The Google algorithm isn’t changing and hasn’t gone awry

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  • January 2, 2008

Techcrunch and Mashable have thousands of people up in arms today saying that Google is changing the algorithm to favour brand new blogs over trusted content.

Don’t worry, it isn’t.

As usual both publications have got the wrong end of the stick when it comes to SEO.

The whole issue is based around Google creating a new years logo about the birthday of the TCP/IP protocol, the logo was liked to a search for “January 1 TCP/IP”. This search had very few results and wasn’t commercial enough to trigger any kind of spam filtering so straight away bloggers started to rank highly purely based on simple factors like title tags.

Duncan Riley of Techcrunch comments:

TCP/IP’s anniversary today has resulted in Google preferencing recent posts, including from Digg, over informative articles related to the search term such as Wikipedia who would have normally had the top or near to the top position.

Sorry Duncan but no matter how much Google loves Wikipedia they aren’t going to rank them highly if they don’t have a page about that subject. This page is closest and doesn’t include the search term in the title or the text. Digg is almost as much of an authority site as Wikipedia and will rank very well for an exact match search term such as this. The fact that Digg is an authority means their pages are not subject to the same ageing delay filters as those of a brand new site.

Kristen Nicole at Mashable has written an entire post with the same uproar that would happen if Google replaced the entire index with blog spam.

What the flaw allows for is an outpouring of spam results appearing at the top of a query, out-ranking Wikipedia results and other resources that you’d expect to be at the top of the page.

Just because Wikipedia is normally at the top of the page when you search doesn’t mean it should be. Try searching for something that doesn’t have a page in Wikipedia and you might see what I mean.

What really happened

Google has an algorithm called Query Deserves Freshness in which they look at search volume and blog post volume to decide if a topic is “hot” or not. If 100,000 people search for “New York” every day then on an average day the results will show trusted content from older sites. If, one day, a million people search for “New York” then something major has probably happened and Google will pull in as many new blog posts and news articles as possible to give people relevant results.

Because the search term “January 1 TCP/IP” went from no previous search history and very few results to millions of queries in one day it triggered the QDF algorithm ranking new content highly.

Google still used domain trust to figure out that Digg should be one of the top results and would probably have put Wikipedia at number 1 if they had an article about the subject.

The only “problem” here was that Google chose to link a logo to a set of search results without sufficient history to be trusted. The algorithm behaved just fine, it was Google’s logo team not talking to the algorithm / web spam team before unleashing millions of searchers on a low volume query that caused the “issues”.

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

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