The Top Things to Know About the Google Algorithm Leak

June 10, 2024

Collective Measures
What do marketers need to know about the recent Google algorithm leak? Read below to find out.

The Top Things to Know About the Google Algorithm Leak

What is the Google leak

On March 13, 2024, an automated bot called yoshi-code-bot scraped Google’s internal content API warehouse and discovered 2,596 documents pertaining to Google search. These documents contain information on some of the most important elements Google uses to rank content. The leaked information does not specify how the ranking features are weighted, but it does specify which ranking features Google considers.

While the leak included minimal net-new information, there are a few findings that stood out as considerations for SEO and content marketing work.

Branding is SEO

The power of brand

Brands matter. To quote Rand Fishkin, co-founder of the SEO software company Moz, “If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: ‘Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search.’”

For SEOs, the findings in the Google leak highlight the importance of brand optimizations. So much of SEO focus is on nonbrand, and for good reason — there’s often far more available opportunity for nonbrand topics. However, the leak highlighted the importance of a strong brand presence across the internet, not just for general marketing purposes, but also to strengthen organic success.

Site authority is real

Way back in 2011, after the Panda update launched, Google told SEOs that “low quality content on part of a site can impact a site’s ranking as a whole.” Since then, Google has denied having a website authority score.

The mentions of something called “siteAuthority” in the Google leak indicate that Google does indeed look at site authority when ranking content. Knowing this, regular sweeps to remove or merge redundant, low-performing, or poor-quality content are a crucial part of successful SEO strategies. While this isn’t a new concept, it does reinforce the importance of often overlooked SEO maintenance tactics.

The home page impacts every page

PageRank, Google’s algorithm that measures a webpage’s importance based on the quantity and quality of backlinks, is still very much alive within Google’s ranking features. In fact, the PageRank for a website’s home page is considered for every single document. This means that the home page cannot be an afterthought in SEO strategies. A strong home page provides clear and easy paths to core categories/topics, introduces the brand to the searcher, and takes into account the search experience all while not being confusing or overwhelming.

Traditional SEO tactics still matter

Authorship is still important

Google stores author information associated with content and tries to determine whether an entity is the author of the document. There were several references as they relate to entities, like authors. Authorship is an existing best practice; this finding reinforces that leaning into author-driven content is a worthwhile addition to content strategies.

Links matter

Links have been a hot topic for SEOs for years — how much do backlinks matter? Does variety matter? Quantity? Quality? The leak provided some much-welcomed insight into how Google views links. As mentioned above, PageRank, a metric measuring the quantity and quality of backlinks to a page, is still a ranking factor. Specifically, link diversity and relevance remain key for SEO success.

Page titles are still relevant

Google has a feature called titlematchScore that is believed to measure how well a page title matches a query. The leak outlined that page titles can be as long as marketers want. While the title will still truncate after 60–70 characters, Google reads and considers all the text in the title. Pair titlematchScore with the long page title finding, and this reinforces that meta titles are still relevant and should lead with target keywords. 

User-centric content is key

Better engagement means better rankings

If you want to rank well, brands must continue to create great content and user experiences that drive engagement. Google uses a variety of measurements like badClicks, goodClicks, and lastLongestClicks to understand how searchers engage with content, and then incorporates those learnings into rankings.

The U.S. v. Google antitrust trial previously confirmed that Google uses clicks in ranking. The leak documents are just more proof of the importance of user engagement. This ties into the following findings, which are all about centering the user for a quality experience.

It’s not quality over quantity, it’s originality over all

Originality is measured in multiple ways and can yield a boost in performance. This means content marketers and SEOs need to focus on creating and optimizing for unique content over simply producing longer content. Not every topic requires a 5,000-word page to meet user intent — focusing on content that meets their intent, but in an original way that is true to your brand, will improve organic success.

Content freshness — it’s not just for news

Google looks at dates in the byline, URL, and on-page content — and not only the date the page was last updated, but also how significant the last update was. That means just updating the date is no longer enough to indicate freshness to Google. Marketers will need to make significant updates to the page, in addition to updating the date, to meet Google’s freshness requirements.

Google segments transactional pages from informational pages

Intent has been an integral part of the SEO conversation for years now. We know that intent is a heavy component of search, and that Google scores documents based on intent as well. This scoring can stop a transactional page from being considered for searches with informational intent. This could impact marketers with combined transactional and informational pages. Marketers should be wary of merging intents and should closely track organic engagement metrics and rank.

User-generated content (UGC) is valuable, but only if it’s quality UGC

CM has long believed that leveraging UGC is a scalable way to get more content onto pages and improve their relevance and freshness. Google’s ugcDiscussionEffortScore suggests that it is measuring the quality of that content separately from the core page content. This also means that Google is measuring the quality of UGC content. Prompting users to add UGC is still important, but the moderation of that content should be fundamental to improving the visibility and performance of the site.

What this means for marketers

The Google leak was not revolutionary. There were no net-new discoveries, no shocking secrets unearthed. However, the leak did confirm some long-held SEO suspicions, like the existence of site authority. Ultimately, the leak illuminated Google’s unwavering dedication to search intent and providing a strong user experience, the continued importance of core SEO tactics, and how broader marketing and branding work is instrumental to SEO success.