What did we learn about SEO from the recent Google leak?

At the end of May 2024, there was a leak of Google documents, which has now been verified as authentic. What did it tell us?

Ever since the dawn of search engine optimization (SEO), marketers have done everything they can to try and understand Google’s mysterious algorithm, vying for the top spots in its search engine rankings. While experts have come to develop best practice techniques based on tried and tested methods, the news of a leak from the tech giant itself could not go unnoticed.

There are so many questions that the leaked documents could help us answer, from whether past assumptions are true to the ranking factors marketers have overlooked. Either way, experts have been scouring them to see what conclusions can be drawn and how they might impact SEO strategy going forward.

The reality of the Google search algorithm is that it’s incredibly complex, taking more than 14,000 factors into consideration. It’s never been disclosed which of these attributes carries the most weight or how they’re all combined to create search rankings.

This has always meant that SEO approaches need to be multifaceted, with comprehensive strategies deploying a number of tactics at once often providing the best results. Google is also well-known for constantly tweaking its algorithm, leading to plenty of discussion on changes within the industry.

Key learnings from the leak

Downplayed factors could be more significant

One of the things to have emerged is that previously downplayed ranking factors may be more significant than we thought. These include user clicks, browser activity, subdomains being considered separately and the age of a domain being taken into consideration.

User clicks

Google has always denied that click-centric user signals have been a ranking factor, but it’s remained a common misconception among searchers. The leaked documents suggest that click-through rates may contribute to SERPs after all.

Chrome browsing activity

Somewhat controversially, the leak seems to suggest that one of the website quality metrics Google uses is Chrome views. That means a site could attract more visits from users of other browsers but not receive the same credibility in terms of where it sits in the rankings.

Subdomains ranked separately

Subdomains can be a useful way to organize website content, but the leak hints that previous reassurances that they’re not ranked separately might not be true. Brands want all their marketing efforts to contribute to their SEO efforts.

Age of domains

It was thought that the age of a domain wasn’t factored into rankings, but the leaked documents suggest it might be. It’s important to build your authority with quality content over time and update any articles that are no longer relevant or have broken links.

Clicks and engagement

The leak seems to confirm that the monitoring of user behavior isn’t limited to main search queries. Google takes clicks and engagement before and after action into account when ranking keywords, boosting those that are deemed related as a result.

What Google says

Google has cautioned against making assumptions from the leaked information, but it could provide a good starting point for testing various theories. SEO and its techniques are constantly changing, with those in the industry debating the best approaches and adapting strategies to reflect all that we do know.