At the moment there seems to be a patent story in the news every single week but the latest one from Google has caught the attention of a lot of people in the SEO industry.

We’re interested because it’s one that affects how quickly and accurately you can gauge search optimisation results.

This latest patent, which was approved this month, is on ‘Ranking Documents’ and relates specifically to the practice of search engines not altering ranking positions immediately after an on or offsite tweak  that merits such a change. .

Google describes this as a ‘rank transition function’, which during the transition from the ‘old rank’ to the ‘target rank’ may cause:

  • A time-based delay response.
  • A negative response.
  • A random response.
  • And/or an unexpected response.

What does this mean in practice?

If your SEO activity either starts to work or begins looking like unnatural link activity or excessive content optimisation, you may be placed in the ‘rank transition’ category.

This limbo between ‘old rank’ and ‘new rank’ could now result in confusing and inaccurate ranking positions. 

The purpose

The reason behind this could be, as was argued in the office last week, to stabilize ranking positions and thus limit the amount of ‘Google Dance’ you see in results. However, the reason provided in the patent is hinted as being another way of catching and, indeed, confusing anyone using SEO spam techniques.

Google elaborates by stating that:

Unexpected results are bound to elicit a response from a spammer, particularly if their client is upset with the results. In response to negative results, the spammer may remove the changes and, thereby render the long-term impact on the document's rank zero.

Alternatively or additionally, it may take an unknown (possibly variable) amount of time to see positive (or expected) results in response to the spammer's changes. In response to delayed results, the spammer may perform additional changes in an attempt to positively (or more positively) influence the document's rank.

In either event, these further spammer-initiated changes may assist in identifying signs of rank-modifying spamming. 

So what we can see here is that Google is looking at two main types of behaviour during a transition rank stage:

  • Correctional Techniques – Removing links which may have been increasing your rank or reducing on page optimisation.
  • Delayed Response – Continued ‘rank-modifying spamming’ like adding additional keywords or increasing linkbuilding.

So as we’re not all going to pack up shop and give in to the 10 year old ‘SEO is dead’ rumour, I’m taking a few things out of this: 

  1. It’s a trap for the impatient SEO.
  2. SEO testing just got harder.
  3. This shouldn’t affect those with a longterm SEO strategy.
  4. Google is set up to learn a lot more about spam techniques.
Stephanie Villegas-Ross

Published 3 September, 2012 by Stephanie Villegas-Ross

Stephanie Villegas-Ross is an SEO account manager at 4Ps Marketing and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (19)

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Selena Jain

Selena Jain, Assistant Manager at Clipping Path India

Its totally confusing that what Google is going to do? I seeing a site which has top position for keywords, they do nothing but only spamming both in on-page and off-page SEO. Seeing should it would be a good decision that we should do the same as them to be in top place in Google??

almost 6 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Jannatul, it's not confusing, it just supports Google's long term goals of bringing quality content to searchers. Nobody that is creating user-centric, engaging, shareable content needs to worry.

almost 6 years ago



Ya, not too much to worry about. G is trying to be complex to the spammers. I'm not worried about it. Although their search results have been pretty bad lately, I suggest they work more on that then fighting spammers.

almost 6 years ago



I am agree with you Eric Google Need to improve their algorithm because a lot sites which are doing spamming both in on-page and off-page SEO.

almost 6 years ago



I've been spamming for ten years now with excellent results, panda is a lazy animal and penguin has difficulties to walk steadily... Seo is not dead but is just for people with big budgets and even if I can afford it now I prefer the black hat, it makes me happier. I bring quality money to my businesses through spam , that's the only quality that matters.

almost 6 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

Stephanie thanks for the blog and your take-away thoughts.

I'm going to throw some cynicism into the ring, as what G does nowadays (especially after encrypted search) generally encourages me to be cynical.

If SEO changes take longer to have a sustained ranking impact + testing is harder to validate, doesn't that further the case for marketers to use paid search to plug short-term gaps whilst Google "has a think about whether it wants to increase your ranking"?

Most policy decisions by G are geared towards increasing their revenue streams. I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the 'below the radar' targets.

Whilst I'm sure G is actively trying to combat spam, as is Bing, I think they are also out to diminish the impact of intelligent SEO for short-term gains. Isn't that why there is so much paid inclusion is some searches whereby only 1 genuine organic listing appears above the fold? After all, they're a business and out to make money. The less direct, measurable impact SEO has, the easier it is to persuade people to invest more in paid inclusion to get keyphrase coverage.

Or perhaps I've been reading too many spy novels and am trapped in a world of conspiracy?


almost 6 years ago


Paul Thewlis

Another nail in the coffin for a lot of the short term SEO practices once again reinforcing that quality, natural looking content with high share value is the investment which webmasters should be making.

It might take longer to achieve but you've got to remember that Google's pagerank is defined as how important Google views the site i.e. how authoratative. Therefore be an authority and the results will follow.

almost 6 years ago

Tom Howlett

Tom Howlett, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

I do wonder what effect this will have when a site appears to have an unnatural link increase - but the only reason they have seen this is due to other marketing activities at the time, nothing 'spammy'.

almost 6 years ago


syed Shehzad

Hmm, trap for rank-modifying spammers (what are we now, a mouse or a rat? :-S)

Anyhow, this is all very interesting stuff - and we need not to get trapped into this by doing the all the right things, be patient and make client realise that SEO TAKES TIME!

almost 6 years ago



Well, this was quite obvious that Google wants to confused the spammers to learn about their techniques, and google has always supported long term seo strategies, and it's still doing that!

almost 6 years ago



Interesting post - I don't actually have a problem with this move by Google. SEO is firstly not the only part of an integrated marketing strategy and its a long game. If this weeds out 'SEO' providers giving bad value to clients through bad practices - bring it on!

almost 6 years ago


Mice KitThe Mice Kit includes both T Rex snap traps and glue boards. Both very effective products and with both in your hands you'll be sure to capture all the.

almost 6 years ago


Mike Smith

Clever. It makes complete sense for Google to protect their algorithm by incorporating misleading results so that it becomes more difficult for spammers to draw conclusions. However, that being said, if SEOs are doing things the "right" way, then they don't need to worry much about this feature.

almost 6 years ago


Nitai Roy

Yes, I agree with Mike Smith that google analytics..

over 5 years ago



For SEO marketing, if you do as spamming one day Google will catch you and you will lose your rank for not following google rules.

over 5 years ago


Creative Design House

Yeas I am I agree with Eric. I Believe that.

over 5 years ago

clippingmask sia

clippingmask sia, Clipping path service in 24 hour's with low cost at clippingmaskasia

yes i am also agree for eric because i think he is right ,however good job carry on.thanks

about 5 years ago

Clipping Path

Clipping Path, Clipping Path | Photoshop Clipping Path services | Image Masking | Image Manipulation | Photo Retouching | Raster to Vector Services Provider - The Clipping Path India at

Yah Mike Smith is right about that google analytics...

over 4 years ago


Clipping Path, CEO at Clipping Path Asia

The Google patent trap for rank-modifying spammers Its really a good news for me Thanks for share. Thanks from

over 4 years ago

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