Posted on Jun 16, 2011

Google Machine Learning to Trump Backlinks?

User vs Links

Google’s recent Panda update upset a lot of people, it was the biggest and nastiest update in a couple of years. It literally put some websites out of business.

On the surface it seems like just another tweak by Google to improve relevancy, but under the surface something much deeper may be happening, a shift in Google’s fundamental principle on what makes a site rank.

Learning From Russia

Google has not been able to compete very well in Russia against the leading Search Engine Yandex. At first it was because Google didn’t grasp the uniqueness of the language and served bad results. They got that sorted, but still were not able to deliver better results than Yandex.

Yandex works very different to Google. It mainly uses machine learning to decide what sites are worthy of ranking. This simply means seeing how users rate a site, and then identifying what metrics good sites have in common.

If your site has those metrics, then it ranks high, if not, it doesn’t. Links are a lot less important in the machine learning model. What the user thinks is important.

What did Google do in the Panda update? It used machine learning to tweak its results. With the launch of the Google +1 button, paying attention to what users think is good, and devaluing the power of links, might be the direction Google is heading.

Watch the video to learn more…


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  • Firas says:

    A couple of years ago the inventor of the World Wide Web said about the social media that “[the Internet] was not designed to work this way.” adding something like this is pure madness and that the future will be machines connecting all knowledge about different topics.
    Taxonomy, semantic metatagging, and natural language processing is the future. So, in order for sites to be dominant in search results, they need to be categorized properly, have lots of content talking authoritatively about what the market thinks is important/ topical, and using LSI (yes, I know a lot of marketers and self-proclaimed SEO professionals trash it and claim it’s ineffective for SEO).
    This video has shown me, for the first time, what I thought would take several more years before it is implemented. Very valuable.

  • Alex says:

    Amazing interview – the obvious question now is what happens when yandex expand out of the Russian market and go head to head with Google for the US market?

  • Glen Woodfin says:

    Google should buy Yandex. Ha!

  • Real SEO experts do not trash LSI because LSI is the principle that works in real life. That’s how humans speak and communicate – with the help of a language and combinations of relevant words and structures. LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing – mathematical formula of retrieving words even if the words are not present but only models are present.

    That’s why we can rank for a word that is not present on a website.

    LSI principles are essential and they will evolve together with the humans. These principals will work centuries from today.

    What the heck am I going to do about this whole thing?

    I better go and register on Yandex. I am one of the luckiest people in this situation. Russian is my native language.

  • Steve S says:

    I think this is the wave of the future. Google has painted itself into a corner by basing its algo on links. This creates a system that can be gamed and makes their algorithm a joke with big corporations buying links, link farms and bots doing the work. How many of anyone’s links are really natural votes for their site? Google will start to devalue links in the future I expect and look for better ways to measure quality.

  • Daniel Tan says:

    Google will certainly evolve into machine learning company. They already reportedly have raters for websites which decide which are good sites and then extract relevant metrics from them to adjust their algo. Panda has been their biggest update since pagerank intoduction. Hopefully their search results become more relevant.

  • I think the machine learning model will be far more sophisticated than using facebook likes, retweets, or Google #1 votes to rank sites. Those variables, like backlinks, can be easily manipulated by throwing enough money at them.

    What cannot be manipulated is unique, accurate and informative content for any goven search term. It seems to me the best “indicators” here would be more like “average time on page”, # of pages visited, and other such data – which Google has been collecting for years anyway.

    • admin says:

      I agree too – user metrics like bounce rate and time on site will (and already do) play a major part.

      That’s not to say such metrics can’t be manipulated, either by paying people to visit your site using Amazon Turk, or by having things on your page which suck them in. Neither being an actual reflection of quality.

      Overall you will need to please Google on many levels, including the social proof of Facebook likes, Google + etc., solid user metrics, quality backlinks and great content.

  • Now I really can’t resist trying to get a keyword phrase to number one on Yandex, Google and Bing.

    From what I’ve seen so far I’m going to struggle because of the differences, but who said SEO was easy 🙂 .

    Thanks for the video interview – really enlightening..

  • Great Video, I suspect it’s time i got a Russian to translate & duplicate one of my sites and see how it ranks in russia compared to in the US

  • My great question is always about the time period. How much time doe it take to change the algorithm completely. This must not be too radical I suppose. 2-3 years I guess.

  • Patrick says:

    The variations in results that we have seen in the google bot ranking suggest to us that they may already be shifting to a Social Prevalence & Dominance based ranking format.

  • Tatyana Gann says:

    I can say as a russian linguist and a publicist Russian is the hardest language. Different language formulas. It is very mathematical language. I am not surprised yandex changes…It is time..
    SEO must be natural and in 2012 it will be all about social media interactions. No spam..


  • Rapunzel says:

    Great video thanks a lot –
    high quality content relevant to the search terms + On-Page optimization = 3/4 of the SEO battle

  • U. Marx says:

    Informative video!

    I wonder if it is enough to create unique high quality content (with on-page optimization) relevant to search terms (keywords) which should result in good user metrics. If the site also encourages to link to it then this should take care of the important SEO tactics. If you have got the time to wait for results that is……

    Since most marketers are an impatient bunch – me included – the search for “shortcuts” is key. There is a lot of money to be made supplying shortcuts….

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