Google Confirms Leak of Internal Documents: Search Algorithm


With over 90% of the global search engine market, Google’s search algorithm acts as a gatekeeper for the majority of people who want to find answers on the web.

For the first time, a massive internal document leak offers a glimpse into how Search works — and there are inaccuracies between the documents and what Google has publicly stated about Search in the past.

The 2,500 document leak was unearthed by SEO practitioner and EA Eagle Digital founder Erfan Azimi earlier this month, confirmed by SEO experts Rand Fishkin and Mike King on Monday, and publicly confirmed by Google on Wednesday.

Azimi said he had “no financial motives” for leaking the information. He stated that his main motive was getting the truth to come out.

Related: Google Might Start Charging For AI-Enhanced Search Features

Even though Google spokespeople have denied over the years that clicks factor into rankings, the documents show that Google appears to have kept track of clicks, down to how long users spend on a webpage.

Google also appears to consider subdomains separately from domains, which directly contradicts past statements.

And yet another inaccuracy, Google has said that it does not consider the age of a website in rankings or push down new websites, but the documents show that it does.

Fishkin identified the key takeaways from the leak as:

  1. Google cares about brand recognition and prioritizes big, powerful brands over small, independent ones — even if smaller brands have more expertise.
  2. Powerful brands can rank well on Google, even with lower E-E-A-T, or experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness.

“Google no longer rewards scrappy, clever, SEO-savvy operators who know all the right tricks,” Fishkin wrote. “They reward established brands, search-measurable forms of popularity, and established domains that searchers already know and click.”

Related: Site Traffic Down? Here Are the Big AI Changes Google Made to Its Search Tool

The leak may have occurred when Google accidentally published the internal documents to Microsoft-owned GitHub in March, per Fishkin.

“We would caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated, or incomplete information,” Google spokesperson Davis Thompson said in a Wednesday statement to The Verge. “We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors that our systems weigh, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from manipulation.”

Google made public-facing changes to Search earlier this month, including a new AI overviews section at the top of search results. The move has yielded inaccurate answers, which have since gone viral on social media, including one post telling users to make pizza sauce with glue.

Related: Google’s New AI Search Results Are Already Hallucinating — Telling Users to Eat Rocks and Make Pizza Sauce With Glue

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