June 6, 2024

Ten Speed’s Not-Too-Spicy Take on the Google Leak (with Takeaways)

Ryan Sargent
Ryan Sargent

If you’re in the SEO, content, marketing, or B2B influencer space, you already know: Google had an internal data leak. API reference documentation was (presumably by mistake) made public, and the SEO world is having a field day.

Our social feeds are full of statements like “Google lied,” “This proves I was right,” “This changes nothing,” and “If you don’t change what you’re doing, you’re making a mistake.”

Why are we adding to the conversation? Well, we’re an organic growth agency with a team of smart SEO and content folks. We care about this – and we’re deeply invested in getting this right for our clients. Instead of jumping to a spicy take, we’ve spent the week discussing, watching, and separating the echo chamber from the excitement. And we aren’t done: we’re already busy testing and investigating to validate all the claims surrounding the leak.

There are all sorts of caveats about the data, the circumstances, and the potential conclusions offered on social media. Here, we’ll summarize the parts that matter most for Ten Speed clients and offer tactical recommendations for moving forward.

Confirmation bias

If we had to sum up the multitude of reactions, interviews, social posts, and articles about the leak, we’d simply say “confirmation bias.” 

If you hated Google, you probably hate them more now. If you thought that Chrome browsing data was used as a ranking factor, this leak offers evidence to support your view. If you felt that optimizing content for Google is the wrong move and the best content speaks to a human reader, this leak vindicates you.

For Ten Speed clients, this isn’t what matters most. We don’t (and will never) approach SEO or content marketing as trying to game or exploit a specific ranking factor. (And the leak didn’t unequivocally identify ranking factors, it just gave substantial evidence about what goes into some factors.) Our clients are more concerned with the health and growth of their business than whether or not “Google lied.” They’d rather celebrate the wins: having content included in an AI Overview, rolling out authority content to boost brand awareness, or improving their conversion rate after implementing our on-page recommendations.

Specific takeaways

Confirmation bias or no, there’s learning to be done. Ignoring the leak would be silly; there’s a chance to improve our work with this new information. Here are the specific things we feel are most important.

UX matters

When we give clients advice about making their website easy to use, we often tie the recommendations back to the customer. “You’re creating an easier path to a conversion. You’re showing potential customers that you care.” It turns out Google agrees – so much so that UX factors in your organic search performance.

There are traditional technical UX metrics (page load speed), but the leak indicates that Google is also paying attention to user behavior after a searcher arrives on your website. In addition to looking at Chrome browsing data, the leak implies ways that Google determines click quality. Good clicks to your website tend to be associated with longer time on page and low bounce rate. If people navigate from content to a core page (product, pricing, homepage), Google keeps track of that.

When you build, publish, or optimize content, keep this in mind. CTAs and internal links are a great place to start. Is the CTA relevant to this specific piece of content? How are you giving the folks consuming this content a clear next step? The next step can’t be too big (top-of-funnel blogs aren’t designed to drive demo requests), or too small (don’t ask for a simple webinar signup after someone comes to your pricing page). Getting this right not only improves your purchase journey, it helps website visitors show Google that your content is strong.

Content cheat sheet

The leak offered some nice confirmation about things we already do with every piece of content Ten Speed builds for clients and added some new ideas (or at least brought them to the surface). For example, the documentation strongly suggested that putting the keyword in your H1 is a best practice. Most folks already knew that, but it’s nice to know it really matters.

What was new for us was how emphatically the leak indicated that rankings look at the relevance of the information in the first few hundred words of the article. Does this mean you should slam your opening paragraph full of related keywords? No. Don’t do that. Do you need a table of contents loaded with structured data? Maybe.

The real takeaway for us was that articles should give away all the secret sauce right up front. If the article is answering a question, answer the darn question! Right away! Don’t fill your content with related H2s and skyscraper shenanigans in an attempt to make it seem rich and deep if that means you bury the lede.

The leak also was notably quiet about EEAT – which for two years has dominated the conversation – and the resulting hot takes on EEAT have sent our VP of Content into a series of :face-with-rolling-eyes: emojis every time he gets on LinkedIn. 

Folks, whatever you might see on social media, EEAT still matters. It always did, especially for your audience.

  • The leak was, compared to the size and scope of all things Google Search, microscopic. We have no idea what we don’t know about EEAT and ranking factors.
  • Using this leak as an excuse to remove authority, expertise, or trust from your content is doing your audience a massive disservice. 
  • There’s a natural regression to the mean happening here. 2022’s hot takes of “EEAT is ALL that matters” were also incorrect. (Great journalists write about things with authority despite not having firsthand experience, after all.)
  • Writing about stuff without a unique POV and filling the internet ocean with trash islands of “what is” content just to generate impressions doesn’t help your business.

For those already producing good content, the leak is a nice reminder of some best practices. It’s not an invitation to reimagine content from the ground up.

SEO strategy

Like with content execution, this leak offered reassurance on some strategies and served up some other things to keep top of mind. Nothing in the leak indicated that technical SEO is diminishing in importance. Your website has to be properly set up and easy for Google to crawl, or you’re losing traffic and potential conversions from organic search. 

Similarly, the leak indicated that link building works pretty much the way we thought it did. More links from relevant, high-quality domains would seem to improve your website’s visibility on Google. Quality has been beating quantity when it comes to backlinks for some time now, so the leak is more confirmation than revelation. Crowing about how “links ARE ranking factors” isn’t the right takeaway. Our takeaway: build content that you’re proud to build links to.

Our biggest SEO conclusion from the leak is that there’s less room for top-of-funnel blog posts to shine than there used to be – but there’s lot of room for middle- and bottom-of-funnel content to shine.

There are fewer blue oceans, AI Overviews are the new featured snippet, and the leaked documentation shows that simple “what is” content doesn’t often satisfy deeper search intent. These searches are less likely to result in clicks than ever. On the flip side, longtail searches still have a lot of power. AI Overviews can’t easily summarize feature sets for complex B2B SaaS products. Product-specific positioning and problem solving focuses on searches with lower volume and higher intent. Own your niche and Google is more likely to recognize you.

Next steps

If it sounds like we aren’t making huge changes, it’s because we aren’t. At the same time, we aren’t congratulating ourselves because we “already knew all of this” or resting on our laurels. We’re tweaking existing best practices and continuing to validate these approaches as we test.

  • We’ll keep using SME to make sure articles are accurate, relevant, and helpful
  • We’ll keep providing support for technical and on-page SEO
  • We’ll keep taking a holistic, comprehensive approach to organic growth (that also thinks about distribution, authority content, and future trends)

At the end of the day, there’s one final takeaway to share that outweighs everything we’ve talked about so far. 

Know your audience. Deeply, truly understand your ICP, what motivates them, what they fear, and what they hope to accomplish. What constitutes a bad day at work for your prospective buyer? How can you help? Answering these questions well has a massive impact on your organic growth – a much bigger impact than analyzing Google’s algorithms.

Discover how we can help.

Book a call with us and we’ll learn all about your company and goals.
If there’s a fit, we will put together a proposal for you that highlights your opportunity and includes our strategic recommendations.