Barry Schwartz offers an explanation of the patent over on Search Engine Land. If you’d like to check out the patent itself, go here. Grab a snack while you read it; it’ll take some time. I’d suggest not drinking anything more than water, though, if you value your keyboard.
The patent describes a way that Google can stymie web spammers. These are people who, in Google’s opinion, try various forms of manipulation to get their websites to unfairly rank high in the search giant’s results for their chosen keywords. Google’s patent describes dealing with this problem by counter-manipulating the results in a way intended to sow confusion. Google hopes it will encourage the web spammer to further site manipulation – in effect, revealing that they’re a spammer, so Google can treat them accordingly.
In its patent, Google refers to this as a “rank transition function.” Documents receive a first rank, and then a second rank which is different from the first one – but before the document achieves the second rank, the rank transition function kicks in. While this function is in effect – and it seems to remain in effect for some unspecified period of time – the documents being ranked might see a time-based delay, a negative response, a random response, or an unexpected response. Google might even apply some combination of these things!
So what does that mean for SEOs? Say you’re in the middle of a link-building campaign. You might see a sudden drop in your ranking that has nothing to do with your recent efforts. What would you do? Or worse, you might see a quick rise, and assume what you’re doing is just peachy – when Google has in fact devalued those links, and you’re about to see a big drop. I’m not an SEO, so I haven’t experienced any of this personally, but I see the frustration from apparently inexplicable ranking changes all the time. Now it would appear that Google is doing this on purpose – and that it intends for you to feel this frustrated.
But why would the search giant do that? Well, it’s a matter of perception – and it isn’t pretty. You see, in your eyes, as an SEO, you’re merely trying to do the best job you can to get your website in front of the right people by ranking well in Google. In Google’s eyes, you’re manipulating your website’s rankings. As Barry Adams explains, “Google equates any attempt to ‘manipulate’ their rankings to spam…Every SEO out there is trying to manipulate Google’s rankings. It’s what we do.”
To put it bluntly, then, in Google’s eyes, every SEO is a web spammer. If SEOs are in fact improving the websites for which they do their magic – and in some cases they certainly are – then why would Google hold this view? Don’t they want their searchers to get the best possible experience?
SEO Book offers an interesting take on this question. If I’m reading the author correctly, he’s of the opinion that Google sees websites that rank high in their organic search results as competition of a sort. If you rank high naturally, you see, you don’t need to buy any advertising from the search giant. Since Google gets most of its revenues from advertising, it has an incentive to make it as difficult as possible to rank well.
But if you’re just going to try to buy your way to the top of Google through advertising, why do you need to produce quality content? That costs lots of money – money that you could be spending on advertising. As SEO Book explains, “This is the same argument the newspaper publishers have been making. The advertising doesn’t pay enough to cover the cost of production and make a profit – so naturally the winner in this game cuts production cost until the numbers do add up. What tends to be sacrificed in this process – is quality.”
In this situation, it becomes more important than ever to seek out sources of traffic that don’t depend on Google. Don’t stop producing quality content, but make sure it will get seen where your potential customers are most likely to hang out – and that may not be Google, after all. Keep doing what you know is right to build your website into the best resource for your visitors. That’s the way you win this race. Good luck!