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Google Transition Rank: We’re All Spammers Now (part 2)

We left off in the last part of this series with outlining some implications for actual implementation of the Google “Ranking documents” patent.

There are some serious implications to consider however.

  1. There are difficulties for the relationship between SEO consultants and their clients.
  2. There are also some difficulties for doing the work of SEO itself, namely, measuring the effectiveness of your strategy.  In both these areas, the difficulties can be overcome.
  3. Some serious thought will also need to be given to how this would be implemented.  Will just any on-site or off-site change at all be enough to trigger transition rank, or only certain ones?  Will any site at all be vulnerable to it, or only certain ones?  Where is the balance or threshold for Google in combating spammers without hurting its own SERPs?

These are at least three areas of implication worth discussing and they are, of course, interrelated.

Lets go through these.

SEO consultants and their clients

For the SEO consultant, things get a bit complicated because a client may experience a drop in ranking/traffic after taking advice that was intended to improve things.  The consultant is in the position of having to convince the client that the decline is not only temporary but also that its duration will be uncertain, but that ultimately things are going to improve.  The client is in the position of possibly not being able to tell the difference between good advice from which the benefits will eventually be realized and bad advice from which that decline is the end of the story.  A consultant will have to be much more diligent and transparent in setting client expectations so that the need for patience and the areas of uncertainty are clear.

Building trust and confidence in the partnership will be even more important.  The consultant and client would do best to identify “low impact” areas of a site where SEO strategies can be  implemented first.  You can implement the strategy.  Then when and if transition rank is triggered, the financial impact for the client is minimal.  Once the benefit is ultimately realized, the client will have confidence in the strategy and therefore more patience with that strategy when applied to areas of the site where transition rank has a greater impact financially.  You can also build this kind of trust and confidence by showing a track record for your strategy with other clients whose sites and competitive landscapes are similar enough in the view of the new client to establish the comfort level needed.

Measuring the effectiveness of your strategy

Transition rank would clearly make measuring SEO effectiveness more challenging.  In part one, we raised the following important question.  “How would you distinguish the characteristics of this patent in the behavior of the SERPs from other influences that might look similar or even very similar?”  You perform your website analysis (on and off-page factors), you devise your strategy, you execute your plan and then watch for the results.  But you know that many things influence the results including but not limited to:

  • localization
  • personalization
  • competitive landscape fluctuation

So if you see a decline in the short term, how do you know whether it is transition rank to which you should not be reactionary as opposed to a fluctuation in the competitive landscape to which you should respond so that your competitor does not get the upper hand?  Let’s presume you’ve got no alerts in webmaster tools or anything of that sort.  You need to understand enough about your competitive landscape to know whether the extent of the decline is warranted by changes in that landscape.  If not, then it is more likely that something else is at work.  The principle is fairly simple, but not so easily done in practice.  There is much that may be unclear or uncertain.  You could call it SEO quantum uncertainty.  Some parallels from quantum mechanics are actually helpful here.

SEO Quantum UncertaintyObserver Effect

This is a problem for optimizers.  With the phenomenon of Personalized Search, there is no set ranking or ordering of the competing pages by Google until a particular searcher sees the results.  In a sense, the ever fluctuating Google wave collapses only once a SERP is returned to a user.  The solution requires on-page and off-page semantic optimization.  Why and how is beyond the scope of this post but you can ask your local search engine academy instructor.

Quantum Uncertainty for Optimization

Beyond the observer effect, the optimizer encounters uncertainty when examining either an SEO factor or its weighting to ascertain its influence on the search results.  Due to the facts that 1) everything in the competitive landscape is graded on a curve and 2) that the landscape is constantly in flux, the influence of the factors and their weightings are also constantly in flux.  The solution requires better capturing the relationships between the factors and their weightings by using multivariate analysis.  This is not a new idea in SEO.  It has been well known and discussed as long ago as a 2007 Search Engine Guide article by Claudia Bruemmer.  You just need to put it into practice.

Optimizer Effect

This is a problem for Google.  As Google reveals to the public, or as optimizers discover on their own, what signals are being measured in its algorithms, the behavior of optimizers changes in a way that tends to result in a decrease in the effectiveness of using certain kinds of signals as a measurement by Google.  As a result, Google’s system must change and adapt to maintain the purity of its results.  Revealing some signals to the public is in some cases helpful for Google.  Having the Internet ecosystem take on certain characteristics (more people solving cannonicalization issues, more webmasters using Title tags properly, more webmasters using Authorship tags, etc.) makes it easier for Google to perform its analyses.  Some of those characteristics may not sufficiently materialize, however, if webmasters don’t know they are important.  Many of those desired characteristics are neither intuitive nor natural for webmasters like rules for cannonicalization, use of meta tags, and various SEO “best practices.”

Keeping these things in mind and applying them would help you distinguish between transition rank and other influences on the SERPs that could look very similar so that you have better confidence on knowing when to act and when to be patient.  Remember, none of this is some attempt to uncover a search engine’s algorithm.  It’s all about precision in measuring from competitive landscapes those factors over which you can have some influence.  The next part in this series begins with discussing how the “Ranking documents” patent might be implemented.

Addendum for Geeks

Quantum Mechanics - SEO Analogy

Formula - SEO & Quantum Physics

Some find it helpful to have a formula or visual aid to get a better handle on things.  To that end, the following figures are provided to help with understanding the analogous relationship between SEO and quantum physics.

Looking at a formula here related to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle,

1) position,
2) momentum,
3) and angular momentum

would correspond respectively to

1) ranking position,
2) fluctuations in competitive landscape and algorithms,
3) and competitive momentum

Competitive momentum (CM) takes into account your average or probabilistic ranking along with your strength within a competitive landscape and gives you an idea of how stable your position is as well as the direction in which you’re moving for a particular URL and a specific keyphrase.

If you are really curious, below is how the formula might look to calculate competitive momentum for a specific URL over a set of K keyphrases:

Competitive Momentum for a group of keyphrases

Competitive Momentum for a set of K keyphrases

Google Transition Rank: We’re All Spammers Now (part 2) was last modified: February 19th, 2013 by Michael Marshall


  1. My spidey sense is tingling… This is important insight into the near future and long range understanding of SEO marketing for Google.

  2. The most intelligent, knowledgeable SEO and mathematician out there. I trust you for multivariate analysis, as well as your personal integrity and commitment to customer. Just tell us what to do. :)

    • Me too Gail. What Michael knows I just go with. The search engine Academy is lucky to have him. I was reading about the Heisenburg principle in a book. Einstein never accepted the uncertainty principle as a law of phsics. I think it was one of his biggest mistakes. Michael isn’t making the same mistake. Who would have figured I could use it to understand Michael, and maybe a few ex girlfriends, haha.


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