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All About the Google Algorithm API Documentation Leak

 In SEO, Technical SEO

There’s a old SEO joke that goes:

Q: Where is the best place to hide a dead body? 

A: On page 2 of Google! No one ever looks there! LOL! 

Ever since I first heard that joke, I’ve imagined writing a short story about a person who searches on Google, and not finding a good result, heads over to page 2 and beyond, where they suddenly stumble search results onto a clue about an actual murder!

Well, that’s all I have so far, but recently, the SEO world went positively atwitter (pun fully intended) over the real-life SEO intrigue of the now-infamous Google Leak! In fact, this may be the biggest story in SEO history! 

The Google Leak – in a Nutshell

On May 5, 2024 there was a massive leak of Google’s API documentation from inside Google’s search division. It was validated by many Googlers and confirmed as authentic by Google. It was shared with Rand Fishkin of SparkToro (and founder of Moz). 

Fishkin worked with Michael King (of iPULRANK) to analyze the documents (and others have since done that as well). 

What’s the Bottom Line?

In a presentation at SMX2024 Mike King argued that anyone who says this doesn’t change anything, is blinded by confirmation bias. On the other hand, SEOs widely agree that it confirms many things we had already assumed to be true. 

And, although there are a few surprises, none are likely to have dramatic consequences in the short term. For now, we can say with confidence that SEO remains important. 

And it’s important to think about SEO holistically. Does SEO work with your site as a whole? Does SEO help you provide a great user experience? These things matter. 

Discoveries About the Algorithm Previously Assumed to be True

  1. Google uses clickstream data for ranking, despite their claims that they don’t. In other words, user behavior is important and a ranking factor. 
  2. CTRs and dwell time are even more important than we thought before.
  3. Google differentiates between subfolders and subdomains. Why? We don’t know but it’s reasonable to assume that Google treats them differently and therefore, one is more likely to be better than the other for SEO. Which? We continue to assume that subfolders are better. 
  4. Google tracks and cares about some version of “domain authority.” After claiming for years that it does not look at Domain Authority, we see that Google has a “siteAuthority” flag. Again, we don’t know what the criteria are or how sites with more authority are treated, but we can draw obvious conclusions.
  5. Title tags matter!
  6. Links matter! Lots in the docs about links, anchors, relevance…
  7. Content should be fresh, up to date, relevant, and authoritative.

What are Some Surprises? 

  • Short content gets an originality score.
  • The SERP has limits by content type
  • Page updates are classified as “significant” or not.
  • Google looks at the last 20 changes on a URL for link relevance purposes. You can’t escape the history of a page! If you buy a domain and change the content, Google will continue to relate to the past 20 versions of that page.
  • “Content effort” is a factor
  • They keep domain registration info (suspected, since Google became a registrar).
  • Google flags “small personal sites” though we don’t know why or on what basis.

What Should Your SEO Agency or Team Do?

Create Great Content 

Content is still king. And it is more competitive than ever. Good content is still the most important aspect of any website, small or large – and harder to achieve than ever. 

Publish original, authentic, authoritative, and trustworthy content. Do serious competitor research, aim to answer the questions your prospects are asking with solid, meaningful, and reliable content. 

A single page or post on a top funnel topic is unlikely to rank on its own, especially if it’s not related to your primary area of expertise. Structure your content in a hub and spoke model with multiple pieces addressing multiple specific angles of a topic. This will give your content context and encourage broader engagement on the site. 

The quality of your content and engagement with it, are often more important than the length.

Focus on CTR and Engagement

Get users to click to the site and stay on the site more. Grow CTRs by improving meta description tags.

Performing conversion rate optimization reviews. Ensure that when users land on a page that came up in search, it matches their expectations and they engage with internal links more. 

Measure these behaviors, using GSC, heat mapping software, and GA.

Build your Brand with SEO

Focusing on brand building is something we don’t emphasize much in the traditional SEO world and probably should. CTR is a good place to start. Build CTR, build domain authority. Use social media. Use video. Create shareable top funnel content. 

What about Backlinks?

Link building as a practice is particularly complicated. Backlinks are important, and clicked links are better than unclicked links. So this means, to whatever degree possible, we should broaden our approach to link building and acquire links on existing high-quality pages with traffic. 

That’s pretty logical. Links from quality, relevant pages with traffic are — and should be — better for SEO than new pages with no inherent SEO value to pass. Why should a page with no traffic impart any value to my site just because it links to me? 

In practice, the domain authority, traffic volume, and traffic source of the link page are all significant ranking factors. So guest posting on a relevant, trusted site still works.

Next Steps

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The SEO community is still digging and testing. As more is learned and understood, more will be uncovered and published. 

Check with your team or your SEO agency what they know about the Google API documentation leak. Compare their understanding with the basics here. Ensure they have heard and are focusing their efforts appropriately.

In the end, some things never change about SEO. As I wrote many years ago, the essentials of SEO are not complicated. The goal always is to provide the best user experience with the best, most reliable and trustworthy information that answers their questions. Create content and a user experience that are better and more current than your competitors. Create a great website. 

And as always, contact us for a free audit or for help with your site.

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