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The Google Search Algorithm Leak: What It Means for SEO

by | Last updated May 28, 2024

An Anonymous Source Just Shared Secrets in Google’s Search API Documentation

In a surprising development over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a significant leak of Google’s search algorithm surfaced on Github, providing an unprecedented look into the inner workings of the world’s most popular search engine. This leak, revealed initially by Rand Fishkin and Michael King, offers new insights into Google’s ranking mechanisms and has sparked extensive discussions within the SEO community.

Here’s an in-depth exploration of the key points from the leak and their implications for those invested in SEO.

A Quick Update: Introducing the Anonymous Source

As of May 28, 2024, the anonymous source that leaked this information to Rand Fishkin (SparkToro) has come forward as Erfan Azimi of EA Eagle Digital.

Erfan has a history in SEO and his authority of this leak has been verified since coming forward. This is the real deal and according to Erfan, he wanted to leak this information so business owners and SEO professionals can see what is truly behind the scenes of the Google algorithm.

We thank you, Erfan.

An Overview of the Leak (May 2024)

The leak involves internal documents outlining Google’s search ranking strategies and continuous efforts to enhance user experience. These documents confirm several ranking factors – 14,014 to be exact – that SEO professionals have speculated about but never had concrete evidence for. Key highlights include Google’s emphasis on user experience, content quality, and technical SEO components, which all contribute significantly to a website’s visibility in search results.

Not surprisingly, the leaked documents contradict several things we’ve heard from Google professionals over the years. For instance, claiming that domain authority or domain rating or authority score (whichever you prefer) has no bearing in Google now appears to be false as one of the many ranking factors disclosed in the leak is officially siteAuthority.

siteAuthority from Google Leak

We’ve always taken Google’s advice regarding SEO at face value and it seems like that’s been a good move.

Key Takeaways from the Leak for Marketers

User Experience (UX) as a Central Ranking Factor

The leaked documents emphasize the importance of user experience in Google’s ranking algorithm. Specifically, the documentation notes certain types of clicks as either badClicks or goodClicks that are derived from the user’s experience.

How Does Click Data Affect SEO?

Factors such as page load speed, mobile-friendliness, and engagement have been fundamental for a while. Google’s algorithms prioritize websites that offer a seamless, intuitive, and responsive experience for users. This focus aligns with Google’s broader goal of prioritizing content that meets users’ needs effectively and efficiently​, however, this directly conflicts with Google stating they don’t use engagement metrics in ranking pages.

Quality Content & E-A-T Principles

Content quality remains a cornerstone of SEO. The leak reaffirms Google’s reliance on the E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) framework. Google favors content that demonstrates deep expertise, is produced by authoritative sources, and builds user trust. This indicates that SEO strategies should focus on keyword optimization and creating high-quality, reliable content that adds genuine value to users. This feels like a no-brainer, but it’s good to know how emphasized it is by Google.

Technical SEO & Site Health

Technical SEO elements, such as site architecture, crawlability, and security, are highlighted as critical components of the ranking algorithm. Ensuring websites are technically sound, with clear navigation, proper use of meta tags, and robust security measures (such as HTTPS), is essential. Google’s algorithms reward websites that are easily accessible to both users and of course, Googlebot​. Another no brainer in our opinion, but good to know.

Backlinks & Link Quality

Backlinks have always been a significant factor in SEO, but the leak provides nuanced insights into how Google evaluates them. The quality of backlinks, rather than just the quantity, plays a vital role as we’ve always suspected. Links from reputable, high-authority websites are far more valuable than numerous links from low-quality sources. This is indicated in what Google calls sourceType:

Understanding the Weight of Links from the Google Leak

This underscores the importance of a strategic approach to link building, focusing on acquiring links from credible and relevant sources​​. Other aspects of link value in the leak include the type of page a link comes from (i.e., homepage versus inner pages or blog pages), the stylistic weight of the link (i.e., bolding links in a document), the anchor text the link uses (if it’s spammy or natural) and more.

Despite what Google has claimed about links, it’s evident that links are a major component of what ranks well in organic search.

Sandboxing of New Websites / Content

Lastly, another piece of advice from Google is finally debunked.

It’s long been theorized that Google uses the history of a domain to sandbox its content, meaning that brand-new sites take much longer to rank than sites with a history. Google has historically denied this, but the leaked documentation has references to hostAge, createdDate and expiredDate.

How Does Domain Age Play Into Google Rankings?

With this information, we can reasonably assume that Google tracks and limits (or sandboxes) new websites. This aligns perfectly with new websites taking 3-6 months (in most cases) to pull impressions and clicks from organic searches while sites with strong brand equity and history rank much faster.

What Do We Do with this Leaked Data?

As SEO practitioners, Google often tells us we’re wrong or that we’re creating myths about how pages rank in organic search results. It’s nice to know this is not the case and this leaked documentation proves several things we often speculate on relating to technical SEO, content, user experience and link strategies. Of course, this is not a surefire document to use to rank a website. Every website is different and has a unique experience when it comes to SEO. This leaked information just gives us the most important ranking factors we should all be paying attention to and how we should all take a holistic approach to our SEO efforts.

Have questions about the Google algorithm leak of May 2024? Let’s talk about it.

About the Author

Jeff Romero

Founder of Octiv Digital, University of Utah alumni, drummer and digital marketer for local businesses, e-commerce organizations and more. I write on the Octiv Digital blog about SEO, paid search, web development and analytics.

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