Google Admits to Serving Random Search Results…Especially When you’re Paying Attention
Ever get the feeling that the search results you’re getting are changing every time you click the ‘search’ button even while using the same query? We know you’ve had that ‘WTF is going on’ thought when you’re trying to show a client or employer the results of a search you just did 2 minutes earlier but the results have changed.
Well, you can take a deep breath now because those conspiracy theory thoughts rolling around in your head have just been officially confirmed. A Google patent called Ranking Documents that was recently uncovered goes into detail about how Google serves seemingly random results to webmasters when things have changed on a site in an effort to fight ‘rank-modifying spamming’ and ‘rank manipulation’.
The concept is that when Google detects a change to your site that is meant to manipulate your rankings in any way (ie: any type of link building) then they will randomize your site’s rankings for a while to give you the impression that it’s not working. Then when enough time has lapsed your true ranking will surface.
Within the 2 year old patent Google outlines everything they consider ‘Rank-modifying spamming techniques’ which ‘…degrades the quality of the search results provided by existing search engines.’ Here’s a summary with more details found within doing a quick ctrl+F within the patent, although none of these are new to you:
- Keyword stuffing.
- Page redirects.
- Link-based manipulation.
- Invisible text or tiny text.
The list above seems like legitimate reasons to tip a red flag with the search engines. However, this same filter could potentially react the same way when legitimate optimization techniques are done on too large of scale. So what happens when Google’s Randomizing filter is tripped? Your results become very unpredictable that’s what. They can either delay the response, give you a negative result or just serve you a seemingly randomized response. Here’s one description of what could happen according to the patent if a ‘damped response’ or delayed response is triggered:
“For example, if the damped response transition function is selected, the document’s rank may slowly increase over a period of time, such as several days, before settling in on the target rank.”
Then if an ‘initially-inverse response’ or a negative response is triggered:
If the initially-inverse response transition function is selected, the document’s rank may initially be caused to decrease (negative influence) before seeing the 10% increase. In this case, the negative influence may last several days as may the increase to 0.66.”
To make a long story short – this proves what you’ve known all along. Google’s results are seemingly random and are more so when you’re optimizing your site and tracking your rankings. Our clients often want or expect to see instant improvements for their money but as you can see, unfortunately, patience is going to have to win out.
This all translates to us having to continue to manage our clients expectations when optimizing a Web site. White hat optimization techniques do work and will continue to work. All you need is a little patience to see our hard work win out.
Unfortunately, this is also a potential trap for over eager webmasters. If you make a small change to your site to try to boost your rankings and the result you get is an immediate negative one, then you may quickly go back into your site and change it before the real results of your change can take effect. In the end you gain your original rankings back and scrap that technique as not working. Too much of this back and forth and Google has very effectively allowed you to paint a target on your site as trying to manipulate your rankings…thus a red flag is tripped and you’re suddenly a ‘spammer’.
The takeaway here is to be consistent with your optimization efforts, building them up over time and be patient with the results.