Transition Rank as Propaganda

A couple of months ago the SEO world stirred when the incomparable Bill Slawski wrote about the ‘transition rank‘ patent. In essence, this Google patent outlined how a webpage’s rank could be randomised to thwart any attempts by ‘spammers’ to manipulate its ranking, thus confusing the spammer’s efforts.

This patent received widespread attention in the SEO blogosphere. And it has had a profound result on the mentality of the SEO industry.

Up until the ‘transition rank’ patent was publicly discussed, SEOs tended to look favourably upon exhaustive testing and rank monitoring efforts from the likes of Shaun Anderson, Darren Slatten, TheGoogleCache, SERPmetrics, and Mozcast.

That sort of stuff was important. It allowed us to gain valuable insights in to Google’s algorithms, however indirectly.

But after ‘transition rank’, all that has changed. Nowadays when I look at a test aimed at distilling some sort of SEO wisdom, the first thing I think of is “transition rank will mess with that.”

And I can’t help but suspect that this is precisely what Google intended.

What if – and this might be a big tinfoil-hat type ‘if’ – the transition rank patent is a type of propaganda? What if it doesn’t actually apply, or is only applied manually when Google search engineers detect an obvious test taking place?

What if most of the tests we do aren’t subject to transition rank at all, but still provide us with valuable data?

Google’s engineers are keenly aware of the sensitivity of their algorithms inner workings, and Google’s PR people are keenly aware of the effects their external communications have on the internet industry as a whole, and SEOs in particular. It’s not a particularly far stretch to imagine that Google sometimes¬†deliberately publishes propaganda to influence external perceptions. I dare say it’s not even a stretch – it’s a sensible conclusion.

In light of this possible application of propaganda, we should be wary. Whenever Google publishes something that changes our perspective on matters of SEO, we should always second-guess. Never take anything at face value – not Google’s¬†communications¬† nor SEO’s test outcomes.

Apply critical thinking – that most crucial of skills – to everything, and don’t discard something out of hand just because Google implied you should.

In a post-transition rank world, everything is to be doubted.

Featured image “propaganda” source

About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.

12 thoughts on “Transition Rank as Propaganda

      1. What I well thought out retort! My opinion is instantly changed.

        Throw out your black and white hats, the time of Tinfoil Hat SEO is now!

  1. The UK patent office lists a patent that must not:

    be a way of performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business

    I don’t know how the US patent office utilises their rules (I assume it is similar) but isn’t this how transition rank should or could be perceived…as in doing business or some form of mental act?

    1. The patent describes a technology, not a mental act. It’s how the SEO industry interprets – and acts upon – the patent that’s the real crux of the matter.

  2. This post is nonsense. If you actually research this in detail, Google have been using this technology for years. Just because the patent was passed the industry instantly turned dumb. Panic mongers.

    1. Why is it nonsense? The patent was filed in 2010 – took a while for the SEO industry to take note, but once it did the fear mongering didn’t disappoint. What really is nonsense is accepting everything Google says at face value.

  3. Regardless of the technology; if it is being used to game or to persuade (mental act) then James’ argument stands. Have you considered how these ‘tests’ are executed even? MozCast for example queries Google from several ‘stations’ in various locations for competitive and high-volume keywords. How many times is “Insurance” queried per day? If you believe MozCast’s ‘test’ queries are even more than a microscopic blip in the vastness of of that volume for that keyword and can be detected by Google then you truly should wrap your head in tin-foil.

    1. I get the impression you – like most commenters, it seems – appear to have missed the point rather spectacularly. As it’s such a pervasive phenomenon, I suppose I only have myself to blame. Can’t expect everyone to be aware of how propaganda works.

      The point is precisely that Google can’t directly affect the outcomes of these tests, as they’re so difficult to detect. So Google tries to discredit the value we put in to these tests, by making us believe they’re inherently flawed (even when they’re not). It does that by, for example, publishing a patent (which it may or may not actually use) that – if implemented – would perfectly thwart such test outcomes.

      And by us being aware of such a patent, and thus being aware that Google might be doing exactly that, it makes us question these SEO experiments…

      Perception = reality. Sorry if that’s too complicated for you to grasp. If so, I don’t advise a career in political science. Or marketing, for that matter.

      1. If “they’re so difficult to detect” then the patent would have be applied index-wide; completely re-writing the basic rules of their algorithm and therefore in-accurate car-crash results pages. Something has to be remotely believable to be propaganda. This is not even remotely believable.

        1. You haven’t been paying attention to Google’s SERPs a lot, have you? Quite a few ‘car-crash results pages’ going on, especially for highly competitive queries that are precisely the type that Google would want to thwart SEO tests on…

  4. Hi Barry,

    Great points. I think people have missed the point here. Recently was working on a reputation management campaign and took the opportunity to mess about with the SERPs for this particular branded KW term and definitely saw transition rank at work! Obviously this is an n=1 experiment, but every time I take some action now, it never ceases to cross my mind. Genius from Google’s perspective really.

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