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Update, 30/05, 10:07 am: Google confirms that the leaked SEO documents are authentic. The company immediately counters possible criticism by indicating that the documents may contain outdated or incomplete information.

Google spokesperson Davis Thompson stated in a message to The Verge that everyone should ignore the leaked documents. “We caution against making inaccurate assumptions about Search based on out-of-context, outdated or incomplete information.” The message is that the documents cannot be trusted, but Google’s communications can. “We’ve shared extensive information about how Search works and the types of factors our systems consider, while also working to protect the integrity of our results from tampering.”

Original, 29/05, 2 pm: Several leaked Google documents about SEO show that the company is not communicating honestly about its practices. Google did not reveal anything about the authenticity of the documents and has not officially responded to the leak yet.

Official Google documents about SEO are circulating online. They total more than 2,500 pages and describe more than 14,000 key ranking features. The leak raises many questions about the company’s sincerity in communicating how a website is ranked in search results at Google.

Black box

In general, Google’s communication about SEO is quite limited. The whole system is a black box, with journalists, researchers, and SEO marketers trying to uncover its secrets. The leaked documents help interested parties better understand what factors are taken into account when ranking. They also give a new look at some SEO rules that were believed to be true but which Google appears to have miscommunicated about.

Rand Fishkin, who has been active in SEO for more than a decade, shared the details. The documents came into his hands through an anonymous source who hoped the act would bring Google’s “lies” to the surface.

One example is the role of Chrome data in determining whether a search result ranks high or low in search results. According to the company, this data would have no impact. However, Fishkin claims examples can be found where URLs that Chrome mentions rank higher or are filed away as additional links under a main URL. In addition, the role of E-E-A-T(experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness) is strongly questioned. According to Google, the factor would play no role, but SEO expert Mike King, who reviewed the documents, sees that Google collects information about the author of texts. The company would track who the author of news articles is, but also does this for “other content”. Previously, the company claimed that an author can make themselves known to readers but not for Google, as the company says it does not use this information for SEO.

Leaked by Google employees

The documents now circulating, despite what appears, were not captured all at once. They are a collection of documents that were leaked over a long period of time. Google employees participated in this -without intending to- by posting documents on GitHub and forgetting to set visibility to private.

Google discovered the leak several weeks ago and recategorized all affected documents as private. Thus, the documents are no longer readable in Google’s latest GitHub repository.

Development is never on pause

It has not yet been confirmed whether the documents shared online actually came from Google. Google is keeping on the sidelines, with the exception of a message to Fishkin in which a company employee asks to adjust the explanation of how an event is classified.

While the leak makes sense for SEO marketers to understand better how the system works, there will be little else of consequence. Through a U.S. investigation into the search engine, unfair practices toward advertisers were uncovered. Even if this is found to be illegal, the company will continue to reinvent the way it generates ad revenue. The addition of AI technology to the search engine, for example, will bring about another change in the near future.

Also read: Google may start charging for search