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Is it time for us to quit simply discounting any statement about a change made yesterday possibly having an effect on rankings today, or not?
Not ready to go that far myself.
Once or twice is a coincidence, imo, but over and over and over?
...google's main focus is NOT punishing webmasters, but giving users a better experience
Also just because you did something recently or a while ago does not mean Google detected that immediately after.
Netmeg mentioned the 500 changes a year...
I think there's an argument to be made that there's a simpler explanation. While Google has been known to evaluate changes for possible attempts at manipulation, it's also the case that parts of the algorithm are processed on a cyclical basis, rather than instantly at the time of indexing. So it's entirely possible that a recently-updated page may have one or more factors temporarily missing from the scoring process, which would result in a loss in ranking until those factors have been recalculated.
... the possibilities are endless.
I'd say yes, and it's been that way a long time. I can't recall any threads where people have made a change on one day and expected a (predicted?) change within a day or two. No one has really operated that way have they?
I seem to notice people who've accidentally blocked Googlebot, been hacked, 301'd an established domain to a new one etc,
I haven't noticed threads where people are experimenting with small purposeful changes for measuring.
I'm not saying there's a definite cause/effect in the rankings
Well there's definitely cause and effect. The question is about whether two can be connected with any certainty.
Question is, can anyone connect a particular change with a particular response ... ?