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.