Google’s Transparency Issues Due to Users’ Indifference?

We all wish to keep up with Google’s algo modifications and tweaks, however often the changes become visible only quite a while after their actual introduction.

Many attempt to foresee or at least detect the fluctuations of Google’s ranking algorithm in real time. Tools like MozCast and the Local Weather at 51blocks could be quite fascinating and could easily tempt us to base our future forecast on their stats, but the truth is that we are no crystal gazers and at the end of the day, we all learn by our own mistakes. Team Google seems to have settled for a pretty convenient strategy of act first –disclose later. They make sure to employ the planned innovations first, then assess how those changes are being adopted and only after that they confirm that a certain change has taken effect.

This common scenario has been applied on a number of occasions: take for instance the initiation of the major Hummingbird Update: it was announced by Google on September 26, 2013; however it turned out that it had rolled out a month earlier – about August 24.

Another good example of this tactic is this year’s algorithm change that affected a number of movie blogs. As Glenn Gabe explains, in February a change in rankings was observed that “seemed like the monthly Panda update”, only this time the update turned out to be a total fail that triggered the instant reaction of the movie community. This immediate response made it easier for Google to exercise timely damage control and minimize the harm to the affected blogs. Again, no info was released before or during the update, however the observed steep rise in the rankings several days after an affected blog owner asked Matt Cutts for a comment on the issue, proved that the original algorithm change was further refined.

So you might wonder why Google is not trying to communicate its actions, the changes it incorporates in its algorithm and the improvements that its team is working on. Having such data at your disposal would give you valuable hints as on what is the search engine currently working on and what would prove to have more weight in the eventual ranking algorithms. The ranking factors would be more clear-cut and the “random” algorithm updates would not be perceived as so sudden after all. Furthermore the SEO community would not have to guess what is actually happening but would rather be able to concentrate on big-picture questions like what would the long term consequences of a given update would be.

Well, thanks to Barry Swartz’ sharp news detector, we already know what the “actual” reason for Google’s non-disclosure policy. As Matt Cutts explains in a tweet “we did just that for a year, blogging all the changes we released. Eventually the world got bored.”

As you can see in the Official Google Search blog, in 2012 Google did indeed share extensive monthly lists with the algorithm updates: 40 changes for February, 50 for March and then – silence again. Were they really frustrated by low readership and people’s indifference? That sounds doubtful if you ask me – controlling all the information and limiting the access to it seems a bit too convenient for Google. But will we accept these terms without a fight? I believe that you’d all agree that:

“Whoever said ignorance is bliss must have died a horrible death with a really surprised look on his face.”