Unveiling Google’s Search Algorithm: Insights from Recent Document Leaks

by | Jun 13, 2024 | Blog, SEO

When it comes to SEO, understanding Google’s search algorithm is similar to discovering the Holy Grail. Google’s ranking factors have kept SEO experts on their toes, with continuous updates and changes that often leave you guessing. However, recent leaks of internal Google API documents have provided a small but helpful glimpse into the intricacies of the search giant’s algorithm, offering valuable insights for marketers and SEO professionals.

The Leak: A Glimpse Behind the Curtain

Recently, a series of internal Google API documents surfaced, shedding light on some of the ranking factors that can significantly impact search rankings for sites. These documents reveal a complex interaction of over 14,000 ranking factors that Google utilizes to elevate certain sites and pages higher up on SERPs.

The documents outline various aspects of Google’s algorithm, including on-page and off-page factors, user experience, and spam signals. While some of the revealed factors were already known within the SEO community, the detailed explanations provide a deeper understanding of how these elements work together to influence rankings.

Key Takeaways from the Leaked Documents

1. Google Uses Chrome Clickstream Data To Inform Rankings

According to the documentation, how a user navigates your website can impact your rankings. The search engine uses Chrome Clickstream data to determine whether or not users are having their queries addressed by your site. Essentially, we can think of these as “click satisfaction” metrics, which the API seems to bucket into “goodClicks” and “badClicks.” So in a user’s browser sessions, if they navigate to your site and if their Chrome data shows that maybe your site was confusing or didn’t directly address their query in a satisfactory manner or time frame, it can hurt your rankings.

2. Domain Authority and Toxic Backlinks Are Real (Also, the Disavow Tool May Not Do Anything…)

This is probably the most interesting item from the leak. For years Google has stated that a) there is no internal metric around a site’s authority and b) toxic backlinks do not impact rankings. However, the documentation reveals both of these statements may not be true. There is a ranking signal for “siteAuthority” and there are multiple signals around spammy phrases, anchor texts, and links.

Also, there is no mention of the Disavow tool in any of the documentation. For years, the Disavow tool was a buried offering provided by Google for site admins to submit domains that were linking to them, which they interpreted as being spammy and toxic in nature. Google did stress that this was only to be used during the course of receiving a manual action (or fear that one may be handed out).

3. Google Classifies Sites And May Limit The Types Of Sites That Appear in SERPs

This one is fascinating and I have to suspect there must be some sort of user behavior data behind this if it’s true. But, there are a number of site classifiers in the leak (like travel sites, small personal sites, commercial sites, etc) that may indicate Google is controlling the types of sites that appear on certain SERPs.

For example, if someone Googled “blue shoes” the SERP may be limited to only showing 1 blog, 2 commercial sites, etc. While this may sound odd, I have noticed that depending on the type of searches I conduct, I’ll be fed almost templated SERP layouts where certain site categories occupy certain sites.

4. Site “Mentions” Can Support Authority and Rankings

This one is actually really great news – it seems that while most SEOs focus on do-follow backlinks, there are indications in the leaked documentation that the mere site mentions on high authority/tier sites can have a positive impact on your site’s authority.

5. Longer Pages May Have Their Crawls Reduced Due To Token Limits

There are some indications that there is a token limit to how far down the page Google will factor in page content to the context of a user’s search query. Essentially, this means that if someone navigates to your site looking for a specific piece of information, but that information is buried beneath paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition, then that can be a negative ranking factor because you may hit the token limit before Google sees that content.

This also has large implications for the ever-practiced “SEO” art of “adding more content to the page because Google likes it.” I think if anything, this potential ranking nuance should encourage us to create content that’s valuable to the user but also with an understanding that they’re looking for the next breadcrumb on their user journey within milliseconds of landing on your page. 

Practical Implications for SEO

For SEO professionals, these revelations underscore the importance of a holistic optimization approach. The documents offer detailed guidelines on optimizing content to align with Google’s expectations. This includes creating original, high-quality content that meets users’ needs. Here are some actionable strategies based on the leaked insights:

Practical Implications for SEO

For SEO professionals, these revelations underscore the importance of a holistic optimization approach. The documents offer detailed guidelines on optimizing content to align with Google’s expectations. This includes creating original, high-quality content that meets users’ needs. Here are some actionable strategies based on the leaked insights:

  • Focus on High-Quality Content: We have to get past the notion that “quality content” means “long content.” The amount of content on the page has to be dictated by the context of the topic with which a site is about. The default moving forward should not be to equate quality content with long content – quality content is whatever amount of information is required to answer the user’s question or provide them with the necessary information they’re looking for – and that can be one sentence, one paragraph, or more. It just depends. If you don’t know how to identify high-quality content in your specific niche, you need a seasoned SEO expert’s support.
  • Enhance User Experience: SEOs have to extend themselves to all facets of UX/UI beyond just Core Web Vitals and site hierarchies. Is a website designed to help facilitate access to information that a target user would find valuable? If not, then it’s hurting organic rankings. UI/UX is a most nuanced, data-driven, and holistic practice that most “check a box” SEOs have to adapt their styles to or they’ll never garner meaningful rankings.
  • Focus On Brand Building: This is the one that all SEOs are going to have trouble with. Brand building isn’t a quick, easy task to put a checkmark on. It’s not something that even technically ever ends in my opinion. Building your brand needs to be seen as synonymous with building your authority. Despite what we’ve seen and what we’ve been telling ourselves in the SEO community, it’s not just backlinks. Yes, the leaks show that backlinks are a ranking signal, but the underlying metric collection and formulae behind that are impossible to comprehend. It’s not just a matter of getting more “good” backlinks or trying to figure out how to create a “natural-looking” backlink profile.

The profundity of how Google measures authority can only really be faced when you just don’t try and figure it out. It’s not a lock-and-key situation. The authority metric seems to be designed to simply reward good brand-building practices. Obviously, if your site has been subjected to spam link attacks, bots, or toxic backlink referrals, then some measured action must be taken. But that scenario is more of a reactionary measure to course correct as opposed to an everyday practice that must be conducted in SEO (like keyword research or ranking monitoring).

Partner With An Expert Team

The leaked Google documents provide invaluable insights into the complex mechanisms driving search rankings. By understanding and applying these principles, SEO professionals can better navigate the ever-evolving landscape of search engine optimization. While the exact workings of Google’s algorithm remain a mystery, these revelations bring us one step closer to mastering the art of SEO.

Partner with an experienced SEO agency like eAccountable to ensure that your search engine optimization is in safe hands. We can help you drive growth, build domain authority, and achieve and maintain top rankings online.

Interested in learning more? Drop us a line today for a free consultation with our SEO team.