What the Google API Leak Tells Us About Search Engine Optimization

research google api leak

Breaking news, a global corporation lied.

If you ask me, that summary is less “breaking news” than it is a general assumption that I carry with me on a day-to-day basis. Nonetheless, the world of SEO did get some interesting information this past week by way of a Google API leak consisting of 2,569 internal documents relating to internal services at Google. Suffice it to say the SEO community has been busy. 

Wait, what exactly was leaked? 

API documentation from within Google was accidentally published between March 2024 and May 2024. It has since been unpublished, but lucky for us (and ironically, partially thanks to Google themselves), the Internet is forever. 

It seems luck can only take us so far, though, because these API documents are not exactly light reading. API, also known as the application programming interface, allows different bits of software to communicate with each other. In other words, it was not designed for the average bear to sit down and read. The documents are also filled with links to sources that were not accidentally published and were, therefore, inaccessible.

And while we’re focusing on the negatives, I should point out that there is no way to prove that 100% of this API is still in use. However, based on the timing of the leak and dates within the documentation, it is reasonable to assume that this was at least current as of August 2023. 

Despite these limitations, there is plenty to glean from the information we do have. 

So what have people found? 

While much is still being dissected, a few intriguing bits of information stood out. One thing to keep in mind when reading through these is that all the API has done is confirm or reveal things that Google is keeping track of. There may be a little additional context provided in the documentation, but for the most part, we cannot say exactly how Google uses the information it tracks, just that it does. 

I should also note that several of these things are deemed interesting because Google has been on record saying they were not factors considered for rankings (such as click data and Google Chrome data), but this documentation proves otherwise.

  1. There is a specific label for small personal sites and blogs.
  2. Google’s NavBoost plays a large role in the ranking algorithm, and it is almost entirely based on click data. Click data includes how often something is clicked, how long someone stayed on the page they clicked on, and if the user searches again after the click.
  3. Google has a “Site Authority” score.
  4. Google tracks Chrome users across the web using clickstream data to analyze user behavior and search intent to better inform its search ranking algorithm. 
  5. Page title length has seemingly no influence on ranking.
  6. At least three topics are “whitelisted” by Google: travel, Covid, and politics. Whitelisting means certain sites have to be approved in order to appear near the top of the search results. This is used to prevent the spread of misinformation.
  7. Content quality has specific metrics assigned to it, such as data from raters (real people who review content), originality, and effort.
  8. Link click data is used to help Google label a link as low, medium or high quality. 
  9. Toxic backlinks do exist. 
  10. Google tracks font size for links and weight (aka if something is bolded) for text. 

But what does it all mean? 

The list above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of specific discoveries. However, there are a few key takeaways to consider for your own SEO efforts. 

1. Your brand is incredibly important. 

Google uses countless ranking factors to identify and rank entities as a whole. This clearly benefits well-known, popular brands more than small, independent sites. However, this does not mean all hope is lost. Instead, it should serve as a reminder that a strong brand is vital to success and that diversifying your efforts is important. You should be taking the time to build your brand through a number of channels, not just through Google and your website.

2. Experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) may be less significant than some people presumed. 

In Rand Fishkin’s blog breaking the news of the leak, he postulates that E-E-A-T may be “80% propaganda and 20% substance,” and I would have to agree with this assumption. In my opinion, E-E-A-T has always seemed like a framework to create the type of content that Google hopes you will, rather than a step-by-step guide on how to rank. But with several of the E-E-A-T factors not even getting a specific mention in all 2,569 pages of this documentation, it is clear that Google isn’t even using its own framework for ranking factors. 

3. User intent matters more than traditional ranking factors. 

Traditional ranking factors like content and links take a back seat to user intent. Google analyzes what users click and stay on after a search to determine what they were searching for and adjusts its rankings accordingly. The goal is to get the thing most users are searching for when searching for a specific term to the top of the search results. While this may sound like a boon for big brands, this can also be good news for local businesses. It demonstrates that businesses can boost their search rankings by building up enough demand for their website in their specific region(s). In short, the more people in your target area are looking for you, the more Google will shuffle you up to the top to help them and others find you. 

4. Small and medium businesses will struggle to rank without a strong brand reputation, recognition, and user demand.  

While this doesn’t mean you should abandon SEO as a strategy (please, don’t do that!), it does mean that you should take a much more comprehensive view of your marketing efforts if you’re currently only focusing on SEO. 

5. Creating quality content for your users is still vital. 

This API makes it clear that despite favoring big brands, Google still has plenty of tools in place to try to prioritize the content that users are truly finding helpful. And with this new confirmation that clicks and a user’s search journey are being tracked, it is more important than ever to make sure that your content is what users are looking for. You want to be the answer that gets them to stop searching, and the more you succeed in that, the more Google will reward you. 

Now what? 

Now that all of this information is out there, you should keep an eye out for further insights. With the sheer amount of data leaked, it’s going to take a while for people to parse through and contextualize all of it in a way that is actually meaningful. 

In the meantime, you should focus on your brand and its marketing efforts on a holistic level. Never put all of your eggs into one basket (and this is coming from someone whose favorite basket is the SEO one) and always prioritize creating quality content that reflects well on your brand and resonates with your intended audience. If you’re able to do that across all of your marketing channels, you are already ahead of the pack. 

And my biggest piece of advice? Don’t believe everything Google tells you.

If you’re worried about your SEO strategy or are unsure if you’re moving in the right direction, get in touch with us for a brief consultation. 

If you’re worried about your SEO strategy or are unsure if you’re moving in the right direction, get in touch with us for a brief consultation.