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More Google Hubris from Amit Singhal

Someone once suggested we should be paying more attention to Amit Singhal instead of always listening to Matt Cutts. Google just published a statement from a “Google Fellow in charge of the ranking team at Google” named Amit Singhal. Last June, Singhal said that Google made about a half-dozen adjustments to Google’s ranking algorithm every week. Now the count is up to just shy of a dozen per week, but those Google engineers have a handle on it:

We make about ten ranking changes every week and simplicity is a big consideration in launching every change. Our engineers understand exactly why a page was ranked the way it was for a given query. This simple understandable system has allowed us innovate quickly, and it shows. The “keep it simple” philosophy has served us well.

So Google’s engineers can look at a SERP and they know why each page ranks where it does? Amazing. Given all of the factors, and all of the data one would need to consider to make such a determination, these guys at Google are simply that good? Remarkable.

Sorry but I don’t buy it. There are many obvious cases, and cases where select factors have overriding influence, but in most cases, in order to know why a given page ranks where it does, you must do some very careful review of evidence (content, structure, back links, history) no matter who you are. Yes they probably have great tools, but no, they don’t know why any given page ranks where it does.

You can determine for yourself if the following statement is a lie, deceptive, or just evasive via “tricky” language:

No discussion of Google’s ranking would be complete without asking the common – but misguided! :) – question: “Does Google manually edit its results?” Let me just answer that with our third philosophy: no manual intervention. In our view, the web is built by people. You are the ones creating pages and linking to pages. We are using all this human contribution through our algorithms. The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms using the contributions of the greater Internet community, not manually by us.

Hubris and humility matter a great deal in this world. Until I learn of ex-Google engineers rockin’ the SEO world with their magical powers, I’ll maintain my cautious skepticism of the value of  Singhal’s communications.


  1. aaron wall wrote:

    No manual intervention? How does that tie up with Matt Cutts writing here

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 5:44 am | Permalink
  2. Todd Mintz wrote:

    Well, a philosophy of no manual internvention and not doing it are two different things :.)

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 5:51 am | Permalink
  3. Demerzel wrote:

    “Our engineers understand exactly why a page was ranked the way it was for a given query.”

    The value of a Google engineer just went up ten times in value with that simple statement.

    Seriously, did Google make a huge change in their security policies? Last I checked, the engineers can only see snippets of the code in order to prevent situations where one engineer could blab about what the secret ingredients are.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  4. Stuart wrote:

    There was another line in that post that I found interesting – down in the second last paragraph the writer suggests that what you see in the SERPS is what Google “recommends”.

    To me that suggest something personal so is Google now seeing itself as something more than an impersonal search engine? Is Google now thinking that it has a personal relationship with each and every person who uses it?

    And if it does think that it has a personal relationship with each user then what does that mean for websites and ranking in the future? What if Google took a personal dislike to your website or the website of a client?

    I’ve got to admit that I was pre-coffee when I read that post yesterday so maybe I’m reading something into it that isn’t really there … but it did make me wonder.


    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  5. Love to see Amit look over these rankings and explain them:

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Permalink
  6. Brian White wrote:

    I think it’s a stretch to take from Amit’s post that search engineers have a Neo-like ability to intuit the ranking mechanisms just by looking regular results pages. One of their tools is alluded to in page 2 of this NYT article:

    “So Mr. Singhal fired up one of Google’s prized and closely guarded internal programs, called Debug, which shows how its computers evaluate each query and each Web page.”

    Speaking to Aaron’s comment, in that same blog post, Amit points out the difference between a re-ranking by hand, and policy enforcement for things like webspam:

    “I should add, however, that there are clear written policies for websites recommended by Google, and we do take action on sites that are in violation of our policies or for a small number of other reasons (e.g. legal requirements, child porn, viruses/malware, etc).”

    @Brian: The message delivered creates the impression. Too bad it needs explaining with your references. Even so explained, though, that “small number of other reasons” is where the money is for most of us. The “etc” is not as simple as it seems. The “clear written policies” are historically anything but clear. As for the Magical Tools, I might trust them (and you Googlers) better if there was some accountability for the imparting of intent that takes place either within those tools, or in their use.

    In all honestly, if I as webmaster didn’t clearly see problems with they way Google’s use of its tools misinterprets my own intent and creates risk for me, I wouldn’t care. But nearly every time I listen to a Google rep describe the spam fighting “quality” processes at work over there, I cringe because I know for a fact specific situations and circumstances that are completely legitimate and yet would be misconstrued based on those descriptions. I also tend to have insights into how the same judgements can be gamed, as in “where there’s trust, there’s an exploit”.  Put 2 and 2 together and you get cheated, from both sides (by Google, and by your Google-gaming competitor). No argument from me that it’s tough being Google, but that’s why Google’s got all the money. Do better and I won’t care if you’re arrogant.

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 1:37 pm | Permalink
  7. joe preston wrote:

    I interpreted that statement to mean that they could look at the scoring for each result that led to the page rank calculation – you are right of course that is impossible to know the exact reasons for any site’s ranking

    the statement about manual ranking is intentionally deceptive, “The final ordering of the results is decided by our algorithms” is of course true and well-documented however they have a large global manual review effort and to pretend that whatever scoring adjustments happen there do not equate with manual ranking changes is just insulting to my intelligence. This article was very disappointing to me when I read it, because in general I think in terms of transparency Google is way ahead of where it was 3 years ago, but i think competitive pressures and the war vs spam is going to roll some of that back. The recent embarrassing Google Trends attacks are the sort of thing that google will need to step on (although its been being spammed since it began – 4chan getting involved turns the volume up a great deal), and I think we’ll probably see some other windows painted black soon

    Wednesday, July 16, 2008 at 8:18 am | Permalink