Google tends to be very cryptic when it comes to statements related to ranking. After all, we can never know all of the existing ranking signals, and how much each signal benefits the ranking of a particular site or page; but, we can always speculate and test out the theories.
We will go over a couple of recent statements and see just how much validity they contain. Bear in mind that these statements were found online, so they might not be one hundred percent word perfect.
So, here are some statements made by Google’s representatives and how SEO specialists should interpret them.
If something is omitted
It’s not certain exactly who said the following statement – “301, 302, 307, don’t worry about it. Use whatever makes sense for you. They all pass PageRank.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter what type of redirect you are using, since Google is passing Page Rank through them with the same efficiency. However, this statement provoked a lot of discussions, since the evidence tends to point to a different direction. If you change your redirects to 301, which is the permanent redirect code, it appears that organic search traffic sends more visits to those redirected pages. So, the question is, why did they say it doesn’t matter if such thing clearly has some impact on traffic.
A good explanation is that the phrase “PageRank” plays a crucial role here. It could be the case that the pagerank remains the same, but it doesn’t mean that the same amount of traffic will be sent there. Since there is no completely accurate tool for measuring pagerank, and it is something Google keeps hidden, it may very well be the case that, in terms of numbers, the PageRank remains the same, but this does not mean that the redirect method does not impact the traffic.
Google uses their own original formula for measuring pagerank, and maybe Google’s machine learning system is not calibrated the way we think. So, even if the ranking is the same, the choice of redirect method plays a different role. Regardless of the case, it seems that using 301 redirect is a better method for getting more visitors, so feel free to rely on that.
If something is untrue
A few years ago, we encountered this statement – “The mobile-friendly update will be bigger than Panda and Penguin combined.” After the update was released in June 2014, people were quite puzzled, since almost nothing changed. The influence and ranking of the websites, more or less, remained the same.
Google explained how a lot of sites actually went through with the update, so there was no need to change things, etc. In other words, there is no need to be alarmed or stressed out when Google says that changes are coming, since there’s a chance that the entire hype caused by the announcement is for nothing.
Sometimes you need to wait for clarification
One time when Eric Enge, from Stone Temple, had an interview with Matt Cutts, he asked Matt an interesting question. It was about 301 redirect, or more precisely, whether pagerank is lost to some degree due to a 301 redirect. It was a good question, since people wanted to know if there are any risks for moving a page, and whether these actions can harm rankings. Matt answered in the following way – “I am not 100% sure whether the crawling and indexing team has implemented that sort of natural PageRank decay, so I’ll have to go and check.” Matt then kept his part of the deal and he indeed checked and gave a response that there is indeed a loss in page rank through 301 redirect.
This is actually the best case scenario when it comes to these statements. If someone is not one hundred percent sure, it’s good to have the information checked to get his facts straight. This way, we get the most accurate information; we won’t end up with a statement somebody just said on the spot because he or she felt pressured.
When the answer is unclear
On one occasion, someone said something interesting about external links – “External links to other sites isn’t specifically a ranking factor, but it can bring value to your content, and that in turn can be relevant for us in search. Whether or not they are followed doesn’t really matter.”
This kind of statement is really difficult to interpret since it says in the first sentence that external links are not a ranking factor, but in the second one, it says the exact opposite. So, it’s unclear what we are supposed to take from that. If something like this happens, you can do some of the following things.
Analyze the answer – Basically, think about how the statement can be true, despite the fact that on the surface level it is technically wrong. For example, maybe external links are not used as a ranking factor on their own, but in combination with other signals, they add some value. So, if someone says for example: “A does not equal C”, it can imply that maybe B or D equals C or A. So, do not assume anything from the very start.
Give it some time – Maybe someone needs to check the information in order to provide a more accurate statement. Furthermore, it’s not impossible for a claim to be amended or modified after a short period of time. Lastly, let’s go back to the first example, where presumably the type of redirect does not affect the pagerank, yet only 301 affects traffic in a positive way, so it’s also possible for external links to have no impact on ranking, yet they will influence engagement and traffic in a more positive way.
Get to the bottom of it – You should always prefer solid proof to opinions and public statements. In other words, if you don’t know who to trust, simply conduct an experiment on your own. Robot Online did a study on external links. They simply created a couple of fake words, and created new web pages. Some of these pages had external links, and others didn’t, and they got their results.
It appears that Google, in fact does rank pages with external links better than those without them. So, long story short, it appears that this statement was, in fact, false. Your page does need external links if you want it to rank better.
Don’t take it too seriously – First of all, we all make mistakes so, it is possible for a person to accidentally say something wrong, or to simply say something hastily if the information is sensitive and it is not supposed to be shared. Google is a massive corporation, with all kinds of departments, and you cannot expect anyone to know everything there is to know about link value and rankings.
There are teams responsible for Core Ranking, teams for Web Spam, teams for Crawling and Indexing, for Search quality and of course, teams for Webmaster tools, etc. Additionally, these are only teams that we know of; there are probably a lot more ins and outs when it comes to Google, so it is quite possible that the person in question could not adequately respond to the question.
To sum up, we are going to hear a lot of contradictory or vague statements on this matter, because it’s not in Google’s interest to give people the tools that they can use to take advantage of the ranking algorithm. If you hear something that perfectly makes sense, then chances are that it’s true, and if you hear a statement that seems ambiguous, then you should test it out, and try to interpret it from as many angles as possible.
It can also be useful to wait for a bit, since clarification might be around the corner, or to simply assume that the person made a mistake and that nothing changed. I hope you found this piece insightful and that it will help you with your SEO campaign.