In the Search Engine Academy blog, we left off in the last part of this series with discussing some implications for actual implementation of the Google “Ranking documents” patent. The third consideration to discuss is as follows:
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?
This really gets at understanding to what extent we’d actually have to worry about transition rank if the patent is indeed implemented. If any on-site or off-site change at all would be enough to trigger transition rank, you would have search results bordering on chaotic from the perspective of the searcher. This is not good for Google and, in fact, counterproductive. The purpose is to catch spammers; so what triggers transition rank would most likely be limited to the kinds of changes that look unnatural or spammy and to the kinds of sites that fall below a sufficient level of trust or authority to make it less suspect.
There are some spam tactics that are obvious like keyword stuffing, invisible text, skewed backlink profiles and the like. Some really require intent and others could be done accidentally. Because some could be done unintentionally, you really need to have some understanding of what constitutes spam and why so that you stay out of trouble. It’s not enough simply to know what some good practices are.
Such is the Power of Wine
If, as an SEO consultant or as a webmaster, you view the role of SEO as tending to the competitive health of your website, you should take a helpful reminder from Hippocrates (the ancient Greek physician): “ἀλλὰ τίνα τε πόνον καὶ διὰ τί καὶ τίνι τῶν ἐν τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἐνεόντων ἀνεπιτήδειον”
“It is not sufficient to learn simply that cheese is a bad food, as it gives a pain to one who eats a surfeit of it ; we must know what the pain is, the reasons for it, and which constituent of man is harmfully affected. . . . Thus, to illustrate my meaning by an example, undiluted wine drunk in large quantity renders a man feeble; and everybody seeing this knows that such is the power of wine, and the cause thereof; and we know, moreover, on what parts of a man’s body it principally exerts its action; and I wish the same certainty to appear in other cases.” –
Hippocrates, De prisca medicina
Applied to our situation, you need to understand not just what spam is, but also why it is spammy and what search engine principles (signals, algorithms, etc.) are affected. Some tactics are just downright bad: invisible text, keyword stuffing, and the like. Others can be a matter of doing the right thing in the wrong way. In some of these cases, what gets designated as spam and might therefore trigger transition rank can be a matter of degree or proportion – like link text. By simply maintaining a more natural distribution of link text you can neutralize the spam effect. In other cases, you just need to remove the offense as with keyword stuffing and that will eliminate the spam effect. In most cases, real trust and authority around your site (inherited or direct) will be your best friend in avoiding a problem with transition rank. Spam will make you more vulnerable to transition rank. Whether you neutralize it or eliminate it when found, or take preventative measures against its effects, dealing with it will make you less susceptible to transition rank. Such is the power of spam.
If the “Ranking documents” patent is not implemented, all of the recommendations and tips from this series are still worthy of your consideration because they will still help your SEO strategy.