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Could this be the smoking gun, the SEO equivalent to 'CCTV' evidence of Google's manual intervention? I'll let you decide. My place is only to present the evidence.

Without wanting to sound sensationalist, I found this evidence quite shocking because as we all know, Google would never hand manipulate a SERP... would it?

Following on from parts one and two, precisely a month after the initial wave of adjustments sometime before 4:43am, something apparently impossible happened given that Google claim that all their rankings are calculated algorithmically. Historically there have been claims by SEOs that Google occasionally adjusts SERPs manually, Google has constantly denied these claims, and the claims have never been evidenced successfully.

The graph below shows Vodaphone.co.uk appearing from nowhere, displacing the correct site in position three, climbing as high as two during the night. Vodaphone.co.uk is a misspelling of Vodafone.co.uk, with no algorithmic right to be anywhere near the top 500, certainly not position number two for a query like “mobile phones”.

This was spotted on the morning of Monday 28th July by a member of our International Account Management team.  We had been monitoring this update now for a whole month, and by now nothing would surprise us, however this made no sense (see below)

Mobile Phones - Smoking Gun

Our SEO team agreed that this was a ranking impossibility and made no sense whatsoever. There was no 301 trickery and no major backlink footprint:

  • http://www.vodaphone.co.uk (190 backlinks)
  • http://online.vodafone.co.uk (1,810 backlinks)
  • Sitting on a domain http://www.vodafone.co.uk (69,945 backlinks)

And sure enough it was replaced by the correct site (online.vodafone.co.uk) around about noon later that day.

Could this be human error on the part of a search quality engineer? After all both these sites look pretty similar...

At any rate, after seeing this I started to feel that Matt’s comments made more sense. Perhaps this wasn’t an update, at least in the traditional sense. Given that this impacted such a small number of queries, it would be feasible (at the very least) for this entire update to be handled manually.

The Million Dollar Question:

Q: If the rankings were manually adjusted, what’s the way forward for SEO?

A: While some sites appear to have been given a ranking boost we know that they are not held in absolute position, the boost appears to be relative to the previous position, meaning that a manually boosted site can be displaced by solid SEO activity.

Note: We generally use this data set to analyse precisely what component factors make a successful campaign run optimally, both in terms of cost and time, understanding the what signals Google is looking for enables us to overcome almost any kind of ranking correction.

Food for thought

I'd urge you take this evidence and take into account Matt Cutts' comments on this subject,

•    Perhaps this wasn't an update as Mr Cutts himself suggested?
•    Could such a small amount of changes be performed manually?
•    How else could Google not only pin-point with such precision the handful of big brands that deserved a boost, but also boost them each appropriately?

I'd love to hear your views...

Paul Reilly

Published 2 November, 2009 by Paul Reilly

Paul Reilly is head of search at Stickyeyes, and is a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

3 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Paul Anthony

I'd guess that this is more likely an algorithmic thing based on existing spelling mistakes and brand guesses made by people rather than hand doctored results. I imagine it also gets significant type in traffic.

Still interesting observations none the less.

almost 7 years ago

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Jonathan Stewart

They're both on the same IP address.  Couldn't this just be Google trying to work out which is the correct domain to rank for "mobile phones"?

From the evidence I've seen, it looks like Vince is still very much algorithmic - looking at query refinements and CTRs and then algorithmically changing the results accordingly - i.e. someone searching for X, doesn't find what they're looking for and searches for Y, and one of the results on Y SERP gets an extremely high CTR, then that website should rank for X.

Good bit of analysis to add to the library of thought about Vince though

almost 7 years ago

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veiklo herne

I wonder what those thousands of people are then doing in Google centers working on the position "Evaluate and Rate Websites". One of those centers where near Cork, Ireland but I assume there are much more those in India, Indonesia, Philiphines.

almost 7 years ago

Paul Reilly

Paul Reilly, Head of Search at Stickyeyes.com

Veiklo, I was wondering the same thing. :)

We've interviewed (grilled) 2 of them recently, their remit is quite clear. Surely the feedback these manual evaluators provide must be taken into consideration (at the very minimum)

almost 7 years ago

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