Insight from Google’s Danny Sullivan on Algorithmic Spam & Ranking Drops

Insights from Google Search Liaison on Algorithmic Spam Actions and Ranking Drops

In a recent exchange on Twitter, Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison, shed light on how the search engine addresses algorithmic spam actions and ranking declines. The conversation began when a website owner expressed concern over a significant decrease in traffic and the inability to request a manual review.

Sullivan clarified that a drop in rankings could be due to an algorithmic spam action or other factors affecting the site’s visibility. He emphasized that many site owners mistakenly attribute ranking drops to algorithmic spam actions when that may not be the case.

“I’ve looked at many sites where people have complained about losing rankings and assume they have an algorithmic spam action against them, but they don’t.”

For a comprehensive understanding of Google’s transparency challenges, Sullivan’s full statement is recommended to discern between algorithmic spam actions and other factors influencing rankings. He also addressed the misconception that manual reviews can override automated rankings.

Addressing Transparency and Manual Intervention Challenges

Sullivan acknowledged the demand for more transparency in Google Search Console, suggesting the possibility of notifying site owners about algorithmic actions similar to manual penalties. However, he highlighted two significant challenges:

  • Revealing algorithmic spam indicators could enable malicious entities to manipulate the system.
  • Algorithmic actions are not specific to individual sites and cannot be manually lifted.

Despite understanding the frustration of traffic drops without clear causes and the inability to communicate with Google, Sullivan cautioned against seeking manual intervention to override automated rankings.

“…you don’t really want to think ‘Oh, I just wish I had a manual action, that would be so much easier.’ You really don’t want your individual site to attract the attention of our spam analysts. First, manual actions are not instantly processed. Second, it’s just something we monitor ongoing, particularly if a site claims to have made changes but remains unchanged.”

Evaluating Content Helpfulness and Reliability

Beyond spam issues, Sullivan delved into the various systems that evaluate the usefulness and reliability of content and websites. Acknowledging the imperfections in these systems, he noted that some high-quality sites may not receive the recognition they deserve.

“Some sites perform well but experience slight position drops that lead to noticeable traffic declines. Owners may assume fundamental issues when that’s not the case — prompting us to add a section addressing this on our traffic drops debugging page.”

Sullivan hinted at ongoing discussions regarding providing more performance indicators in Search Console to assist content creators in understanding their content’s performance better.

“I’ve been contemplating whether Search Console can offer additional indicators to creators. This poses challenges similar to those of spam, with the need to prevent system abuse and the absence of a ‘boost ranking’ button. However, sharing more information while providing better guidance could benefit creators.”

Advocating for Small Publishers and Positive Progress

Responding to a suggestion from Brandon Saltalamacchia, founder of RetroDodo, about manually reviewing “good” sites and offering guidance, Sullivan expressed his thoughts on potential solutions. He discussed ideas such as self-declaration through structured data for small publishers and leveraging that information for positive changes.

“I’m exploring concepts on self-declaration through structured data for small publishers and utilizing that data to drive improvements. While there are no immediate promises, I am hopeful about progress in a positive direction.”

While Sullivan refrained from making immediate promises or implementing instant changes, he expressed optimism about finding constructive ways to move forward positively in addressing ranking drops and algorithmic spam actions.

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