Google, SEO

Leaked from a Google Insider: The Secrets of Google’s Search Algorithm, Unveiled

Keeping up with search engine algorithm updates has always been crucial for success in the ever-evolving organic search landscape—but Google’s typically kept mum on back-end specifics. The lion’s share of what we’ve come to know as organic best practices has been born out of subtle hints and, frankly, interpretations with trial and error—but we’ve never seen the actual recipe for ranking in Google. Until… NOW.

On May 5th, Rand Fishkin (an SEO industry legend who founded Moz and SparkToro) was contacted by a source claiming to have verified API documentation directly from Google’s Search division. After investigation, the leak seems legitimate, and the first of its kind in recent memory. Among the noteworthy parts of the insider doc were direct contradictions to many claims made by Google over the years. 

A Quick Caveat: Before discussing specifics, it’s worth noting that while the areas below are all mentioned, the collective industry can’t yet know the weighted score of each feature or if everything is still being used. Take it with a grain of salt. Still, it’s rare that we get specifics this legitimate straight from Google, so it’s worth a read. 

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most significant findings and their possible implications for your SEO strategy:

  1. Change History
    Google maintains a meticulous record of every version of every page it has ever indexed. However, when analyzing links, it only considers the last 20 changes to a URL. This highlights the importance of not just frequent updates but quality updates.

Implication: Focus on the quality of updates. Regular, meaningful enhancements to your content are essential for maintaining a strong link profile.

  1. Site Authority
    It’s now confirmed that an overall score for site quality does exist. This means that even high-authority sites can suffer if they host poor-quality content.

Implication: High standards must be upheld consistently across all content. Bad content can negatively impact your site’s authority.

  1. Successful Clicks Matter
    While not a surprising revelation, the confirmation that successful clicks (and high click-through rates) influence search rankings reinforces the need for engaging experiences and high-quality content that resonates with users.

Implication: Continue producing new, quality content and deliver it through an exceptional user experience. This approach, which has been central to our strategy since 2021, remains vital.

  1. Chrome Data
    Google utilizes data from its Chrome browser to inform its search rankings. User engagement metrics gathered from Chrome play a significant role in determining where websites appear in search results.

Implication: User engagement is crucial. Ensuring a positive user experience on your site will directly impact your search visibility.

  1. UX Signals Are Not A Myth
    Google claimed in 2019 that “CTR, dwell time, other UX signals are made up myths,” but that has now proven false.

Implication: As has been the case since 2021, user experience optimization, particularly mobile optimization, will remain at the core of our SEO plans.

  1. Links Matter
    Link diversity and relevance are still key components of Google’s ranking algorithm. PageRank for a website’s homepage influences the ranking of every document within the site.

Implication: Maintain a strategic approach to link-building. Focus on acquiring diverse and relevant links as a natural outcome of producing high-quality content.

  1. Brand Matters
    According to Rand Fishkin, one of the most profound takeaways from the recent algorithm leak is the paramount importance of brand. A notable, popular, and well-recognized brand significantly influences search rankings.

Implication: Invest in building a strong brand presence outside of Google search. A well-recognized brand will naturally perform better in search rankings, reinforcing the need for comprehensive brand-building strategies.

  1. Page Titles Matter
    While anchor text links may be less important than previously thought, page titles are still important.

Implication: Get the SEO you can (we prefer BrightEdge for enterprise clients and SEMRush for SMBs), identify good goals (reasonable search volume, low competition), organize your content intuitively, and write good, clear page titles.

  1. Exact Match Domains Could Be Spammy
    According to the leak, a penalty may be placed on domain names created to exactly match unbranded search terms.

Implication: If you own domains like this, this documentation indicates they may be more effectively utilized somewhere else in your marketing mix (e.g., as vanity URLs for a paid search landing page).

  1. Subfolders Over Subdomains
    From experience, our team has always found subfolders to perform better than subdomains, despite Google claiming that subdomains weren’t considered separately in results. In this leak, what we’d seen first-hand had proven to be true.

Implication: Building a robust website structure within a subfolder rather than on a subdomain (e.g., for your blog) will play favorably with Google, considering your primary website a richer repository of valuable content.

  1. There’s a VIP List
    A whitelist exists for travel, information related to COVID and elections. Particularly in an election year, the fact that whitelists exist to ensure accurate information in this area is critical.

Implication: If you’re in the travel industry, adherence to the highest web security standards is undoubtedly a key area to focus on.

Fortunately, none of this changes much of how we at TriMark operate day-to-day. We’ve always prioritized a quality web experience in efforts to drive sustainable organic growth for enterprise and SMB clients, keeping the fundamental aspects of organic strategy and the user at the forefront of every SEO project. Our SEO professionals draw from their experiences, good user data and a deep understanding of their clients. So, really, this leaked data only affirms some of our practices while giving us a bit of a peek under the hood on the how. 

Is your organic strategy built for success in today’s Google and SERP environment? Let’s chat.