A little click-baity of a headline, I know. But I felt like I had to offset the unclick-ability of the word patent.
In 2010, Google published a patent called the “ranking document (uspto.gov patent link),” more popularly known as the rank-modifying spamming patent.
I wrote a little about this in 2013 on Quora. The patent discussed how Google might at some point handle website changes aimed at “modifying rankings.”
There are two important parts here, the first is well-known, the second, arguably more important part, is what people don’t think about.
- In response to “spamming techniques,” Google may shuffle the rankings up, down, or randomly before re-ranking your site, adding confusion to whether what you did was good or bad for rankings.
- Then the idea is that Google would “listen” for further changes on your site as a result of the shuffling it did. If you fell for the trap, Google would know that you were changing things on your site, watching rankings, and then changing more things, in a sense “catching” you for optimizing.
You optimize some part of your site and instead of your rankings changing as you’d expect, they get shuffled for an indeterminable (even variable) amount of time before settling into the new ranking position.
This made a big splash in the SEO community. It was interpreted this way:
You make some changes. They’re good changes but maybe your rankings go down for a while before letting them “settle” in their new position. In this way, a “spammer” might see the rankings drop, be confused, and remove their changes.
So everyone went, “Eek!”
Aside: With over 500 updates a year, rankings shuffle all the time for other reasons, and Google files a lot of patents, many of which it probably never uses.
The ranking transition function discussed is the important part, though.
If the person responsible for the page then comes along and removes those extra keywords, it’s an indication that some kind of rank-modifying spamming was going on.Bill Slawski, 2012
Bill makes a good point. If you do some optimization Google may consider spammy, they’ll drop your rankings in a shuffle. If you then remove your changes in reaction to the rankings drop, Google’s caught you red-handed.
But Google also said that the the rankings may improve or do something random during the shuffle.
If an experiment is run and the rankings immediately improve, and then the “spammer” applies similar changes to the rest of the site, that would also be a potential indication of “rank-modifying.”
What’s this mean for you? Maybe nothing.
But do your “SEO” slow anyway. More tomorrow.