Google responds to leak: Documentation lacks context

Google won't comment on the specific elements in the document, in order to keep its ranking system safe and secure.

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The search community is still unpacking and processing the huge reveal of the Google Search ranking documents. Everyone has been asking why Google hasn’t commented on the leak.

Well, Google has finally commented. Search Engine Land spoke to a Google spokesperson about the data leak.

What Google told us. Google told us that a lot of assumptions are being published, out of context, based on incomplete information from the data leak.

Google added that search ranking signals are constantly changing. This is not to say Google’s core rankings principles change – they do not – but the specific and individual signals that go into Google rankings do change, Google told us.

A Google spokesperson sent us the following statement:

  • “We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information.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.”

Google, however, won’t comment about the specific elements – which are accurate, which are invalid, which are currently being used, how are they being used and how strongly (weighted) they are being used.

Google would not comment about specifics because Google never comments on specifics when it comes to its ranking algorithm, a spokesperson told me. Google said if they did comment, spammers and/or bad actors could use it to manipulate its rankings.

Google also told us that it would be incorrect to assume that this data leak is comprehensive, fully-relevant or even provides up-to-date information on its Search rankings.

Did Google lie to us. That is hard to say for sure. There are some clear details about ranking signals Google historically told us they do not use, that were specifically mentioned in the leaked documents.

Of course, Google’s statement says what is in the document may have never been used, been tested for a period of time, may have changed over the years or may be used. Again, Google won’t get into specifics.

A lot of folks in the SEO community have always felt Google has lied to us and that you should do your own testing to see what does and doesn’t work in SEO.

I, for one, trust people when they look me in the eye and tell me something. I do not believe the Google representatives I’ve spoke to over the years lied outright to me. Maybe it was about semantics, maybe Google wasn’t using a specific signal at that time or maybe I am super naive (which is very possible) and Google has lied.

Google communication. Google told me they are still committed to providing accurate information, but as I noted above, they will not do so in specific detail on a ranking signal-by-signal basis.

Google also said that its ranking systems do change over time and it will continue to communicate information that it can to the community.

Does it matter. Either way, ultimately, these signals all point to the same thing. I believe Mike King, who was the first to dig into this document (Secrets from the Algorithm: Google Search’s Internal Engineering Documentation Has Leaked on iPullRank) and help reveal the details, said that ultimately we need to build content and a website that people want to visit, want to spend time on, want to click over to and want to link to.

The best way to do that is to build a website and content that people want like and enjoy. So the job of an SEO is to continue to build great sites, with great content. Yes, it is a boring answer – sorry.

What happened. As we covered, thousands of documents, which appear to come from Google’s internal Content API Warehouse, were released March 13 on Github by an automated bot called yoshi-code-bot. These documents were shared with Rand Fishkin, SparkToro co-founder, earlier this month (An Anonymous Source Shared Thousands of Leaked Google Search API Documents with Me; Everyone in SEO Should See Them on SparkToro).

Why we care. As we reported earlier, we have been given a glimpse into how Google’s ranking algorithm may work, which is invaluable for SEOs who can understand what it all means. As a reminder, in 2023, we got an unprecedented look at Yandex Search ranking factors via a leak, which was one of the biggest stories of that year. This Google leak is likely going to be the story of the year – maybe of the century.

But what do we do with this information? Probably exactly what we have been doing without this information: build awesome sites with awesome content.

  • Join Mike King and Danny Goodwin at SMX Advanced for a late-breaking session exploring the leak and its implications. Learn more here.

About the author

Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz is a technologist and a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land and a member of the programming team for SMX events. He owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics.

In 2019, Barry was awarded the Outstanding Community Services Award from Search Engine Land, in 2018 he was awarded the US Search Awards the "US Search Personality Of The Year," you can learn more over here and in 2023 he was listed as a top 50 most influential PPCer by Marketing O'Clock.

Barry can be followed on X here and you can learn more about Barry Schwartz over here or on her personal site.

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