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The Google Search Algorithm Leak 2024

Uncover the metrics and systems that shape your site's visibility in the SERPS via the Google Search Algorithm Leak (okay, API leak) of 2024. This one's big!
Google Search Ranking Factors - featured image

A Treasure Trove of Google Ranking Signals

The recent leaks of Google’s algorithmic details via their API have sent shockwaves through the SEO community, causing a lot of hurt feelings (“Google said X, but it’s really Y!”) and uncovering secrets that might alter how we optimize our clients’ websites for search in the future and prosecute our SEO services overall.

These documents, comprising thousands of features and modules, offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Google’s ranking systems, enabling SEOs to fine-tune their strategies with unprecedented precision. It’s now theoretically feasible for marketers to align their efforts more closely with the actual criteria used to rank web content.

The revelations challenge long-held beliefs and confirm suspicions about how Google evaluates and ranks web content. This knowledge empowers us to adapt new strategies and tactics to encourage higher visibility and better performance in search engine results pages (SERPs).

I’d love to help you distill the vast information from the Google ranking systems API documentation, or what most people are likely searching for, the Google search algorithm leak, into actionable insights. However, you must take it all with a huge grain of salt since the weighting of these ranking signals is as yet unknown. By summarizing key takeaways, I aim to provide SEOs and digital marketers with a (admittedly caveat-laden) roadmap for optimizing their websites in alignment with Google’s actual practices.

Let’s see what we can see!

Google’s Algorithmic Secrets

The Google algorithm leaks (really, API leaks) revealed over 14,000 features and ranking signals used in their search engine. Confirmed (somewhat unbelievably?) by Google, these documents provide insights into various aspects of search ranking, from PageRank variants to user interaction metrics.

This treasure trove of information includes specific metrics and ranking factors previously unknown, obfuscated, denied or misunderstood, offering us a somewhat more enlightening view of how Google ranks pages.

Let’s rock!

PageRank Variants

Google employs multiple types of PageRank, each serving a unique purpose within its ranking framework.

PageRank_NS (Nearest Seed) is a modified version of the traditional PageRank algorithm, designed to focus on document understanding and clustering. This variant helps Google assess the relevance of pages within specific content clusters, and is useful for categorizing low-quality pages or niche topics.

By clustering and identifying underperforming pages, PageRank_NS enables Google to assess their relevance and impact on your site’s overall quality more accurately. If you have outdated or poorly performing articles on your site, PageRank_NS can help Google differentiate them from your high-quality content, potentially reducing their negative influence on your site’s rankings.

Please ignore all my “digital marketing during COVID” articles, Google!

Understanding PageRank_NS presents an opportunity to create more focused and interconnected content structures. For example, if you run a blog focusing on “healthy snacks,” be sure your content is interlinked and relevant to your other subtopics like “nutrition” and “meals on the go” to benefit from PageRank variants. This approach enhances visibility in search results and establishes the content as authoritative within the niche.

The key to success is strategically linking related content and maintaining high standards across all pages.

Additionally, the old-skool Toolbar PageRank, once blessedly visible to webmasters, continues to subtly influence page rankings. Despite Google’s public discontinuation of Toolbar PageRank in 2016, the leaked documents suggest that variations of PageRank, such as “rawPagerank” and the cleverly-named “pagerank2,” continue to play a role in Google’s internal ranking algorithms.

Moreover, the leak sheds light on a system called “NavBoost” (more on that later), which leverages data from multiple sources, including the deprecated Toolbar PageRank and click data from Google Chrome, to influence search rankings. This revelation contradicts Google’s earlier public statements regarding the use of Chrome data for ranking purposes.

My faith has been crushed!

The documents also indicate that Google categorizes links into different quality tiers, with click data determining the tier and, in turn, the PageRank flow and impact on search rankings.

While Toolbar PageRank is no longer a public metric, its legacy remains deeply ingrained in Google’s internal systems, shaping how links and user interactions influence search results.

Site-Wide Authority Metrics

Site-wide authority metrics are powerful signals that Google uses to evaluate the overall quality and relevance of an entire website, rather than just individual pages. These metrics help Google determine how authoritative and trustworthy a site is on specific topics, influencing its search rankings.

Despite Google’s public denials, the leaked documents confirm the existence of a metric called “siteAuthority” (“See? I told you we don’t use ‘domain authority’!!“) This metric measures the authority or importance of a website for specific topics and plays a crucial role in determining search rankings.

siteAuthority is part of a broader system that evaluates a website’s overall quality, considering various factors such as content quality, user engagement, and link profiles.

Another significant metric unveiled in the leak is the Host NSR (Host-Level Site Rank), which computes site-level rankings based on different sections or “chunks” of a domain. This metric underscores the importance of maintaining high-quality content across all parts of a website. Host NSR evaluates the quality and relevance of different site sections and attempts to ensure that the entire domain meets Google’s standards for authority and trustworthiness.

Interestingly, the leaked documents also show that Google uses data from Chrome browsers to assess site-wide authority. This includes metrics like user engagement and site popularity, which help Google determine a website’s overall quality. This finding contradicts Google’s previous statements that Chrome data is not used for ranking purposes, highlighting the importance of user interaction data in evaluating site authority.

For example, if you publish a tech blog that garners substantial traffic from Chrome users, your site will likely be seen as more authoritative. So — do that!

These metrics highlight the importance of maintaining a cohesive topical focus and ensuring that all your content aligns with the overarching themes and goals.

Critical Components of Google’s Algorithm

NavBoost

The intriguingly named NavBoost uses click data from Google Chrome to determine a webpage’s importance. It rewards pages that generate more and better clicks.

For instance, if your job is to create and manage a well-structured e-commerce site that efficiently leads users to purchase pages, you’ll see better rankings (and probably more checks from your client).

To make NavBoost fall in love with your website, focus on improving user engagement metrics, such as click-through rates (CTR) and time spent on page (so-called “Dwell Time”). Ensure your pages are designed to capture and hold user attention effectively.

By creating intuitive navigation and clear, compelling calls to action, you can improve your click performance and thereby boost your rankings via NavBoost.

NSR

NSR (Neural Search Ranking) is a critical component of Google’s algorithm that utilizes machine learning to understand the context and relevance of web content. This advanced system helps Google interpret the semantic meaning behind the text, enabling more accurate and contextually appropriate search results.

Suppose you write a detailed guide on “Exploring the Historic Sites of Rome,” which integrates various aspects such as historical context, visitor tips, nearby restaurants, and personal anecdotes from travelers. NSR analyzes your content to determine its relevance based on keyword matching and how well it answers user queries related to exploring Rome.

The effectiveness of NSR means that simply stuffing an article with keywords is not enough; your content must be rich, well-structured, and semantically meaningful. If another site publishes a similar article but includes more diverse information, like interactive maps, video tours, and updated visitor reviews, NSR will likely rank this content higher due to its comprehensive nature and greater utility to users.

Focus on creating content that is not only keyword-optimized but also deeply relevant and engaging. This will improve the overall user experience and meet the nuanced demands of Google’s neural search capabilities.

This sounds a lot like what Google always says (but never quite defines): “Create quality content”.

ChardScores

ChardScores predict site and page quality based on content and highlight the importance of maintaining “high standards” across your site. These scores incorporate various metrics, including user engagement and content depth, to provide a holistic view of a site’s quality. Just as chard is a versatile and nutritious vegetable, “ChardScores” might metaphorically represent a versatile and comprehensive metric that evaluates multiple aspects of a web page’s quality and relevance.

A high ChardScore indicates a well-maintained site with valuable content, which is (duh) likely to perform better in search rankings.

For instance, consider if you manage a financial news website that publishes daily updates on stock markets, detailed analyses of economic trends, and in-depth interviews with industry experts. Each article is well-researched and supplemented with interactive charts, high-quality images, and videos of market experts explaining complex concepts. This type of content engages users for longer periods, encourages sharing, and attracts high-quality backlinks.

As a result, your site maintains high user engagement and content depth metrics, contributing to a higher ChardScore. This, in turn, signals to Google that your site is authoritative and valuable, boosting its search rankings.

By consistently delivering such high-quality content, you ensure that your financial news site meets and exceeds the criteria measured by ChardScores, thereby improving its overall visibility and credibility in search results.

This, too, sounds a lot like what Google always says: “Create quality content”.

AI writing for a lazy content marketer
A lazy content marketer having AI write his content for him, and Google may not be happy about it.

Page Quality (PQ)

PageQuality (PQ) uses a large language model (LLM) to estimate the “effort” behind creating content. Factors like the use of tools, images, videos, and unique information contribute to higher PQ scores. This also smacks of possible use of “AI detection” technologies.

Obviously, if AI wrote your article, maybe you didn’t put in much effort, huh, Champ?

A detailed, human-created (non-AI-word-salad) tutorial on DIY home improvement, complete with original instructional videos and original photos, will score high on PQ, indicating it offers substantial value to users.

This measurement underscores the need for content that addresses user queries and does so in a thorough, engaging, and unique manner that differentiates it from other pages.

Image and Content Quality

Image Quality Signals

Google measures image quality through signals like usefulness, presentation, and engagement, known as ImageQualityClickSignals. High-quality, original images that are visually appealing and enhance the content’s value can boost rankings.

For example, if you run a fashion blog, include clear, attractive images of clothing items that match the content. This will likely help your blog perform better in search results.

You should prioritize not just the inclusion of original images, but also their quality and relevance to the accompanying text, ensuring they add meaningful value to the user’s experience. Engaging images that complement the content help keep users on the page longer and can lead to higher engagement metrics, which positively influence rankings.

Content Update and Freshness

Regular content updates are crucial for maintaining its relevance and ranking. Google uses systems called SegIndexer and TeraGoogle to prioritize content by update frequency.

SegIndexer is apparently responsible for organizing web pages into tiers based on factors such as quality, relevance, and freshness. This tiered approach allows Google to prioritize the most important and relevant documents, ensuring that users receive the best possible results for their queries. By streamlining the search process, SegIndexer helps Google deliver fast and accurate search results.

Complementing SegIndexer is TeraGoogle, a secondary indexing system designed for the long-term storage on actual hard drives(!) of less frequently accessed documents. TeraGoogle ensures that even less commonly searched documents remain indexed and retrievable. By offloading the storage of these documents, TeraGoogle helps optimize the performance and efficiency of Google’s primary index.

In case I just put you to sleep, suffice it to say your SEO strategy should include periodic reviews and updates of existing content. This matches my experience: I’ve seen it’s easier to “revive” a formerly-ranking article than to create something from scratch and rank it.

As an example, if you manage a financial advice blog, you would obviously update your articles to reflect the latest market trends and regulatory changes (this can even be done via automation). This keeps the content relevant and signals to Google that your site is actively maintained and up-to-date, which is a critical factor for ranking.

Updated content demonstrates a commitment to providing the most current information, enhancing your site’s credibility and reliability.

Managing Site Content and Structure

Host NSR and Delcious Site Chunks

Host NSR computes site rank using chunks of your website, measuring clicks and impressions site-wide. This approach underscores the importance of maintaining consistent quality across all sections of your site.

For example, if you run a news website, ensure high-quality journalism and relevant updates in each category, from sports to politics, to improve your overall site rank. By focusing on cohesive, high-quality content throughout your site, you can enhance the aggregate metrics that contribute to better rankings.

Implementing a content strategy that ensures every section of your site provides value can significantly improve your site’s overall performance in search rankings.

Removing Low-Performing Pages

Identifying and removing pages with poor performance metrics (so-called “Content Pruning“), such as low user engagement and lack of backlinks, can enhance your site’s overall quality.

For instance, if you manage an online magazine, periodically audit your content and remove outdated or irrelevant articles that do not attract traffic. This process helps maintain a high standard of content across your site, ensuring that only valuable, engaging pages remain, which positively impacts site-wide metrics.

Removing low-performing pages also helps concentrate link equity and user engagement on the best-performing content, further improving your site’s rankings.

Backlinks and Mentions

Toxic Backlinks

The leak confirms that Google does indeed appear to penalize so-called toxic backlinks. And, as we always say, you should focus on acquiring high-quality backlinks from reputable sources. Tools like Google Search Console can help you identify and (at the time of this writing, anyway) disavow harmful links.

If you manage a health website, seek backlinks from authoritative medical journals, industry resources and health news websites, avoiding links from spammy or irrelevant sites. This approach helps maintain topically-relevant, “clean” and authoritative link profile, crucial for ranking.

High-quality backlinks from trusted sources will probably always signal to Google that your site is credible and trustworthy, enhancing its ranking potential.

Entity Mentions

Mentions of entities (like brands or individuals) across the web can influence search rankings similarly to backlinks. These mentions are the lspecific words or phrases that refer to real-world entities such as people, places, organizations, or concepts. Google uses entity mentions to enhance its understanding of web content and search queries.

When Google identifies an entity mention, it links it to a vast database of known entities, AKA the Google Knowledge Graph. This helps Google disambiguate terms and understand the context better. Through this Knowledge Graph, if you search for “Apple,” Google can determine whether you’re interested in the fruit or the tech company by analyzing the context in which “Apple” is mentioned.

At the risk of stating the obvious, mentions of your brand in industry blogs and news sites can enhance your visibility. Strive to get your brand mentioned in relevant and high-traffic websites to boost your SEO performance.

PR agents, rejoice!

This strategy emphasizes the importance of building a strong online presence and reputation through mentions, which can significantly impact search rankings. Encouraging user-generated content and engaging with industry influencers can help increase the frequency and quality of these mentions.

Strategic SEO Adjustments Based on Leaks

So what are you supposed to do with all this leak-nonsense? Well, it turns out that high-quality, engaging content is more crucial than ever. Your content should be visually appealing, updated regularly, and rich in multimedia elements.

Diversifying content formats and regularly updating posts will keep users engaged and coming back for more.

Ensuring consistency in page titles, consistent brand NAP (especially the “N”), internal linking, and topical relevance across your site is vital. Consistency helps in building a strong, coherent structure that Google can easily understand and rank, reflecting your site’s overall topical relevance and authority.

A well-structured internal linking strategy enhances navigation and helps distribute link equity across important pages, boosting their rankings.

And of course, get links — lots of high-quality, topically-relevant (and geo-relevant, if you’re a local business) backlinks.

Leak On, Big G!

The leaks have provided potentially valuable insights into Google’s ranking factors, emphasizing the importance of understanding and adapting our SEO strategies accordingly. Or it could just be a huge ruse to take the heat off of Google’s much-maligned Search Generative Experience and comedically-bad AI Overviews. YMMV.

But presuming the leak is real, from the various PageRank variants and the NavBoost system to the significance of PQ scores and the role of content quality and freshness, these revelations shed light on the complex and evolving nature of Google’s search algorithms.

These insights remind SEOs and digital marketers of the need for a proactive and informed approach to search engine optimization. Here at Boomcycle Digital Marketing, we forever aim to stay abreast of the latest developments and incorporate any findings into our strategies to better position our client’s websites to rank in Google.

The usual caveat is that SEO is a dynamic field, and what works today may not be as effective tomorrow. The leaked API underscores the importance of continuous learning and adaptation to maintain and improve search rankings. As Google’s algorithms evolve, we need to stay informed, test theories, and be willing to experiment with new strategies to stay ahead in the competitive landscape.

I encourage you to view these leaks as an opportunity to reassess your current SEO practices and identify areas for improvement. Embracing a mindset of continuous learning and experimentation will position your organization to thrive despite ongoing changes in Google’s algorithms.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss the implications of these leaks further, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My team and I are here to help you navigate the complex world of SEO and develop strategies that drive meaningful results.

David Victor, founder, Boomcycle Digital Marketing Agency
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