How an API Leak from Google Can Boost Your SEO Strategy

Key Insights from the Google Data Leak Every Business Owner Should Know

Google API documentation Leak takeaways to transform your SEO strategy. Learn how to adapt and grow with new discoveries about Google's algorithm.
Harvey A. Ramer
Harvey A. Ramer
8 min read (1729 words)

About the Author: Harvey A. Ramer has over two decades of experience as a software engineer. He helps business owners reach people seeking their expertise through search engine results. Harvey enjoys translating complex digital concepts into simple ideas for nontechnical business people. For SEO help, please reach out.

Did you know that search engines drive nearly 70% of all web traffic? Yet, the exact mechanisms behind search rankings on Google have long been mysterious.[1] Now, we can shed some light on the mystery. An unprecedented leak has revealed new details about Google’s ranking algorithms, and these insights offer an opportunity to adjust our SEO strategies for better results.

The Google Data Leak and Why It Matters

On May 5th, 2024, Rand Fishkin[2] received a leak of Google’s API documentation from an anonymous source. This leak reveals how Google uses clickstream data[3] and systems like NavBoost[4] to rank search engine results. It also unveils several contradictions between Google’s public statements and internal practices.

Verified by ex-Googlers and technical experts, the leak lets us see some secret mechanisms behind Google’s search rankings.

Despite the sensational nature of the leak, Fishkin didn’t immediately jump to conclusions. Instead, he engaged technical experts to review the documentation for insights. Fishkin waited to share his opinions until he understood the technology. And the ideas he shared sparked a viral conversation and caught the eye of Google employees.

In response, a Google spokesperson validated the leak as genuine.[5] However, they cautioned that software documentation lacks context. When we discover that code exists to perform a task, we do not prove Google is executing it. More importantly, it does not reveal how that code affects search engine results. The code reveals new ranking factors, such as NavBoost, which may be strong ranking signals. But we are unsure how much weight new factors hold, and we draw firm conclusions at our own risk.

“In the last quarter century, no leak of this magnitude or detail has ever been reported from Google’s search division.”
— Rand Fishkin

How Does the Google Data Leak Affect SEO?

The leak reveals that click-through rates (CTR), bounce rates, and user engagement power Google’s search results. Thus, wise business owners will optimize their user experience for better results. But we must use caution and recognize the possibility of outdated or incomplete data in the leak.

There is a clear consensus emerging from the SEO community. Traditional SEO tactics like link building remain a vital tool for better rankings. But we waste our hard work if we do not serve the user by providing a high-quality experience.

For visibility, your website must align with the search terms entered into Google search—this has not changed. And the content must be engaging, answering questions with clarity. Create more engaging content, and you will likely gain better search engine rankings. Waste a searcher’s time, and you will likely lose search rankings.

What Needs to Change?

The SEO industry has often focused more on search engine rankings and clicks than user experience. But if this ever worked, it won’t work today. Google’s public guidance over the past year has been consistent. Create helpful content for users, and don’t try to game search algorithm. This leak removes all doubt about the importance of heeding their advice.

Based on the insights from the leak, here are some recommended changes to SEO practices:

1. Focus on User Behavior and Engagement

I have long advocated for more focus on website speed. But this leak clarifies that psychology is more important than speed. Keep the focus on the person, and Google will forgive a host of technical problems with your website.

Your page titles function like ad headlines. They must generate enough interest to get a click-through. But your headlines must also be relevant enough to your content to avoid disappointing readers when they land on your page. As always, copywriting is a critical component of any website’s success. We must arouse curiosity and then keep and hold attention by delivering value.

2. Build Strong, Recognizable Brands

Your brand is crucial to your success. We now know that Google tracks branded search terms. When a user starts their search with a broad term and then narrows to a specific branded term, Google may boost the brand’s search rankings for the broad search term.[6]

Backlinks are valuable, but quality is more important than quantity. Don’t chase backlinks indiscriminately. Instead, create a content strategy that attracts links from highly reputable sources.

3. Leverage Long-Click and Short-Click Metrics

We must remain objective and not place too much weight on a single factor. The data leak’s insights all point to this: the duration of a website visit correlates to the website’s quality, and Google uses that data in its rankings.

The NavBoost system uses long-click and short-click metrics to assess the relevance and quality of search results. Long clicks, where users stay on a webpage for a considerable time, show valuable and satisfactory content, leading to potential boosts in search rankings. Short clicks, where users return to search results (pogo-sticking), suggest content did not meet user expectations and can hurt rankings. These user engagement metrics are critical in Google’s evaluation process. To rank, we must create content that aligns with user intent and keeps them engaged.

4. Optimize for User Intent

Gone are the Field of Dreams days of digital marketing, if they ever existed. Launching a poorly articulated idea will not work. We must differentiate our brand and stick to our brand message. It requires, above all, empathy. Our websites must meet a felt need and do so as effectively and comprehensively as possible.

Win with a Fanatic Focus on Your Customer

We now know with certainty that we must focus on creating a user-centric, engaging, and trustworthy online presence. Understand and meet your audience’s needs through high-quality content, exceptional user experience, and a strong brand reputation. It aligns with the core principles that drive Google’s search rankings. It is the surest path to sustained online success.

We need to define integrity and excellence by their focus on the needs of our customers rather than the methods we use to deliver value. Content creation is changing. The leak makes it clear that relevant, actionable content drives search rankings. It does not provide insight into how the use of generative AI to create content affects rankings. But Google doesn’t seem to care.[7]

They do, however, care about the originality of your ideas,[8] and ChatGPT content is, by definition, unoriginal. Though writing with generative AI is efficient, it must add value by including your original insights and experience. Otherwise, you will plagiarize content that already exists elsewhere on the web.

Generative AI is revolutionizing the writing process and raises profound questions about what it means to be a creator. How do we acknowledge the help such tools provide as we write, create images, and shoot videos? Writing this article, I collaborated with Perplexity, ChatGPT, Grammarly, and Hemingway App.

Writing on technical trends is not driven by creative self-expression. Instead, it adds value and equips others to understand their options in a changing world. Digital marketing is shifting beneath our feet. We must adapt or fall behind. I wish you success as you navigate this shifting landscape of technological and ethical risks. I hope this article is one small tool you can add to your toolbox as you build a better brand and online presence.[9]


  1. Search engines drive a significant portion of web traffic. According to SEO.com, search engines are responsible for 68% of all website traffic, with Google alone accounting for 63.41% of this traffic. ↩︎

  2. Rand Fishkin’s thoughtful analysis is a great place to start digging into the significance of the documentation leak. ↩︎

  3. Clickstream data refers to the detailed log of a user’s online activity, tracking the sequence of web pages and links that a user clicks on while browsing the internet. This data includes information about the specific web pages visited, the order in which they were accessed, the duration spent on each page, and any interactions made with the content on those pages. ↩︎

  4. NavBoost is an internal system used by Google to enhance search result quality by analyzing and leveraging user clickstream data. This system collects data on user interactions, such as the number of clicks on search results, the duration of those clicks (distinguishing between long clicks and short clicks), and subsequent user actions. By understanding these behaviors, NavBoost helps Google identify trending search queries, assess the relevance and quality of search results, and adjust rankings accordingly. ↩︎

  5. Search Engine Land spoke to a Google spokesperson about the documentation leak. ↩︎

  6. Rand’s NavBoost example illustrates how Google may associate an unbranded term with brand names. ↩︎

  7. Google Search’s guidance about AI-generated content ↩︎

  8. Google’s algorithm seems to include an originality score that presumably ranks more original content more prominently. HUGE Google Search document leak reveals inner workings of ranking algorithm ↩︎

  9. The sources of data for this article were: An Anonymous Source Shared Thousands of Leaked Google Search API Documents with Me; Everyone in SEO Should See Them, Google Data Leak Clarification: Five Questions About the Google Data That You Need Answers to Right Now, and Google Responds to Leak: Documentation Lacks Context ↩︎

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