Unpacking the Google Leak (and What It Means for Your Firm)

by Seth Sparks | June 18, 2024

In May 2024, a leak of Google’s internal documentation of how its Search product works was made public, stirring endless conversation in the SEO community. The leak calls into question what Google says is important for SEO professionals to focus on versus what factors its algorithms actually look at when determining rankings.

The leak contains valuable information for SEO specialists, which we’ll examine below. However, it’s also important to keep this information in context and understand both its impact on best practices and its limitations for improving a website’s search engine ranking.

What the Leak Tells Us That We Didn’t Already Know

The leaked document discloses the existence of 2,596 ranking modules and 14,014 attributes used to determine the relevance and ranking of web pages.

Much of the leaked information confirms SEO specialists’ long-held suspicions about how Google’s search product works. For example, Google has said for years that brand, click-through rate (the rate at which people click on an organic listing), and domain authority (a metric used to measure a site’s perceived credibility) aren’t ranking factors.

The recent leak, however, suggests Google does consider brand, click-through rate, and domain authority when ranking websites. Many high-profile SEO professionals have included these factors in their strategies for years.

The biggest takeaway for people in the weeds of SEO is to realize that Google might say one thing and do another. That means being mindful of Google’s stated practices while still testing strategies to see what actually impacts rankings.

The Limitations of Google’s Leaked Documentation

Though the leaked documentation illuminates thousands of ranking factors, it doesn’t specify their exact weighting or importance. It’s also a snapshot of how Google’s algorithms worked when the documentation was retrieved, not a reflection of how they work today.

Thus, the leak should inform how we think about Google’s recommendations instead of providing a roadmap to ranking higher on Google’s search engine results pages.

Why Is Google So Reluctant to Share This Information?

Google guards this type of information to reduce misinformation and spam. Publicizing all ranking factors would make it easier for spammers and nefarious SEO professionals to game the system and outrank legitimate and helpful websites.

Google’s algorithms have become increasingly more complex over time, and few individuals, even Google’s own employees, are likely to completely understand the nuances of this intricate system.

Why The Google Leak Won’t Change Most Marketing Best Practices

Most SEO professionals don’t just mindlessly follow what Google tells them. They form theories, test them, and craft strategies based on a combination of their findings and Google’s recommendations. The leak simply confirms the importance of that strategy.

For most people who work in SEO-related fields of digital marketing (i.e., content, design, and development), decisions should never be made based solely on speculation of what Google’s algorithms may or may not do. Instead, strategies should be based on providing the best experience for users.

After all, Google’s goal is to provide the best experience possible to its users, which includes returning the best results possible in its search results. If your goal is also to provide a great experience to users, then you can worry less about appeasing an ever-changing, tightly guarded algorithm that Google’s own employees might struggle to fully comprehend.

Which Best Practices Should Change Because of the Leak?

SEO specialists can find a treasure trove of interesting information in the Google leak, and those insights will fuel research and discussion in the SEO community for a very long time.

There are many possibilities to explore, including leveraging clickstream data in Google Chrome to learn more about how Google works, experimenting with internal and external linking best practices, doubling down on community building efforts in our clients’ markets, and running tests on page titles.

Most of the adjustments marketers will make center on the way we research and think about our analysis of search engine results pages. That could mean tweaking what we’re prioritizing and paying attention to, even if the traditional SEO playbook stays largely intact.

What Non-SEO Professionals Should Look Out for in the Wake of the Leak

Be wary of any SEO agency or specialist who touts this information as a “secret sauce” to improving rankings. Remember the leak’s limitations listed above and understand that Google’s algorithms aren’t a code to crack.

Also, approach any calls to overhaul your current marketing strategy based on the findings from the leak with caution. The best practices for most marketers shouldn’t change at all because of the leaked documents.

Don’t Let the Noise Distract You From Your Priority—Your Users

At cj Advertising, our web team believes in serving the needs of users, not robots. The Google leak reinforces our belief in our best practices, which include:

  • Meet the Needs of Your Users: Website strategies should be focused on providing users the best experience possible. Your website should be easy to navigate and clearly tell users what you do and how you can help them.
  • Provide the Most Helpful Content Possible: Your website, should provide users everything they want and need to know about your business to make an informed decision about working with you. You can also educate your audiences and answer their questions about your industry and the problems they’re facing.
  • Build Your Brand to Stand Out from the Competition: Brand awareness has always been important, and it’s even more so as the search landscape changes daily. Use all available channels to foster brand recognition and build your reputation in your market.
  • Offer Great Service and Encourage User Reviews: No amount of search engine optimization will save a business that doesn’t do great work for its clients and customers. Do right by the people you serve and ask them to leave you reviews so others can see your good work.

Notice there’s nothing in the list above that references algorithms or Google. Though there are definitely in-the-weeds, tactical nuances to SEO that might be tweaked based on the recent Google leak, most marketing teams’ approach to effective online marketing should seek to satisfy the needs of human beings rather than game an algorithm.

If you’re looking to build your brand, create the most helpful content possible, and provide your users with a great experience on your website, cj Advertising Integrated Digital can help.

Contact your Brand Strategist today to learn more.