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Google's Rank Modifying Patent for Spam Detection
tedster




msg:4486160
 7:59 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Patent hawk Bill Slawski has published an article [seobythesea.com] about a newly granted Google patent - one that seems to explain a lot of the odd ranking behavior that has been reported in recent times. The patent is named, quite simply, Ranking documents [patft.uspto.gov]

As I understand it, the idea here is to identify, by algorithm, what looks like an attempt to manipulate rankings in a spammy way. The patent details things like keyword stuffing, invisible text, link-based manipulations and so on.

Rather than allow the rankings to respond immediately and directly to those changes, the patent explains a system that would change rankings in unexpected, counter-intuitive ways - while the rankings change from a first position through transition positions and to the final "target rank" position. In other words, significant changes in position continue to happen even though there is no change in page's ranking factors!

Bill explains:
During the transition from the old rank to the target rank, the transition rank might cause:
a time-based delay response,
a negative response,
a random response, and/or
an unexpected response

If these transitional ranking shifts are followed by what looks like a responsive action from the website, the URL or website which was previously only SUSPECTED as spam, might now be positively tagged as spam.

Read Bill's full article [seobythesea.com] (or the patent itself [patft.uspto.gov]) and see if it doesn't explain some of the odd behavior people have been reporting in recent months:

 

Leosghost




msg:4486166
 8:38 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Not to diminish Bill Slawski in any way, but that was kind of obvious ..from the beginning..

G serps, Randomise for a while, only the guilty, in Google's eyes ( those using SEO ) would zig..randomise again, they ( the SEOs ) will zag..repeat, repeat, watch for site changes, "continuous zig zagging" = SEO trying to manipulate..

And randomness cows the rest..which is good for G, keeps it being perceived to "be moving in mysterious ways"..:)

People ripping out pages every time G sneezes, screams SEO..and in G's eyes, SEO means spam..<= Usually correctly IMO ;)

Which is yet again why , if it isn't broken, don't try to fix it..and don't depend on just the one site..

Those who would be called blackhats..have different strategies..

re the patent..I am amazed that they could get a patent on this I would have thought that the workings of organised religion and the writings of Machiavelli would have been "prior art" :)..Jesuitical influence again at G ;-)

seoskunk




msg:4486181
 9:52 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

A really interesting read, It certainly explains why you sometimes get an unexpected response from changes to websites

slawski




msg:4486201
 11:47 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Not to diminish Bill Slawski in any way, but that was kind of obvious ..from the beginning..

I didn't write the patent, but rather wrote about it. Regardless of how obvious you might find it, I thought it might be worth surfacing it and sharing it. You're not diminishing me. :)

I sort of like seeing some validation from Google for things that I've been observing.

Thanks.

slawski




msg:4486203
 11:48 pm on Aug 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks, tedster, for mentioning and sharing the patent and my post. I'm looking forward to seeing some other thoughts on the patent.

aristotle




msg:4486207
 12:00 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

If these transitional ranking shifts are followed by what looks like a responsive action from the website, the URL or website which was previously only SUSPECTED as spam, might now be positively tagged as spam.


Lately Google seems to be making an assumption that any SEOed site is spam. This is a false asuumption.

1script




msg:4486209
 12:23 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Have anyone been able to determine (or guess on) the length of the "transitional period". I only had time to read Bill's excerpts so far (thank you for the find, Bill!) but it all sounds to me like this:
If you are making a change (any change) to a site, you're entering a so called transitional period, during which the result of the changes is randomized. [side note: for this bizarre patented technique to work, Google has to intentionally make the SERPs worse in at least 50% of the cases of page changes]

So, they hope that if you spam, and if the randomizing worked NOT in your favor, then you have to flinch during the transitional period and remove the changes, thus they'll be able to mark you as a spammer.

How does that help them if the spammer spams "long term" (for the lack of a better term) - just creates hundreds of automatically generated sites that are not going to be changed, no matter which way the random ranking went. So, he won't flinch (because he did not plan on making changes to the site anyhow) during the transitional ranking period, and 50% of his sites will rank, 50% will tank. Not a bad ratio if you ask me.


It seems rather strange that the long term rank will depend on the actions (or lack thereof) of a third party - not really what you'd think linguistics and computer science PhDs would come up with.

scooterdude




msg:4486210
 12:35 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Fairly consistent with their main pre occupation nowadays

What can we do today to spook those pesky SEO's

We know, we'll go read what the webmasters on www are doing currently, and device an antidote


but sir, isn't that a gathering of white hats?

Don't be naive ! get on with it

TypicalSurfer




msg:4486211
 12:36 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

It seems rather strange that the long term rank will depend on the actions (or lack thereof) of a third party - not really what you'd think linguistics and computer science PhDs would come up with.


Yeah, it's not really rocket science you are just adding another scoring element (negative) based on score changes, whether the patent would ever hold up is debatable. It sounds more like paranoia or defense of ad clicks than good science. What makes a document "bad" or even "suspect" because it has changes? If your scoring methods are good to begin with you really don't need to introduce chaos to search results.

Leosghost




msg:4486212
 12:39 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

I sort of like seeing some validation from Google for things that I've been observing.

Presumably though, you don't always wait, for their ( somewhat oblique ) confirmation that they are seeing how high they can make SEOs jump and in what direction..

Before announcing that what you observe they are doing is creating FUD designed to see who jumps the most, and thus sort out who are the Frogs in "their" Pond ..

Given how much of what they say publicly, and / or write on their own properties is either "denial" or mis-directional PR", it is pretty much only by reading their patent applications, that they can be pinned down, as to what they have in mind, without them having the ability to "edit" and re-write history or weasel out, of by claiming to having "misspoke"..

Your time spent poring over the patents is indeed valued, hence my wish to make clear that I was not "sideswiping at you" ..far from it..:)

What surprises me is that so few had come to the obvious conclusion that they were " beating the brush" ,before the patent that you mentioned.. because apparently so many believe that G does not misdirect or spread FUD about what they are doing..and wait for "word from on high" or for "the plex to speak" before they will face reality about what is behind some actions by G..

Patents are not something that they can hide..but frequently their actions betray their intentions long before the patents come to light, to those who are not bewitched by their PR, and their newly declared wish to be "transparent"..

I would recommend to anyone studying Google and their actions to also study political philosophy and the histories of civilisations and religions, with some applied psychology and economics thrown in..and the Jesuits.. I posit that Google have studied these things , so should everyone, webmasters included..

Such things are IMO, as important to Google as the maths around the various elements of the algos and play a very large part, if not the major part, in the decisions of what criteria to include in the algos..

Google ..they are fascinating to watch at their work..

SevenCubed




msg:4486213
 12:40 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Lately Google seems to be making an assumption that any SEOed site is spam. This is a false asuumption.


That's so true and something that my own personal site suffers from I'm sure. I discuss SEO a lot for the purpose of letting potential clients know what it should be (on page and under the hood best practices) as opposed to what it has become as an industry that mainly puts the emphasis on off-site factors.

I'm sure all those keywords in my pages are triggering something that keeps me suppressed for my main search term. But it's actually a blessing in disguise because I couldn't handle more than a few calls a month anyway which I get through long-tail searches. What matters most is my client sites and they do rank well because of all the on page SEO that I do (without mention of the term SEO of course because it's not their field). With the exception of 1 four year old site the others barely have a few inbound links yet dominate first page. (Hope I don't jinx it by saying that)! As for my own, yeah It's probably overly-optimized but as of now it doesn't matter for me. It wouldn't bother me at all not to even have a site but you cannot be an internet developer and not have one, no credibility!

Ralph_Slate




msg:4486214
 12:50 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

This is insane. The concept is to essentially accuse a bunch of people of being criminals, and those who scream the loudest and try the most to prove their innocence are the most guilty?

That is the very definition of a witch hunt.

TypicalSurfer




msg:4486216
 12:59 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

That is the very definition of a witch hunt.


No, it's convincing people that a witch hunt is a good thing. It's been done before.

Even their patent language is semantically loaded to further the good guy /bad guy meme, they of course are the good guys.

The systems and methods may also observe spammersí reactions to rank changes caused by the rank transition function to identify documents that are actively being manipulated. This assists in the identification of rank-modifying spammers.


Rank-modifying spammers!

Webmasters no longer make changes, they "actively manipulate" their documents...whoa doggie, that's just making a case, it has nothing to do with how they are scoring documents.

slawski




msg:4486217
 1:27 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

@ 1script

The patent does include a couple of time periods within its description, but those are likely examples only, and an actual period of time that might be used if this is implemented, could differ.

Here are the time periods mentioned:

As shown in FIG. 6, the rank of a document slowly responds to a positive change in its link-based information. After a period of time, the document's rank might settle in on its new steady state (target) value. The time line shown in FIG. 6 may be represented in days in one implementation consistent with the principles of the invention. In other words, it might take approximately 70 days for a change in a document's link-based information to change the rank of the document to its steady state (target) value (e.g., 1.0 in FIG. 6).


The other example of a Rank Transition Function where a page (site, set of associated sites, etc.) might initially drop in rankings also uses a similar example, and total length of time, but initially the rankings drop for the first 20 days:

As shown in FIG. 7, the rank of a document may initially decrease in response to a positive change in its link-based information. After a period of time, the document's rank might rise to its new steady state (target) value. Like FIG. 6, the time line shown in FIG. 7 may be represented in days in one implementation consistent with the principles of the invention. In other words, the document's rank may decrease for a period of approximately 20 days before settling in on its new steady state (target) value (e.g., 1.0 in FIG. 7) in approximately 70 days after a positive change in its link-based information.


Those are two examples actually listed in the patent, but again the time periods that are actually used might differ. The patent also tells us that other random activity might take place within rankings, such as wild fluctuations and other seeming random results.

Note that this might not just impact a single page, but might also impact additional pages that have recognizably related footprints, which might happen in the case of someone creating lots of auto-generated sites.

slawski




msg:4486223
 1:53 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

@ Legoshost

The Google patent Information retrieval based on historical data [appft.uspto.gov] did mention something somewhat similar. That got picked apart by a lot of people back when it was published as a pending application back on March 31, 2006.

In addition, or alternatively, search engine 125 may monitor the ranks of documents over time to detect sudden spikes in the ranks of the documents. A spike may indicate either a topical phenomenon (e.g., a hot topic) or an attempt to spam search engine 125 by, for example, trading or purchasing links. Search engine 125 may take measures to prevent spam attempts by, for example, employing hysteresis to allow a rank to grow at a certain rate. In another implementation, the rank for a given document may be allowed a certain maximum threshold of growth over a predefined window of time. As a further measure to differentiate a document related to a topical phenomenon from a spam document, search engine 125 may consider mentions of the document in news articles, discussion groups, etc. on the theory that spam documents will not be mentioned, for example, in the news. Any or a combination of these techniques may be used to curtail spamming attempts.


That was a pretty good hint that Google would monitor changes on pages and in links to those pages when those changes might result in significant changes in rankings. That Google would continue to monitor changes if pages didn't actually rank as well as expected in response to those changes, or even possibly lose rankings, to see what a site owner might do next also made a lot of sense.

This new patent provides a framework for that kind of monitoring, and some vocabulary that could be used to describe it.

Many of the other patents that were filed as continuation patents from the Historical Data patent discuss a lot of other places where Google is monitoring changes to anchor text, to content changes, to frequency of links pointed to pages, and many others.

I have seen the kind of delay that's likely associated with this, followed by a rise in rankings (no hidden text, keyword stuffing, misleading redirects, or unnatural links involved). What's troubling about this is does appear very much to be a fishing expedition.

jmccormac




msg:4486228
 2:40 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

There are some parallels with the "mythical" Google sandbox in the first claim. But most search engines would require a sequence of crawls of a site/document to build an efficient crawl schedule. (It is as waste of resources spidering and indexing a document that only changes once a year.) It is the assumption that continually modified pages are generally modified to gain page rank that is wrong. From what I've seen of building a small country level search engine, most of the webpages and websites are brochureware that do not change dramatically over a period of a few months. SEOed pages change but this flawed approach from Google is also going to flag A/B testing.

Regards...jmcc

gouri




msg:4486233
 3:23 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

What matters most is my client sites and they do rank well because of all the on page SEO that I do (without mention of the term SEO of course because it's not their field). With the exception of 1 four year old site the others barely have a few inbound links yet dominate first page.


@SevenCubed,

Can you mention the things that you think are important to pay attention to on page or on site?

Also, any areas of a webpage or website where there is a tendency to over optimize that a webmaster should be paying attention to?

Sgt_Kickaxe




msg:4486235
 7:21 am on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

I've long suspected that Google does not always change things instantly even upon data refresh, it's why your changes sometimes feel like they have no effect. This explains it.

lucy24




msg:4486258
 1:33 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

but sir, isn't that a gathering of white hats?


<fe>
White hats don't gather. It's an oxymoron.
</fe>

rango




msg:4486264
 2:16 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

This must be good discourage all the developers wanting to "iterate fast" as well. Sterling idea from G there.

diberry




msg:4486273
 3:15 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks, Tedster and Bill Slawsky. This is great info.

Lately Google seems to be making an assumption that any SEOed site is spam. This is a false asuumption.


I agree.

I also agree with the idea that this is a witchhunt - or convincing people a witchhunt is a good thing, which is a big part of a successful witch hunt. This is the final confirmation in my mind that regardless of how brilliant Google is, someone in charge is more focused on conquering enemies than on just creating a good search experience. And that means my goals and Google's are no longer running parallel - I want to create a good user experience and build an audience, and Google just wants to win some ego-driven game.

For a couple of years, I've been focusing on other traffic streams, operating on the assumption sooner or later my Google traffic would go away. Google is only 30+% of the traffic on any of my sites. Now, when Penguin hit one site, I learned the hard way that Google fuels some of my social media traffic - i.e., some people find in Google the pages they share socially. So I know now if Google banned my sites, I'd lose about half my traffic. Still, that's something I can build from. I'm working aggressively on getting visitors from all sorts of other sources, and then pleasing those visitors so they spread the word.

Essentially, I'm going back to how we did things before Google came along, when we had to chase links not for PR but because there was no other way people were going to find our sites. This age of social media makes it a comparative breeze compared to 1999. :)

scooterdude




msg:4486285
 5:02 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

@lucy24

So sorry about the grammar, hope you enjoyed the montage anyway

tedster




msg:4486298
 6:25 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

The assumption I see is not that "all SEO is spam", but that multiple tweaks after the time of publication are a POSSIBLE spam signal. Google is doing everything they can to focus a site on its visitors rather than on Google itself.

In earlier days, I certainly made regular tweaks just to see how Google would respond - and I definitely did not think of myself as a spammer. But it also became clear that Google didn't like the idea (something I could appreciate).

There were also too many benefits to be had from focusing resources directly on the visitors. As I saw it, a new day was on us. My attempts at reverse engineering a more and more complex algorithm were not going to have a long shelf life. In fact, reverse engineering was no longer a way to "optimize" at all because the results were not "optimal".

-----------

Although it's not mentioned in the patent, regular tweaking of title elements is clearly another way to trigger these randomized ranking changes. And we've had quite a few threads here reporting exactly that effect.

Many people who have been at the SEO game for a while have noticed this shift - but we also have members here who are relatively new to the game and they are often trying ideas that are many years out of date. I'm glad Bill S. put a spotlight on this patent. It should especially help folks appreciate the importance of not buying into old information.

martinibuster




msg:4486300
 6:35 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

This is huge. This is one of the most important Internet marketing news to break in a long time, more important than panda or penguin. This changes completely how sites are updated. This is going to be an entirely new way of optimizing from now on.

scooterdude




msg:4486301
 6:46 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well, some of us have been enjoying this "new" activity for a while an posting about it

Naturally no one believes it till G fesses up !

This is G money spent purely to spite SEO, probably justified as

"fewer an more uncertain SEO's = better SERPs"

Leosghost




msg:4486303
 6:56 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Well, some of us have been enjoying this "new" activity for a while an posting about it

Naturally no one believes it till G fesses up !

Exactly!

This changes completely how sites are updated.

No..this changes nothing, this is just a G patent which confirms what they have been doing to those who either hadn't noticed, didn't want to see or didn't want to accept what others had been saying about G and the how and the why and the FUD in what they do..or do you seriously think ( in spite of all the evidence there has been ) that they haven't been doing this for a considerable time already..

* I haven't been affected by this..but posting here about it, I and others have been called paranoid etc..etc ..

Leosghost




msg:4486310
 7:06 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Only those who were/are blinded by G PR , or whose living depends upon telling others how to do SEO etc, and who didn't want to admit that they now longer knew what they claimed to know about how to use SEO with G, were denying the obvious..

The others who genuinely did not see what was going on..
now you are free to get on with your sites and stop jumping through hoops designed to trip you up, catch you out, or to wear you down into taking out your credit cards..

Even some of those who changed nothing will have gone up or down, because it one rises another must fall in order to make the place available..and vice versa..

G have been and are screwing with their serps in order to identify and punish, what they see as a guilty, SEOing minority ..it's their serps , so they can, but they could stop denying it, and so could others..

martinibuster




msg:4486312
 7:18 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

It's not about you. If you do not ever change your title tags or content, this news is of no concern for you. Good luck, goodbye, hasta la vista. This discussion does not concern you.

We are on the same page, Leo. I have been posting about what is natural and unnatural. Take a look at my post in Link Dev about how links are indexed [webmasterworld.com]. However, how you do things and I do things may not be the norm. What is of issue here and what I am addressing is how the Industry does things and how this will change how business is done. It's big news for the Industry, capital I.

This discussion does concern most of the Internet marketing community. It's about the Industry, capital I. Many web publishers change their title tags, their meta tags, add links to their content. It's what people do on a regular basis to update their sites or improve their rankings. Now the Industry has to look over their shoulder before changing the title tags or content. This changes completely how the Industry will update their sites.

[edited by: martinibuster at 7:26 pm (utc) on Aug 19, 2012]

tedster




msg:4486314
 7:26 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Seems to me the issue will be if Google sees this sequence on a regular basis:

1. make a change
2. see a randomized ranking change
3. make another change in response
...etc

I'm not about to stop fixing mistakes, oversights, or less than optimal wording whenever I notice it. I never stopped doing that, and I haven't noticed a problem because of such changes.

But this patent does make me wonder whether a manual inspection flag can also get thrown just by regular tweaking. If I were in a betting mood, I'd bet yes. In fact, this patented action may be an attempt to automate some of that manual inspection.

[edited by: tedster at 7:30 pm (utc) on Aug 19, 2012]

scooterdude




msg:4486315
 7:27 pm on Aug 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

webmastersworld is full of threads discussing the different experiences of folk changing the metas, titles , etc :)

Its always amused me to see who consistently claimed to be unaffected by such activity, one wonders will the "exceptions" continue to be "exceptions" or whether the "jigs up"

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