Search engine Google is the origin for much of the traffic generated by the web's most popular sites. That’s why SEO exists as an industry.
Companies that want to become more visible online must optimise their pages so they rank highly in relevant searches carried out by potential customers using the industry-leading engine.
So it’s no wonder that whenever Google so much as sneezes, it can send shockwaves through the world of SEO.
Traditionally, closed doors to Google’s 200 webpage rank factors have made SEO a game of cat and mouse. When something big changes, then, it’s no wonder webmasters worry about losing Google ranking.
In recent weeks, the web has been ablaze with talk relating to the nature of a particular patent filing made by Google.
The patent seems to suggest that Google is treating certain aspects of traditional SEO in a manner that could result in some pages being marked as spam - even if they have been perfectly legitimately optimised with high quality content.
The patent, which is known as Ranking Documents, according to ZDNet, suggests that Google will set a target rank for a site. As the algorithm continues to change, Google is likely to track rankings and adjust them with the objective of countering site owners' attempts to re-optimise to address observed changes.
It’s a massive issue – for the major search engines and the SEO community.
The crux of the problem is that whenever Google makes a change to its ranking systems, webmasters invariably scramble to try to adjust their sites so they fit in with the "new rules”.
But a Catch 22 scenario arises if Google decides to automatically demote sites where it detects attempts to re-optimise pages and re-gain rankings.
This isn’t the case yet: but to some extent this latest patent is analogous to a shock absorber in a car's suspension system, with the objective being to curb fluctuations and ensure uniformity and consistency in the SERPs, regardless of the efforts of those sites with the deepest pockets or most astute SEO teams.
Google has always said it wants to level the playing field, and this change would not apply to brand new content: just existing pages that have been affected.
For example, you have a page one ranked page for your site, which sells golf shoes. Google decides your content isn’t great, your page layout is bad, or load times or poor, and your landing page for golf shoes, previously ranked, should no longer return on page one.
If you add a new page of amazing golf shoe content, you have a chance for that page to rank.
But simply altering the original content, re-writing headers, re-optimising, or improving keyword density would, under the patent, no longer have a positive effect on the de-ranked page.
At some future point, reactionary alternations may result in ranking penalties even if spamming was the furthest thing from your mind.
SEO is becoming ever more complicated as the market continues to mature. Seeking the help of experts is going to be more valuable than ever for site owners who want to legitimately and sustainably stay on top of the latest developments.
Whatever your feelings on the site ranking systems employed by Google and the other search engines, it is necessary to adapt to their requirements and ensure that your content and optimisation processes are as natural and as sustainable as possible.