testing for a wide range of keywords.

Top Takeaways from the Leak

Ranking Signal Revealed: Click Logs Considered in Rankings

Even though it has long been denied by Google that they use user click and interaction data as a ranking factor, ranking signals found in the leak contradict this claim. The click data metrics measure whether users found what they were looking for when they clicked on the page in the SERP or not.

Why Does it Matter?

This knowledge opens the door to increased emphasis on creating a user experience that matches what the searcher intent is. Obviously this has always been of high importance, but now we can run user experience tests and competitor analysis in the name of ranking higher for intended keywords. One example of what this could look like is testing different pricing strategies to determine if the price of our product does not match expectations, causing the user to bounce after seeing the price, and how that affects our rank on the SERP.

Ranking Signal Revealed: Page Version History

It's important to know that Google is a hoarder-of data. Google saves nearly everything it crawls. According to this leak, the last 20 versions of a page are considered when ranking a page. 

Why Does it Matter?

We can now have a better idea of how long Google will take to understand which keywords we want to rank for when a site goes through a rebrand or re-positioning in a market.

Ranking Signal Revealed: Home Page Consideration

The quality and user experience of the homepage of a site is considered every. single. time. a page is ranked by Google. We also suspect that it matters if what is found on the home page is on topic with the content on the page being considered by Google

Why Does it Matter?

The home page can be used as a way to test if Google is considering it as a significant ranking factor for a focus keyword.

Ranking Signal Revealed: Dates on Page

The leak showed that Google attempts to find the date of a page in various places: the URL, the title or in semantics of the body text of a page. The date is then considered in rankings in order to determine the freshness of the content.

Why Does it Matter?

If a page has a date in the title or the URL, it is going to indicate to Google whether it is recent information or not. Sometimes this is not a problem, say if you are trying to rank for the keyword “best 2024 baseball bats.” However if you are trying to rank for a more evergreen keyword like “best youth baseball bat brands”, having a date in the URL may harm your ability to rank long term.

Does any of this change our approach to SEO?

One of the pillars of great marketing at 97th Floor is Empathy. All of our marketing efforts are driven by what matters most to the audience we are marketing to. We are connecting real people who have problems that our clients can solve. Nothing about that approach will change given this data leak or any future revelations about the workings of the algorithm.

What this data leak will allow us to do is test and experiment new optimization techniques and tactics to determine what will get our clients the most visibility in front of the intended audience.

97th Floor is expert at getting results from our SEO efforts. We already know our processes drive significant results, but now we have a better understanding on enhancing those processes.