SEO Linguistics: Updates, Changes, Glitches, Semantics, & NOISE

A lot of our best SEO tips are shared on the blog here. That strategy originally came to be because my original business model (for this site) was to sell an ebook, and it was hard to stuff everything inside 1 ebook and expect it to come out congruent, especially

  • while selling it to a wide audience
  • when revising it many times
  • with SEO touching upon so many other disciplines like psychology, sociology, public relations, branding, advertising, content creation, information architecture, social networking, algorithm testing, etc.

Admitedly the ebook was a work in progress. As the search algorithms evolved and my knowledge of the field of marketing improved there were always new ideas I could add (or remove or change)...things where I said "hey I could make this part way better." But to be able to do that, you have to be able to look at your old work and admit where you were wrong or ignorant (or correct, but shortsighted).

After 4 years of making such updates, you get a lot better at seeing some of your own flaws and thinking about things you could do better, and you get better at seeing underlying trends in the search algorithms...especially as you grow your sites, track the search results, read customer feedback, read search research, read algorithm patents, read Google's internal company documents, and listen to engineers speak in Fed Speak. Each data point adds value to the next.

When I was new to the SEO field, learning SEO was much less complex because the algorithms were less complex and because the market did not have the noise it has in it today. Today there is no shortage of complexity in the SEO industry. But then the SEO industry is made to seem even more complex than it is by people playing semantic games, people willfully misinforming others, and those so desperate for attention that they are willing to write anything in hopes of getting a link or a mention in social media channels.

Rather than calling the update an update (as they are traditionally called) Matt Cutts preferred to call (what we saw as an update) a change, but as Michael Gray mentioned, those semantics are irrelevant unless Matt chooses to share more information

When you go around stating there was no update (your definition), when we can clearly see there was an update (our definition), we’ve got a problem. It looks like you’re trying to perform some Jedi mind trick, if you keep repeating there was no update and waving your hand eventually we’ll all believe you. Even worse it’s like you’re trying to tell us what we’re seeing isn’t really there and this is one of those “these aren’t my pants officer” moments from cops.

Language is powerful. If you control the language you control the conversation.

Even after Matt Cutts said in a video that they made a change, people began passing around that video on Twitter noting how I was wrong about the update and that there was no update. Some of them were probably the same people who denounced the position 6 issue we mentioned - a penalty/filter that was denied, changed/fixed, and then - and only then - a glitch.

I am not sure what sort of bizarro world those "I told you it was not an update" people claiming to be SEOs come from, but I thank them for polluting the free SEO content available on the web and misinforming so many people...they are part of what makes our training program so popular and profitable. They also make the search results less competitive - anyone who is listening to them is heading in the wrong direction building a weak foundation. :)

Published: March 5, 2009 by Aaron Wall in marketing


March 5, 2009 - 8:00pm

I can't wait to see how this plays's the first real algorithm update I'll witness (if it happens on a big scale in a way that it effects me). I've seen a few before, but all of those were minor ones, whereas this one seems to possibly turn into a significant one.

March 6, 2009 - 12:53am

Isn't Google's official position on updates is that they're rolled out completely seamlessly on a micro-incremental basis. To go back on that would be Google sacrilege, of course.

You can guess that placing more emphasis on trust, PR and quality would have the effect of boosting brands, as most brands would tend to avoid that sort of SEO malpractice. You might even suspect that Google's scapegoat, Vince, was commissioned to design this update with brands in mind - it might help the economy... but who knows.

Trust: Brands would tend to have older domains, more natural linking profiles, and links acquired at a rate congruent with traffic...

PR: Brands aren't going to link out to crappy sites. Authority sites link to brands.

Quality: Behavioral data will favor brands. People recognize brands in search, know what they're clicking on, and tend not to bounce. Brands don't mislead the public to achieve CTR. And brands tend to get more manually entered URLs in the browser (Chrome phones home...).

An interesting side-effect of this change is that if "brand sites" are less relevant to user intentions than paid ads, AdWords CTR will increase. Long term, they might lose market share.


"Website" returns almost all unrelated brands in the top ten (even again), and all ads relate to creating a website.

"Web Page" is slightly better, but unrelated brands ( appear.

"Site Map" - apple, ebay, microsoft & ncbi manage to sneak in there...

"Privacy Policy" -

----------------some intention-less searches------------

"Click Here" seems to return completely random results - many brands.

"Click" does the same.

"This Link" does the same.

"Contact Us" ...

This shows just how much Google weighs anchor text in links to trusted-brand/unrelated-authority sites. Granted, "Click Here" and below are almost meaningless. But "Website" might have some real search intent. Sometimes, you can't rely on anchor text, especially those often used generically.

March 5, 2009 - 10:49pm

What I got from the video that the update was being played down as much as possible. Whether by calling it something (or anything) other than an update. And/or by claiming that it's just like any of the hundreds they do each year. However, this "non-update" has created a lot of buzz and required it's own video response from Matt.

March 6, 2009 - 12:40am

Good point Gareth. Google claims to make hundreds of updates each year, but how often do they make a video about the update? Once every other year, maybe?

March 6, 2009 - 1:23am

It is kind of like when an actress denies over and over that she had plastic surgery or made that sex tape. The more they deny the more they think you did it.

March 6, 2009 - 4:21am

Well, I can speak from experience to say that there definitely was an update. Not that any of you need my words to be convinced...

One of my sites *almost* completely disappeared from one area of Google... Then it magically reappeared in another area of Google it had never been listed before... In a pretty interesting position too.

I'm also noticing others confused about their new rankings. P...
March 6, 2009 - 6:40pm

Note: RANT ahead!!! It's slightly scattered, but hey I'm writing as fast as I can so I can get out everything I want to say.

RANT 1. Matt Cutts is obviously a fantastic person. He is also a great search ambassador for Google. Matt truly does as good a job as he is allowed when communicating with webmasters, SEOs, etc., etc. But, we all know that Matt is under the power of a mighty master.

Of course, he's going to down-play such information. This is nothing more than standard PR damage control (not that it was even necessary). Excellent effort by Google!

On the flip-side of the coin; bad interpretation by self-proclaimed smarty-pants people who did not even think about what Matt actually said or didn't say.

Instead they rushed... rushed... rushed... to post the video somewhere ultra-cool or blog about it; claiming that the gurus were wrong, yadda, yadda, yadda. And you know what? It paid off! Believe it or not, these people were amongst the first 10,000 to have done the same f'ing thing. Good job guys/gals contributing to the noise. Keep up the great work!

p.s. As I watched the video, I could not help but think about Bill Clinton (as he was being questioned on National TV regarding the Monica Lewinsky deal,) actually trying to debate the definition of the word "is."

Listen here GOOGLE... we obviously have enough proof to deduce that this was more than just a freaking "change." I am NOT saying that this UPDATE wasn't a good UPDATE. I think this UPDATE was likely appropriate more for some industries than it was for others, including ours. Sure a big brand now occupies the top ranking for our most coveted keyword, but they replaced a company that was very weak, compared to industry standards. Plus, there is no way to make a change that is going to be 100% accurate or appropriate for the entire business world.

RANT 2. If you do not know the answer to a question; kindly follow the fantastic advice of Michael Scott and just "SHUT IT!" Please do not spread unfounded and unreliable information or advice just to partake in a conversation. Doing so will only make you look like an ass.

Instead, you can help yourself and help the Internet Marketing World at the same time by spending plenty of time absorbing the knowledge being openly shared. Then get out there and start asking some questions. I guarantee that you will get more reliable feedback than you could have ever imagined. Specifically, speaking for our industry, I'm happy to know I work amongst a very GIVING group of people; it's truly AWESOME!


March 8, 2009 - 8:37pm

The video is a lesson in semantics.

The important parts are...

"Yes, Google has made a change in the rankings"
"There's been a change in how we do rankings" (Collectively, it was big enough to be given a codename "Vince)
"Some people noticed it...." (presumably the brand change)

Whether Matt & team think about it in terms of "brand" internally is irrelevant. It's the fact that what we refer to as "brands" do appear to be treated differently now than they were pre-update.

The real question is: how do Google identify a site as qualifying for this "brand" ranking treatment?

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