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Google Search Leak: Actionable Items to Implement in your SEO Strategy

Google Search Leak

At the end of May, an anonymous source shared thousands of leaked Google Search API documents with Rand Fishkin of SparkToro

Since the leak, the SEO community has been awash with speculation and frantic debate. While some marketers believe that the leaked documents prove Google’s public dishonesty, others are urging caution in interpreting the information. This is particularly the case, they argue, because Google has not officially confirmed the legitimacy of these documents. 

That said, it’s easy to see why these documents are causing so much uproar. After all, many of the leaked papers and the claims in them directly contradict public statements made by Googlers over the years. 

For example, the company has previously denied that click-centric user signals are employed, that subdomains are considered separately in rankings and that a domain’s age is collected or considered as a ranking factor. However, the leaked documents suggest that all of these are considered.

Google’s Public Statements vs. Leaked Details 

Google has always remained guarded about how the company’s search algorithms work. However, Google has continuously maintained that things like click data and user engagement metrics aren’t ranking factors. 

In public statements and interviews, many Google representatives, including the company’s CEO, have emphasised the importance of relevance, quality and user experience. At the same time, they have simultaneously denied the use of specific metrics like click-through rates or bounce rates as ranking-related factors.

However, the leaked API documentation appears to directly contradict these statements, referring to things like “goodClicks,” “badClicks,” “lastLongestClicks,” impressions and unicorn clicks that are tied to systems called Navboost and Glue, which Google VP Pandu Nayak confirmed in DOJ testimony are parts of Google’s ranking systems.

On top of this, the leaked documents also suggest that Google calculates several metrics using Chrome browser data on individual pages and entire domains. This suggests that the full clickstream of Chrome users is being leveraged to influence search rankings. This directly contradicts Google’s previous statements that Chrome data isn’t used for organic searches.

We should state here that although Google has not publicly commented on the authenticity of these leaks, several ex-Googlers who reviewed the documents have stated they appear legitimate, with one stating that “it has all the hallmarks of an internal Google API.”

Actionable Items you can Implement in your Strategy 

So, with this in mind, what have we learned from these leaks? Well, here are four key findings that you can implement in your SEO strategy:

1. Focus on Brand Building 

The leaked documents suggest that Google uses brand-related signals and offline popularity as ranking factors. For example, it appears as though metrics like brand mentions, searches for the brand name and overall brand authority are all important. 

Due to this, marketers should now place a greater emphasis on building brand awareness and brand authority. Suggested tactics for building your brand could include:

  • Securing brand mentions 
  • Investing in digital PR, advertising and sponsorships 
  • Building engaged social media communities
  • Establishing thought leadership 
  • Publishing original data and research 
  • Contributing to industry publications 
  • Encouraging branded searches through other marketing channels
  • Targeting brand-related search queries

The exact methods you’ll employ will depend on your budget. But remember, the idea here is to make your brand synonymous with your niche and build an audience that seeks you out directly. The more people search for and engage with your brand, the stronger those brand signals will likely become in Google’s systems.

2. Analyse Engagement Metrics 

If the leaks are true, it means that user engagement metrics are also ranking factors. As a result, it appears wise for marketers to place a greater emphasis on optimising for these metrics. Tactics for this could include: 

  • Writing compelling titles and meta descriptions that will increase click-through rates 
  • Ensuring pages load quickly to reduce bounce rates 
  • Employing an intuitive navigation that will keep users engaged 
  • Using social media and email marketing to drive traffic and create positive engagement signals

However, although optimising for user engagement metrics is a good idea, it should never come at the expense of creating high-quality content that’s user focused. 

After all, gaming engagement metrics isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. As a result, you should only use an engagement optimisation strategy to support and enhance quality content creation, not replace it.

3. Optimise Link Building Strategies

The leaked documents also contain information relating to how Google treats different types of links, as well as details about their impact on rankings. 

For example, the leaked documents include details relating to the use of anchor text, the classification of links into different quality tiers based on traffic to the linking page and the potential for links to be ignored or demoted based on various spam factors.

If this information is accurate, then it may significantly alter how marketers approach link-building campaigns. For example, it’s now very clear that you should prioritise building links that drive real click-throughs, rather than placing links on rarely-visited pages (although this has always been good advice).

Of course, the fundamentals of good link building still apply. Above all else, you should aim to build genuine relationships with journalists/site owners and seek to build natural, editorially-placed links that drive qualified referral traffic to your website. 

4. Adapt To Vertical-Specific Ranking Factors

Finally, some of the leaked documents also suggest that Google may prioritise different ranking factors in specific search verticals, including travel, news and local search. 

As a result, you may need to adapt your strategy to suit the unique ranking signals in your vertical. Above all else, you should make sure you’re satisfying user intent.

For example, a local search optimisation strategy may focus more heavily on factors like Google My Business listings, local reviews and location-specific content. By contrast, a travel company may instead focus on collecting reviews and optimising images.

Above all else, you must ensure that you understand the particular nuances associated with your vertical. As a result, it’s best to read the leaked information and then conduct real-world testing. By doing so, you may be able to adopt a vertical-specific approach to SEO that will help you gain a competitive advantage over your rivals. 

What Steps Should I Take Now? 

If you’re in charge of your company’s SEO strategy or marketing, then you should first ensure that you read all of the leaked documentation. Although the exact authenticity of the documents is yet to be confirmed, these documents still provide lots of actionable information that could be used for testing purposes. 

However, while it’s best to take the advice in the documents onboard, you should also remember that chasing algorithms is a losing battle. As a result, you should ensure that your organic search strategy is focused on your target customers and their needs. Crafting the correct message and targeting the right audience will always provide the greatest benefits. For this reason, this is exactly where your focus should be. 

Do you need help defining your SEO strategy? Contact our experts. We can help you define your audience, define keyword targets and provide real ROI. 

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  • Tom Brook

    Tom has more than 10 years of experience working in copywriting, content strategy and PR. Over the years, he’s led one of the largest copywriting teams in the UK and has worked on a freelance basis for some of the country’s biggest brands.

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