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It seems like everyone involved in the marketing world is buzzing about Google’s recent API search docs leak, and rightfully so. The leaked docs include over 2,500 pages of documents detailing more than 14,000 attributes. So, what did Google say about the leaked docs?

“We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information. We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.”

That sounds about right, coming from Google. Some of that is true, but Google has never been totally honest with the public when it comes to their algorithm and ranking factors. For good reason, really, as they want to prevent spammers or bad actors from manipulating and polluting their search results.

If your firm works with iLawyer Marketing, you may be wondering what we have learned and if this will change how we do SEO here at iLawyer. Before we get into that, there are some very important things to understand about these leaked docs (what it is and what it is not).

These are not 14,000+ ranking factors

While many people are calling these “ranking factors”, they’re not actually ranking factors. The figure of 14,000 refers to the number of attributes (features) detailed in the API documentation. We have quite a bit more insight than most people, considering that we’ve built our own APIs over the years and use many APIs in the software we build. Not everything in these docs influences search rankings and just because something is listed in the API, that does not mean it’s being used. Additionally, while the majority of these docs are specific to search, not everything is. These docs also cover maps, apps, video, YouTube, and other things. Additionally, some features listed in these documents have been deprecated, which means they are no longer in use or supported.

The mention of something doesn’t mean it’s used for ranking

Google’s search algorithm updates thousands of times each year and these API docs are not “production code”, meaning they don’t necessarily reflect the exact state of the live, operational search algorithm Google uses today. It’s also likely being used by Google engineers for a wide variety of things, including testing out new algorithms that may or may not be deployed. While there are no doubt plenty of ranking related features in this documentation that we know are in use (and loads of information that validate many of our long held beliefs), it’s wouldn’t be wise to draw conclusions just because something is mentioned in these leaked docs.

The “weights” of any of these features are not included

Understanding how something impacts Google rankings requires insight into how important it actually is. For example, some SEOs claim that page speed is a very important ranking factor. However, those SEOs that have done extensive testing on this (like we have) know that this is not true. While it is a ranking factor, it’s a very small factor with the current algorithm. These leaked documents do not provide any information on the weights or scores assigned to the various search attributes listed. This means that just because something is mentioned in these docs, that doesn’t mean it’s a heavily weighted part of the algorithm.

What were the biggest SEO takeaways?

While we want to spend more time digging in and analyzing these API docs, there are no huge shocking discoveries that would make us change the way do SEO. The docs have validated many of our long held beliefs however, including ones that relate to ranking factors that Google has publicly denied. But, as mentioned above, the algorithm is constantly changing, so what is true today may not be true tomorrow. For us, it just means we will continue to invest time and effort into more SEO testing, as we always have.

What are some of the most important things to note?

Quality Links Matter

Wow, groundbreaking, right? 🙂 The documents discuss quality and relevancy, something we’ve been preaching for many, many years. We have always told our clients that “quality” of links matters over “quantity”, and this document only reinforces that belief. Based on information in these docs, Google may be ignoring links from content that’s not relevant. Getting links from high quality sources is the reason we started producing linkable assets many years ago. The best way to get high quality links is to create high quality content, which is why we will continue to encourage our clients to invest in more linkable assets if they can.

Google uses Chrome clickstream data to rank pages

This is not a surprise to those who have been doing SEO for a long time, but Google uses data collected from Chrome users to help determine search results. Chrome data allows Google to make real-time adjustments to search rankings based on current user behavior trends. For example, if law firm starts running TV commercials or OTT ads and more people are searching for “{law firm name}” or “{law firm name} accident lawyers”, Google may boost the rankings for that law firm for accident related search terms. This gives additional ranking advantages to firms who invest in marketing their brand. For this reason, we will encourage our clients to work with us to run paid search campaigns to help increase brand awareness for the firm. It may make a lot of sense to have us running a paid campaign that involves Facebook, Instagram and YouTube campaign.

Quality Content matters

We’ve long preached the importance of quality content to our clients (quality in Google’s “algorithmic eyes”, not subjective opinion by humans). But what goes into “quality” when it comes to content? In these docs, we can see that certain attributes are considered (authorship, attributions, images, freshness, etc.). But, this doesn’t mean that Google treats this the same for all queries. For example, if a person is searching for “Los Angeles Dodgers score”, freshness is incredibly important. Google does not weigh freshness at the same level when someone is searching “Los Angeles accident lawyer”. However, we’ve seen in testing that fresher content can sometimes get a ranking boost, so we do pay attention to freshness of content and will continue to do so. One very interesting thing we found was an attribute that mentions “contentEffort“. There is no description, but this could relate to the comprehensiveness, depth, or originality of a piece of content. It may also mean that Google is wanting to know if a piece of content was generated by an LLM, which often people use with little to no effort. Could they suppress or penalize auto generated content? We’ve seen it happen already to websites that use LLM generated content. In any event, Google may be considering “effort” of a piece of content in their ranking algorithm. This matters not just for your own website, but it could negatively impact your rankings if links on other pages on the web that point to your site (inbound links) are being affected. If you have links coming to your website from off-topic pages or from low quality pages, they may be completely ignored (or severely discounted) by Google’s algorithm.

Content quality has always been extremely important to us, and it’s why we have invested heavily over the last few years in our proprietary content optimization software (and will continue to invest in this).

Site Authority is Important

While Google has denied using “Domain Authority” over the years, to me it’s more a case of semantics than Google lying to us. Domain Authority is a metric used by Moz, it’s not a Google metric, so technically what they have said was true. However, Google has their own authority metric, and these documents refer to siteAuthority on multiple occasions. This is no secret or surprise, but the confirmation of the use of site authority is validating for many SEOs. Part of a good SEO strategy is to aim to be an authority in the eyes of Google. This is something that takes quite a while to do and depends on what competitors are the current “authority” in Google’s eyes, but if you are adding high quality content consistently to your site you are on the right track. This is why we created our “Topical Authority” content packages last year and why we will recommend this to our clients.

Will this change the way we do SEO?

Not at this time, no. Overall, there is nothing in this leak that warrants us changing our SEO strategy. While there are new and interesting things to continue paying attention to and for us to experiment with, nothing in these documents contradict what we have always told our clients. However, you can count on us to continue to research and test heavily in order to uncover the most effective SEO methods possible.

If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us at any time.

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