co Google's Secret Sauce: Why They Keep You Guessing |

Danny Sullivan and other journalists challenged Google at a lunch meeting during a Google Zeitgeist conference over the secret recipe of the search engine’s ranking algorithms. The bottom line, according to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is it’s a business secret. Sullivan just wants to know why Google won’t publish the list of ingredients rather than the complete recipe.

Let me just say that I have no way of knowing what’s in Schmidt’s head or what’s in the secret sauce. SEOs and Internet marketers have guessed about those ingredients since Day One. But it’s safe to say that most of those 200 ingredients are already public knowledge. Some of them have been acknowledged by Google itself. Others are just things that have come to light as a result of SEO testing and experimentation.

So why doesn’t Google publish its list of ranking factors? Schmidt says it’s because the company doesn’t want the pressure of being obligated to serve those ingredients up on a regular basis. In other words, as I’m interpreting it, if Google said X was a ranking factor then later wanted to take X away as a ranking factor then there might be some sense of obligation to keep listing it as a ranking factor. But, of course, there’d be no obligation. Google can do whatever it wants with its ranking algorithm.

But I think there is a deeper reason why Google may not want to divulge the ingredients to its secret sauce. In a way, it’s the same reason why Danny Sullivan thinks Google should.

Sullivan says Google would benefit public relations-wise by listing those ingredients. I say it would hurt Google to list them. The reason it would not benefit Google to list those ingredients is because they do change, as Schmidt said, on a regular basis. Let’s say that today Google announced that X, Y and Z were ranking factors. Next week, let’s say that Google decided that X and Y no longer needed to be ranking factors. What now? They’d have to publish a new list of ranking factors. Every time Google changed its ranking factors, which is every day, then it would have to publish a new list. That seems like a lot of work for a relatively low PR pay off. In the end, many users would become confused about what the latest ranking factors are.

Many Google users do not get their information from Google itself, but from other blogs and news sources like Search Engine Land and Small Business Mavericks. What if certain news sources didn’t update their list when Google updated its list? The potential for confusion and misinformation is greater doing it the way that Sullivan suggests. Isn’t it already confusing enough?