Unprecedented Google Leak

Unprecedented Google Leak Confirms What SEOs Already Know

Jake Stoops
SEO Director
Jun 14, 2024

As you may have seen in marketing news over the past few weeks, there has been a substantial and somewhat unprecedented Google document leak.

The leak was first made public by Rand Fishkin, an early SEO thought leader and the former Founder/CEO of Moz (currently the Founder/CEO of Sparktoro). 

The source of the leak, which has since been confirmed as authentic, hosted more than 2,500 pages of API documentation containing 14,014 attributes (API features) that seemingly came from Google’s internal “Content API Warehouse”.

It appears that these documents, which were on GitHub from March 27, 2024, until they were taken down on May 7, 2024, were inadvertently and briefly made public, which allowed them to be found and circulated.

But what have we learned from this?

Google Does, In Fact, Collect Click Data

They’ve long denied this, but, in fact, the leak shows that click data, as SEOs have long theorized, may be used in rankings — e.g. sites that generated “good” click engagement and longer “dwell times” (clicks where a user stays on the site longer or doesn’t return and search again) may rank better.

This is often related to the mention of the “NavBoost” attribute, which is referenced often within the documents and may be one of Google’s strongest ranking signals.

The leak also shows that Google also likely uses click data to help classify the quality of inbound links to a website, which has a significant impact on how a site may rank.

This means that sites that generate high volumes of clicks from verifiable sources likely receive a higher quality classification, and links from those sources pass SEO value. Conversely, links from low-click, low-quality sites are ignored and do not help search rankings. Overall, links still seem to be very important for search rankings.

Other Google Data Practices and Search Ranking Mechanisms

Interestingly, the documents didn’t contain any information about the new AI Overviews feature, which has received heavy criticism since its recent release. However, from this leak, SEOs have learned the following:

  • Google has likely been collecting click-stream data from Chrome for many years, which may play into how Google calculates some metrics and may influence Sitelinks as well as other features. This raises privacy concerns and may lead to a change.
  • There are likely white lists in place for some high-interest/impact topics such as travel, Covid, and politics, meaning that some sites are approved to rank higher than others for controversial or potentially problematic queries. The rationale behind this appears to be a desire to show information from balanced, accurate sources while mitigating sensationalistic content and perspectives, which could have damaging effects.
  • Google Quality Rater feedback is likely directly used to influence search rankings in at least some small way rather than just part of Google Search experiments.
  • Google calculates scores for many things, including Site Authority (e.g. “Domain Authority”), Page Title Match Score, Keyword Stuffing, Your Money Your Life (YMYL) queries, Video Sites, etc.
  • Algorithmic demotions exist, including Anchor Mismatch, SERP Demotion, Nav Demotion, Exact Match Domains Demotion, Product Review Demotion, and more.

That said, the documents didn’t show the weight of particular elements in the ranking algorithm or prove which elements are actively used versus those that are old. However, they did shed significant light on the types of data collected by Google, much of which conflicts with many public statements by Google over the years.

Much of what the leak showed was also closely aligned to what Google’s execs testified to in the DOJ trial in 2023.

Does (Or Should) This Change Anything About SEO Strategy?

Even though this is probably the most significant leak of Google Search information in the past two decades, overall it’s highly likely that it changes absolutely nothing about how we operate as SEOs.

Holistic SEO components as part of an SEO strategy

While this does confirm some of our long-held beliefs regarding certain SEO-centric topics, it does not fundamentally change the key elements of our SEO Programs:

1) Technical SEO

Having a site that is technically accessible/indexable to Google, and ensuring the site has a solid technical foundation that is sending the right technical signals.

2) On-Site SEO & Content Strategy

Optimizing the site’s pages for what our visitors are looking for, and creating engaging content that aligns with that (e.g. aligning to user interest and intent).

3) Local SEO

If your brand is local, ensuring that it can be found for local searches in the right places (Google, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing Maps, etc.) remains critical.

4) Promotion & Building Brand Awareness/Demand

Promoting your site actively through all available channels to build continued awareness of your brand, which often sends positive signals for SEO. Additionally, building brand awareness and demand continues to be a high-impact tactic, as Google tends to favor larger brands over smaller ones in search rankings. 

We Can Help You Elevate Your SEO Strategy

As we’ve seen, the SEO fundamentals are not likely to change anytime soon. In fact, what this leak proves is exactly what we already knew.

If you have specific questions about the leak or you’d like to learn how we can help you elevate your local SEO strategy, don’t hesitate to ‍Contact Further.

Jake Stoops
SEO Director

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