Google May Be Forced to Reveal its Search Algorithm to an SEO, the headline on Search Engine Journal announces.
For those not in the loop, back in 2012, a company called Foundem filed a suit against the search engine giant. A price comparison search engine, Foundem alleges that it was the victim of anti-competitive practices by Google in 2006. Specifically, it claims that Google intentionally manipulated its search engine results page (SERP) to bury the site.
The accusation, notes SFGate, was tied to several algorithm changes that penalized sites with large quantities of duplicate content and changed how Google handled URL canonization—known respectively as Gilligan, Jagger, and Big Daddy, per Moz. At first glance, the whole suit may seem cut-and-dry.
Foundem simply doesn’t want to acknowledge that its business model became irrelevant, which was ultimately the real reason it foundered, claims the International Center for Law & Economics.
The courts clearly disagreed, and the fact that Foundem continued to perform well in other search engines was admittedly suspicious. So it was that the two companies found themselves embroiled in a years-long legal dispute. And here’s where it gets interesting.
Let’s circle back to the Search Engine Journal piece we cited at the beginning. As part of the court proceedings, Google revealed documents detailing its algorithm to the court—confidentially, of course. In April 2020, Foundem reportedly demanded that the company bring in SEO expert Philipp Kloeckner to interpret them.
Google’s response, understandably, was that doing so would compromise the integrity of the entire search engine. Foundem responded that it could simply withdraw the documents afterward—seemingly forgetting the extreme competitive advantage Kloeckner would gain as a result of the process. It couldn’t withdraw them either, however—the documents were key to its defense.
And so it was that Google faced an ultimatum. If Google neither withdraws the documents nor consents to provide them to Kloeckner, the judge will simply give them to Kloeckner himself. And that could ultimately lead to the documents being released to the general public.
We expect one of two things would happen as a result of this.
If we were to be optimistic, this could completely change the face of the web. Armed with a complete understanding of content quality and ranking signals, SEOs and marketers could create better, more relevant content than ever before. It would be a golden age for search.
If we’re being realistic? We’d probably regress to the early days of SEO—a chaotic mess where the SERP is poisoned by black hats and spammers. Not exactly ideal, in other words.
Either way, we don’t think it’s likely that Google will reveal its algorithm. Far likelier that it will choose to withdraw the documents and eat the fine. That small dent in its revenue would be far smaller than the damage it would incur from its algorithm being made public.