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Google’s got a brand new bag; rank modifying spam patent

Have you heard about Google’s new algorithm? It’s gonna be freakin’ huge! They’re really out to get SEOs this time. Whatever you do… stop doing SEO. The end is near! SEO is DEAD!! Bibble… babble…dibble…irk…



The Sky is falling

Well it seems once more the ‘chicken little‘ syndrome has hit the SEO world.

In yet another example of turning a simple patent filing into a swath of ignorance, it seems the sky may indeed be falling. It all started innocently enough, as it usually does, with brother Bill (Slawski) writing about a recent patent award to Google.

From that point, it just began to get a life of it’s own culminating in one VERY misguided article on Zdnet. Allow me to walk ya through.

After Bill’s analysis the good folks at SEO Book decided to add some commentary, in their usual style. As did my good friend Barry Adams, (although his was a broader op-ed on Google’s perception of SEO). And really, anyone that knows ‘the Book‘ or Barry, would kind of expect that.

After that, it got some coverage on SEOoptimise and Search Engine Land. Those were somewhat more tempered, but until Saad edited his to add some clarifications from Bill, it was by and large still being treated as something ‘new’ that was happening from Google.

The end is near

A patent is just a patent

One of the more troubling aspects is that there was a lot of chatter about this being some new method Google was implementing. Hmmmmm… not so fast. A patent award date isn’t what we look at. We actually are more interested in the actual filing date (Jan 2010 in this case). That part tends to get lost.

Look at wording from the SEoptimise article;

“Also, Bill Slawski provides an excellent analysis of how this new approach will affect a page’s rankings. “

“In layman’s terms, this patent document specifies how Google intends on making rank changes to its search engine results pages (SERPs). “

In fact, as noted by Bill since then, elements of this can bee seen in patents as far back as 2002 and the historical ranking series (was later re-filed as one patent).

“The filing date of that patent is 2003, so chances are that Google has been looking at the use of a transition rank function since at least some time in 2002 “ – Bill Slawski

Then of course we need to consider if the method was, or is still, being implemented in it’s original form. Then we can also consider that this approach could be used in different ways, as that part isn’t exactly evident.

I personally get the sense that this would be something applied to sites that have already tripped another spam signal (there’s a ton of them) as another bit of evidence prior to any type of manual action. I say that because if this was applied index-wide, the SERPs would actually be a massive state of flux. Think about it. It makes more sense as yet another layer of spam detection to avoid false positives.

The Zdnet Connection

And of course this all lead to one of the most misleading and incredible bits of SEO related journalism I have seen in a LONG time;

Any SEO could damage your site as a spam site

This guy went completely overboard. Allow me to share a few nuggets of awesome.

“how Google is now measuring any attempt at raising the rank of a web page as the work of a spammer — no matter the quality of the content — and it will penalize the site. “

Any attempt to modify the rank of a web page, after it’s been ranked, could spell disaster for the site owner. “

One of my fav’ bits is when he talks about the Google Panda updates…

“If they did anything to try and regain their lost ranks, (and lost business) that immediately flags Google as the work of spammers! “

Seriously? That’s just hilarious. He further muddied the waters when defending his position on Google Plus

Zdnet responds on Google Plus

Really? It’s related to the ‘Panda algorithm suite‘? Erm no… and you obviously haven’t a bloody clue about any of it do ya. An ‘algorithm suite? That doesn’t even make sense.

Strangely enough, people come thumping out of the bushes to defend the SEO industry when Tom wrote about it, but few said anything when SEO Book did their take on it, the likely genesis for the Zdnet article. If you’re going to hold them to the flame, you might also want to do so with the Book no?

Obi Wan - not the patent you're looking for


This is not the patent yer looking for

Right, so ya feel me so far right? The problem of course is that this isn’t an isolated incident. It’s happened may times in the past and the infamous ‘reasonable surfer’ instance, sticks out as another recent collective insanity moment relating to patents.

You remember that one right? Seemingly at a lack for material, Rand Fishkin started talking about a post from Bill one morning as part of his SMX London preso. Next thing ya know, the blogs of the industry started to come alive with this, you guessed it, “NEW” thing that Google was doing.

If we go further back, we can get into the whole LSI crap that also was misuderstood but a rampant bit of SEO lore for many years.

Which is truly my point here today folks. Get yer heads together (and outta yer ass?). If you don’t know about something, stop writing about it. If yer gonna write about it, either get some context (like actually reading the patent) or talk to someone that knows.

We must stop just regurgitating things for the sake of filling a page. At the end of the day it only ends up confusing and misguiding other SEOs that may not have the knowledge to take things with a grain of salt.

Anyway, I awoke at 3am this morning and couldn’t sleep cause of this madness, thus had to write about it….

As you were…


UPDATE: It seems Tom is back to help those of us that were ‘confused’ about the original post. Of note, he states that;

I’m not advising anything, I’m reporting that a little known Google patent appears to be playing a major role in how a post-Panda Google now ranks web sites and web pages.

Right then… (from my comment on the post);

1. Panda was about thin content and ads above the fold. Not web spam.
2. Penguin was originally named the ‘web spam update’ and certainly WAS about spam

So, if you want to draw lines between anything, it would actually be the Google Penguin updates, not the Panda ones. Her further states;

This creates the situation where if a site owner tries to improve the quality of a page, by rewriting passages to make them clearer, adding additional information, links, video, etc, this could result in a spammer flag from Google, and a period of randomly fluctuating index ranking.

Again, if you are truly trying to improve the page. Make it more useful or search engine friendly, then there is little to be concerned with. In fact, given that this kind of method has been around for nearly a decade, if what you’re doing hasn’t caused your site trouble to this point, this patent award should likely be disregarded. It truly is more about those that are indeed trying to spam. Please do go back and read; Are you ready for the next Penguin assault?

In short… look at what I have done here. I have made changes to this page in the last 3hrs. Tom, do you truly believe that this page will be flagged as spam? That I am somehow causing myself grief? hmmmmm….



  1. Dean Cruddace August 30, 2012

    Again? Christ I have being trying to understand search patents for quite a few years now and still have no clue.

    I would NEVER be so bold to even attempt to write about them nevermind make sweeping statements to scare an industry. (unless I had WIFI in my padded cell).

    Leave it to Bill.

  2. Robert August 30, 2012

    I thought that was a joke at first… but nope, seems to have been a “researched” piece.

    Knowledge it a good thing, no knowledge rarely hurts, but a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. I hope the poor author doesn’t ever comment on online marketing in any form again.

  3. SNCadmin August 30, 2012

    Hey Dean…. yes, we’re at it again. Can’t count the number of times I’ve written, tweeted, FB’d or otherwise had to go off about the industry blogosphere latching onto 1 of the hundreds of Google patents each year. Somehow, I get the feeling this won’t be the last time either… meh

    Robert – one can hope, but I am not entirely sure these kinda folks will ever stop. In fact, the attention he’s getting might even encourage the behaviour

  4. Rafael Montilla August 30, 2012

    Thanks David, there are so much crap about SEO. One of my dream, I had last night, was about Tom’s post.
    He really does not see or get the difference between SEO and Spam.

  5. jim hedger August 30, 2012

    That was an unfortunate article. Tom Foremski is usually better than that. I took the headline a little more seriously when I saw Tom’s name beneath it. Was deeply unimpressed when reading it though. Again, Foremski is usually better than this piece.

    Mea Culpa Tom?

  6. SNCadmin August 30, 2012

    Hey Raf, funny that… cause as I mentioned it actually had me up in the wee hrs of the morning. I have no idea if Tom ‘gets’ SEO, information retrieval nor AIR (adversarial information retrieval). At least to the point that he should be writing about it as such.

    @Jim – I hadn’t actually heard of Tom before this, but the first time the article was brought to my attention, it was a Dojo member that said something along the lines of “He usually writes better stuff that this. It’s kind of sad to see”

    You saying that seeing his name made you take it more seriously initially, does speak volumes though.

    I do have to think, as I noted in the post, that part of the problem is that he (only?) read the post from SEO Book, whom most of us know to be edgy on a good day. I guess he wasn’t really aware of that? Not sure.

    And I don’t really want to put the blame anywhere. He’s not the first, nor will be the last, to get caught up in the confusing world of patent filings. This has happened before and will happen again. I suppose I just feel the need to try and add some context to it each time it happens.

    He he… sounds like a good bit for Webcology tho no?

  7. netmeg August 30, 2012

    SEO freakout drama is so funny. It makes me go ha ha.

    Seriously, is there some kind of a calendar app listing the schedule for this stuff, cause I’d like to subscribe to it. It happens on such a regular basis, there SHOULD be a calendar (oh yea – THAT time of the month again…)

  8. Rafael Montilla August 30, 2012

    He does not understand, what Quality Content means.
    “If you try to improve the quality of your site, that can work against you.” :zzz
    Quality Content is for the user, not for the search engines, Google likes to give the user the best Quality Content.
    Google is like an adviser, when a user search for any information, Google wants to give the best advise and the best advise will be on the website that has Quality Content.

  9. DennisG August 30, 2012

    Thanks for jumping on this David, and not linking to the ZDnet article, because it smells too much like LinkBait.

    It is clear to me Tom is the one who is confused, not the people who have responded with a comment.

    Normally I don’t spend any time on drama like this, which is why I like Netmeg’s response (as always).

    But I was in the mood to push back yesterday, so left a couple myself as well…

    Now, back to do some great SEO work, and get ahead of the n00bs

  10. SNCadmin August 30, 2012

    Yea, initially we kinda laughed about it (Dojo chat room) because it seemed to just be a slow news week or something. That we’d not had a good drama in a while and it was due.

    Then of course I had people telling me Tom was a respected author. I noticed Bill getting a little more involved. I realized that maybe this was one that I might want to get involved in.

    Seems now I am a troll (on twitter).

    Those of ya that know me, know that I’ve long gone off on this kinda shit.. from LSI ro LDA to reasonable surfer patents and the SEO magic bullet. I do actually give a shit about this kinda atuff cause it not only can confuse new SEOs, but we end up having to try and explain to clients that it is misinformation. A little easier for me cause of my body of work, but what about some young SEO just building a client base? He now has to try and show that he’s wiser than a respected Zdnet author. I’d bet that’s not an easy task.

    Ya know?

  11. Rosana L August 30, 2012

    Every time I read one of these posts that intend to freak people out I get even more fed up.
    Clients and bosses read blog posts or forums online and take the info as it is true, and then the phone calls begin: freak out, did you read this, blah blah blah.
    What a way to confuse and scare people ….

  12. @steveplunkett August 31, 2012

    At some point, we have to lead…
    (tosses Dave a Molson because it is Friday)

    and yes sir.. you are a knight of the roundtable for seo, charged with defending the kingdom of our careers.. =)

  13. Studiumcirclus September 4, 2012

    So “Google’s got a brand new bag” becomes “Google bought a bag a year or two ago and may or may not have used it” 🙂

    – amusing

  14. Jonny Ross September 6, 2012

    help! ok so i have read this post a few times, can someone give 2/3 sentence conclusion on this?


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