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April 17, 2014

Google’s ‘not-so-secret’ formula

Are you taking advantage of Google’s Webmaster Tools?

from Matt Cutts Principal Engineer, Search Quality Team of Google.

One of the most widely-discussed parts of Google’s scoring has always been PageRank. That “secret ingredient” is hardly a secret. Here it is. That early paper not only gave the formula for PageRank, but mentioned many of the other signals in Google’s ranking, including anchor text, the location of words within documents, the relative proximity of query words in a document, the size and type of fonts used, the raw HTML of each page, and capitalization of words. Google has continued to publish literally hundreds of research papers over the years. Those papers reveal many of the “secret formulas” for how Google works and document essential infrastructure that Google uses. Some of these papers have spurred not only open-source projects but entire companies in their own right.

Google Webmaster Tools, a one-stop location to provide scalable, self-service information and to let webmasters provide us with data. Describing the powerful tools we provide to site owners for free would take an entire other blog post, but a number of the offerings include:

* Site owners can get recommendations about issues like duplicate meta descriptions or missing title tags.
* Site owners who we believe have violated our webmaster guidelines and where Google has taken corresponding action regarding their site in our index can submit a request for reconsideration.
* Site owners who have been hacked can get details about malware on their site. After they remove the hacked content, they can fetch pages from their site as Googlebot to make sure the malicious content is really gone.
* Site owners can find out about errors that Google encountered while crawling their site.

A Google employee recently blogged about using these free, public tools to diagnose an issue with his webhost where he had exceeded his bandwidth quota. Millions of webmasters have taken similar advantage of Google’s free tools for site owners to get helpful information about their site.

At Google, we try to be as open as we can, even to the point of helping users export their data out of Google’s products. At the same time, we don’t think it’s unreasonable for any business to have some trade secrets, not least because we don’t want to help spammers and crackers game our system. If people who are trying to game search rankings knew every single detail about how we rank sites, it would be easier for them to ‘spam’ our results with pages that are not relevant and are frustrating to users — including porn and malware sites.

Ultimately, criticizing Google for its “secret formula” is an easy claim to make, but it just isn’t true. Google has worked day after day for years to be open, to educate publishers about how we rank sites, and to answer questions from both publishers and our users. So if that’s how people choose to define “secret,” then ours must be the worst kept secret in the world of search.

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