Is Google Malfunctioning or Are Googlers Correct in Saying It’s Functioning Properly?

  • June 13, 2024
  • SEO
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Recent discussions from Google representatives suggest that the search algorithm is functioning as intended. They encourage website owners to prioritize user experience over attempting to manipulate the algorithm for better rankings. However, these same representatives acknowledge that the search team is continuously working to enhance the visibility of high-quality content.

This dual message might appear contradictory. If the algorithm performs correctly, why is there an ongoing effort to improve it? The explanation lies in the nuanced understanding of the issue.

Understanding Google’s Perspective

To comprehend Google’s viewpoint on search, it is useful to refer to their “Search Off The Record” (SOTR) podcast, where Google employees often discuss search mechanics from an insider’s perspective.

In a recent SOTR podcast, Googlers Gary Illyes and John Mueller illustrated how internal issues at Google might be perceived differently from the outside. They explained that internal disruptions, which might seem minor to Google staff, often catch the attention of external observers, leading to public complaints and assumptions of a malfunction.

Gary Illyes elaborated on the decision-making process regarding whether to communicate these issues publicly:

“There’s also the flip side where we are like, ‘Well, we don’t actually know if this is going to be noticed,’ and then two minutes later there’s a blog that puts up something about ‘Google is not indexing new articles anymore. What up?’ And I say, ‘Okay, let’s externalize it.’”

John Mueller questioned:

“Okay, so if there’s more pressure on us externally, we would externalize it?”

Gary responded affirmatively but noted the complexity:

“Yeah. For sure. Yeah.”

John further queried:

“So the louder people are externally, the more likely Google will say something?”

Gary’s response was nuanced:

“I mean, in certain cases, yes, but it doesn’t work all the time, because some of the things that people perceive externally as a failure on our end is actually working as intended.”

Thus, while on some occasions, the problem might be on the website owner’s end, it is perceived as an issue due to an update or system tweak. For instance, some site owners mistakenly believe they have been affected by an algorithm change that never occurred.

The Myth of Non-Existent Algorithms

Many site owners still believe their websites are penalized by the Helpful Content Update (HCU), despite the HCU system being integrated into Google’s core ranking algorithms.

Google Search Liaison recently tweeted to clarify this:

“I know people keep referring to the helpful content system (or update), and I understand that — but we don’t have a separate system like that now. It’s all part of our core ranking systems: https://developers.google.com/search/help/helpful-content-faq

Therefore, while the algorithm still assesses helpful content, it considers numerous other signals as part of its broader core updates. Focusing solely on helpfulness might lead to overlooking other potential issues affecting rankings.

Conflicting Signals

There’s also a perceived contradiction where Google states the search algorithm works correctly while indicating improvements are needed. This was evident on June 3rd when Google’s Search Liaison addressed concerns about an alleged algorithm change impacting rankings without providing clear manual actions for site owners to remedy.

A Twitter user mentioned:

“I know @searchliaison says that there was no algorithmic change on June 6, but the hits we’ve taken since then have been swift and brutal. Something changed, and we didn’t get the luxury of manual actions to tell us what we did wrong, nor did anyone else in games media.”

The mentioned tweet exemplifies focusing on a specific signal (an algorithmic action) rather than exploring a broader range of potential issues.

In response, Search Liaison stated:

“I totally understand that thinking, and I won’t go back over what I covered in my long post above other than to reiterate that 1) some people think they have an algorithmic spam action but they don’t and 2) you really don’t want a manual action.”

Furthermore, Search Liaison acknowledged the need for ongoing improvements:

“And I’ll also reiterate what both John and I have said. We’ve heard the concerns such as you’ve expressed; the search team that we’re both part of has heard that. We are looking at ways to improve.”

John Mueller similarly hinted at potential advancements:

He tweeted:

“I can’t make any promises, but the team working on this is explicitly evaluating how sites can/will improve in Search for the next update. It would be great to show more users the content that folks have worked hard on, and where sites have taken helpfulness to heart.”

These communications suggest that while the algorithm is operational, there is always room for enhancement — a principle applicable universally since perfection is unattainable.

Key Takeaways:

1. The idea that everything can be refined and improved does not imply it is broken; it’s an acknowledgment that there is always potential for enhancement.

2. It is useful to consider multiple factors that might affect site rankings. Rather than focusing solely on helpfulness signals, one should be open to a broader spectrum of indicators.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio

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