SEO Agency in Phoenix

Transitional Rankings

Google Rank-Modifying Spammers Patent

What is going on with my site? This is the question we get asked the most from new clients. Watching your website’s rankings can be frustrating, and at times seem like your moving in the wrong direction. Below, we get into why this is happening and what you can expect going forward.

Google's Mission

As you probably already know, Google’s mission is to provide people with search results of the highest possible quality. It uses complex algorithms to sort through web pages and determine how important and relevant they are, so that it can then rank them on their search results pages.

In a bid to outfox Google, some webmasters attempt to game the system by using so-called "black hat" “ranking modifying spamming techniques” to artificially raise the rankings of pages on their website. Such methods include keyword stuffing, meta-tag stuffing, page redirects, invisible text and other unapproved techniques set out in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

For obvious reasons, Google doesn’t like these techniques because it degrades the user experience and means that higher quality sources would appear further down the rankings than would otherwise be the case.

To combat spammy "black hat" techniques and protect their superior algorithm from competitors, they apply for patents - like the one we are talking about on this page.

First Page of Google

"Ranking Documents" Patent

If your website seems to be bouncing around in the rankings, a Google patent granted in 2012 may help to explain what is happening. Commonly referred to as “transitional rankings,” the system can have a big impact on your position in the search results.

In August 2012, Google was granted a patent called “Ranking Documents”, which describes how Google might alter the ranking of a page when it believes that illegitimate ‘spammy’ techniques may be being used to artificially raise its ranking.

Rather than automatically raising the ranking of a page that has been modified (as might otherwise be expected), the patent sets out how Google may instead provide the page with what it calls a “transitional ranking.” This involves changing the ranking of the page in an unexpected way and then monitoring it to see how the website owner responds.

Here’s what Google says about it in the patent, which was officially granted on August 14th 2012:

A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank. The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.

Rankings Document Patent

Transitional Rankings Explained

A web page that rises in the rankings may be because of either legitimate (white hat) or illegitimate (black hat) modifications to the page or off-page factors.

When Google see's these ranking factors, rather than immediately raising the ranking of the modified web page, Google gives the page a "transitional ranking", one of which (according to the patent) is completely random and different to what one might expect. The ranking of the page may decrease and fall down the rankings, or it may increase slightly, but not by as much as you might expect. Alternatively, Google might keep the ranking the same. Whichever the case, the transitional ranking and period of time are completely random.

During the Google transitional rankings period, Google monitors the behaviour for an undertermined amount of time to identify whether or not it points to the use of illegitimate rank modifying spamming techniques on the page in question.

Transitional Rankings

Monitoring Behavior

After giving the web page a transitional ranking, Google then monitors the behavior during the transitional ranking period for an undetermined amount of time. The random transitional ranking period is effectively an opportunity for Google to investigate things further and “test” the owner of the website to see how they respond to ranking drops or fluctuations.

Someone who keeps changing their website in response to changes in ranking is probably using techniques that Google does not approve of, and if that’s the case, Google will penalize the page or site in question.

For an example, let’s say that someone decides to stuff their web page full of keywords. If this action results in the page dropping in rankings because of Google's transitional rankings, the person responsible for the spamming might then respond by completely removing the keyword stuffing from the page.

In the same way, if Google keeps the ranking of the page the same as it was before the keyword stuffing was implemented, the spammer might be disappointed that the technique didn’t positively affect the ranking and therefore respond by adding in more spamming techniques to the page in a bid to raise the ranking.

Both of these actions would send a red flag to Google that illegitimate ranking modifying techniques are being used, which may then be penalized by Google in the final ranking – which it calls the “target rank.”

On the other hand, the likely response to a rankings drop by someone using legitimate techniques would probably be that they’d do nothing, in which case, Google would (after an undetermined period of time) restore the web page to it's original ranking or most likely give the web page a higher final rankings then where it was before the transitional period.

Google's Ranking Test

What Does All This Mean For You?

Good news! Why? Well, not to “toot our own horn”, but we have thousands of #1 rankings, most of which went through this transitional period at some point. Whether it was dropping from #20 to #40 or #7 to #16 for a random and undetermined amount of time, they all ended up in the coveted #1 spot because of our Award-Winning SEO Company in Phoenix.

SEO Agency

The nature of the system however means that rankings can often be unpredictable and extremely frustrating to watch. Just be patient and know that seeing movement is a GOOD thing – negative or positive movement. We are very good at what we do and the end result will always be a positive position - no matter how many transitional phases take place. You see, Google’s transitional rank function is actually a good thing for companies like ours that do not practice spammy techniques and focus on quality and making the web a better place.
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