In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller was asked if new websites could rank for competitive keywords based on content alone. Mueller’s answer provided details on how Google’s algorithm handles new websites.
Google Estimates Signals?
The interesting facts Mueller shared related to how Google estimates signals about a new website and will begin to rank it in the search results.
Mueller indicated that sometimes Google gets it right and the signals eventually confirm that their estimate that the new website was useful are proven correct.
He also said that sometimes their estimates can indicate that a site might not be worth ranking. But that once the signals kick in and based on those signals Google will begin to rank the site.
That’s interesting information.
Here’s the question:
“Theoretically, could a website that’s only one to two weeks old rank for top positions on Google for ultra-competitive head keywords say for example for shoes With significantly better content only, considering it’s the most important part of the core algorithm?
If not then clearly time is a factor when it comes to ranking pages for highly competitive areas no matter how good they are unless new pages are created on already established websites.”
The question is based on the premise that content is “the most important part of the core algorithm” and therefore if a new site can’t rank then it means that time is a factor.
Of course there are more factors beyond time such as links and possibly if users send signals to Google that a site is useful, topical or trending.
Mueller covers those factors in his answer but then he goes beyond and gives more details. He begins by stating that a theoretical question has more than one answer.
This is John Mueller’s answer:
“So… I think these kinds of theoretical questions are always a bit tricky because the answer is: Theoretically lots if things could happen.
But… in practice things are not so theoretical. So I don’t really know if there’s a good answer that would be useful to give for something like this.”
How Google Ranks New Websites
Google Ranks With Multiple Factors
Now here is the part where Mueller offers details about how Google might choose to rank or not rank a new website. The point is that there are more factors than just time for ranking a new website
“We use lots of different factors when it comes to crawling, indexing and ranking. And sometimes that means that completely new websites show up very visibly in search.
Sometimes it also means that it can take a bit of time for things to settle down.”
Does Google Estimate Ranking Signals for New Sites?
This is the interesting part because he talks about estimating signals. There are algorithms that do this kind of thing in what’s called the Score Modification Engine.
The following is from a Google patent titled Ranking Search Results
“The search system… also includes or can communicate with a score modification engine… that generates modification factors that are applied by the search system… to initial scores generated by the search engine… for resources that match the query…
The search system… also includes or can communicate with a score modification engine… that generates modification factors that are applied by the search system… to initial scores generated by the search engine… for resources that match the query…
The score modification engine… can generate the modification factors based at least in part on modification data that associates a respective modification factor with each of a number of multiple groups of resources. The modification data is stored in a repository accessible to the system, e.g., a modification factor database…”
The above patent does not mention ranking new websites. What makes it relevant is that it describes a system where a “score modification engine” will re-rank web results based on factors outside of the ranking engine. That sounds a lot like what Mueller describes when he talks about making estimates about a site.
Here is where Mueller talks about making estimates:
“In particular, with completely new websites, one of the difficulties that we have is we might not have a lot of signals for those websites so we have to make estimates.
And depending on how we make estimates, it can sometimes mean that in the beginning we show this website a little bit more visibly than like it turns out that the signals tell us in the end.
It could also mean that in the beginning we show this website a little bit… less visibly than the signals might tell us in the end.
So that time period of understanding the website and understanding how it fits in with the rest of the web, that’s always kind of a factor there.
But that can go both ways. It can go in the direction of like you’re shown very visibly in the beginning.
And it can also be that maybe you’re shown less visibly in the beginning and as we understand your website and how it fits in with the rest of the web then we can kind of adjust that.
And we do have different algorithms that pick up on things really quickly. So for example, some news item happens and we try to pick that up within seconds.
Sometimes it’s also new websites that show up that we try to pick up really quickly.
So it’s not like time is the only thing that matters or time doesn’t matter at all. There is lots of nuance.”
Google makes estimates about ranking signals for new sites. Mueller didn’t say what those estimates are based on.
But since for a new site there are no other factors other than on-page factors, one can only guess that on-page factors are what Google is basing its estimates on.
Other possible factors that could be used is historical data with regard to sites that shared similar content profiles and went on to be useful and non-spammy websites.
Another insight is that time is not an important factor for ranking a site. The idea of time being a ranking factor is very old. It’s called the Google Sandbox. Google has consistently denied that there is a time based factor that holds back new websites.
John Mueller’s response demonstrates that there are many algorithms at work that determine whether a new site will rank right away or not.
Holding back a site to test if it is trustworthy is not one of those algorithms. The idea of a Google Sandbox has long been discredited. Mueller’s answer gives an idea of why some new sites will rank and why others will not and how the process is too complicated for a yes or no answer.
As Mueller asserted, “There is lots of nuance.”
Watch the Webmaster Hangout here: