Audience Engagement Platforms
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“Most of Google’s public statements are false or misleading”: Field report on what actually works

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In July and August of 2019, 1,589 web marketers completed an online questionnaire as part of SparkToro’s Google Ranking Factors Survey. The survey aggregated marketers’ perceptions of the ranking elements used by Google’s search engine. But… it also asked a set of questions around the level of trust in Google’s public statements. Those results are shared for the first time here.

Aggregated distribution of ratings across all 20 statements covered in the survey

The survey asked: “How truthful do you rate the following Google statements by the following scale?

  • 0 – Provably False: you’ve seen evidence that this isn’t accurate
  • 2 – Technically Correct, but Misleading (TCBM): there’s a truthful way to interpret the statement, but it’s not the whole truth and may mislead people
  • 4 – 100% Transparent: the whole, helpful truth

Each of the 20 public statements presented in this fashion used a format that linked to the web page verifying the source of the remarks, the context, and full quotes (where available), e.g.

Regarding web page text in non-visible tabs, accordions, etc: “we index the content, its weight is fully considered for ranking” (source)

Response averages on this 0-4 scale ranged from 1.1 – 3.2. Broadly speaking, a large majority of professional marketers disbelieve most of Google’s public statements. The overall average across 20 public statements by Google’s representatives was 1.97. This suggests either considerable skepticism on the part of marketers or consistently misleading statements by Google’s reps (or both).

Below are the statements rated in the survey, response distributions, and averages listed in order from the most-believed statements to the least.

There’s no minimum length, and there’s no minimum number of articles a day that you have to post, nor even a minimum number of pages on a website. In most cases, quality is better than quantity.” 3.2 Avg
We do use HTTPS as a light-weight ranking factor.” 2.9 Avg
There’s no generic ranking boost for structured data usage. However, structured can make it easier to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier to show where it’s relevant (improves targeting, maybe ranking for the right terms).” 2.7 Avg
To help you reach more consumers without the need for exhaustive keyword lists, we started allowing exact match keywords to match to close variants.” 2.5 Avg
If you have normal linking on your page then you would probably rank a little bit better over time… it’s definitely not the case that you have any kind of ranking advantage by marking all outgoing links as nofollow.” 2.5 Avg
If you add a lot of new low-quality urls compared to the quality of other urls on your site… start noindexing and removing those urls.” 2.3 Avg
we index the content, its weight is fully considered for ranking” 2.2 Avg
Disallowed URLs do not affect the crawl budget.” 2.2 Avg
If you purchase an older domain and the new content you add is different from what was on the old domain, you are essentially starting from scratch.” 2.0 Avg
AMP isn’t a ranking factor.” 1.9 Avg
There’s no such thing as LSI keywords — anyone who’s telling you otherwise is mistaken” 1.8 Avg
If *you’re* making quality links to your site, then that would be considered against our webmaster guidelines.” 1.7Avg
If you do not have a manual action then you do not need to submit a disavow!” 1.7 Avg
Does Google favor fresh content?” “No.” 1.5 Avg
301, 302, 307, don’t worry about it. Use whatever makes sense for you. They all pass PageRank.” 1.5 Avg
In reference to being “safe from negative SEO like CTR Attack & bounce Attack,”
“You can just ignore it.
” 1.5 Avg
We treat subdomains and subdirectories the same. Do whatever’s best for your site.” 1.5 Avg
dwell time, CTR, whatever… those are generally made up crap.” 1.4 Avg
WIX websites work fine in search.” 1.3 Avg
We don’t have anything like a website authority score.” 1.1 Avg

My analysis of these responses led to several thoughts:

  • Marketers (at least those who took this survey) are generally savvy, thoughtful, and experienced. Their skepticism in Google’s statements leaned largely how I’d expect, giving greater weight to statements with more nuance and flexibility vs. those that made universal, blanket-declarative pronouncements.
  • If I were a Google representative tasked with making public statements about how the search engine operates, I would use these responses to reflect on my and my colleagues’ goals. If trust and the perception of transparency are important, there’s considerable room for improvement.
  • For those who are just beginning their journey in search marketing, this survey is a good reminder that many of the more successful professionals in the field have healthy skepticism toward Google’s public statements. Repeating and amplifying those statements without critical assessment may be misleading others, and could harm your or your clients’ prospects for optimal performance.

I’m looking forward to running this survey again in 2020, and seeing how perception might shift. My hope is that Google’s representatives improve their transparency, empathy, and knowledge, and that in years to come, there’s more trust able to be placed in the statements the company makes.

Google controls 2/3rds of all web traffic. They have more than 90% market share in search in 95%+ of the world’s countries. And they’re arguably the most dominant source of information on the planet. That comes (as it should) with high expectations and intense scrutiny. I’d love to see Google step up to the challenge.

by Rand Fishkin, Founder, SparkToro

This article was originally published on SparkToro as “Marketers Say Most of Google’s Public Statements Are False or Misleading” and is re-published with kind permission.

About SparkToro:  SparkToro is a new software company from Moz founder, Rand Fishkin. Its mission is to make it easier to discover the websites, blogs, podcasts, social accounts, and publications that reach your audience.  @randfish | @SparkToro