Google was granted a patent in August of 2012 that may have a significant effect on a critical component of SEO research and tracking. It is officially called the “Ranking documents” patent (read a great summary of the Ranking document patent by my friend Bill Slawski). Some in the SEO community have been referring to it as “Transition Rank” and also the “Rank Modifying Spammers Patent.” Many think they have seen evidence of it already at work. After on-site or off-site changes are made for a site, this system toys around with someone’s ranking to see if there is reaction by attempting to make corrective changes. If so, the site may be designated as spam. In an illustrative scenario in the patent, they suggest such a document could lose ranking for 20 days before beginning a 70-day climb to the NEW-Rank. So one could make a good change that should result in increased ranking, but this system would demote that ranking first before gradually putting a page in its rightful, new, better ranking position. I plan to discuss several issues surrounding this patent including:
- Reactions to this patent in the SEO community
- What its implications would be if implemented
- Some insight from a different angle on this relatively old news
“This is a messed up situation because even if you change what you were doing to follow the line of Google’s acceptable SEO practices, it is still viewed as an attempt to modify Google’s index and thus it is the work of a spammer.” – Tom Forenski
This quote from Tom Forenski nicely sums up the reaction from many in the SEO community to this patent. This would make everyone engaging in SEO a Spammer! “We’re all spammers now!” would be the collective mantra of webmasters the whole world over. As you walk down the street, “Oh, you’re one of those dirty ranking modifiers aren’t you?!” is the accusation you might hear just for cleaning up your title tag. In your next webmasters meetup group, don’t even let it be known that you engage in off-page optimization. You’ll find yourself being unfriended, unliked, and removed from circles by people just to avoid digital association with you and avoid linking to a bad neighborhood, regardless of how ironic such a response would be. Is the situation in which we now find ourselves really this grim?
It’s a red herring!
They’re out to get me!
The implications if implemented.
“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”
– “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” (Inferno, Canto III, line 9)
I don’t believe that properly characterizes our situation; not a bit of it. There are some serious implication 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. Part 2 of this series picks up there.