Google: The World’s Biggest Secret Crowdsourcing Platform

Google: The World’s Biggest Secret Crowdsourcing Platform This is a guest post by Nick Kellet, co-founder of Listly.

You influence Google search results!

Did you know you matter in the eyes of Google? Google has given power to the people. In so doing they created the world’s biggest crowdsourcing platform.

So what is Google?

We know it’s a “Search Engine”. Google began by building on the library model of citations and patenting the notion of Page Rank,  defined by backlinks to your content. The first law of gaming kicked in.

“If a system can be gamed, it will be”

A tribe of SEO experts were born to game organic results. Google has been in a cat and mouse game with these self professed gurus ever since.

Google 1.0 : Power to the Gurus

Who makes backlinks? Pretty much it’s bloggers, brands and publishers. SEO specialists create links to build Page Rank for their own sites and for clients. Links could easily be gamed by trading, instead of being earned.

With Penguin and Panda Google demonstrates the system can’t be gamed. That debate is still raging and there will always be people who think they can beat the system. Long live Vegas.

Black hat SEO is out. White hat SEO is in. It’s that simple. Nobody knows how it works. Google’s search algorithm is cloaked in magic and mystery. Google has also made search personal, which makes gaming the system much harder.

Google 2.0 : Power to the People

I have a theory how Google is working today. By way of full disclosure, my theory comes from my work on Listly. This has given me a great deal of data to evolve a hypothesis that Google has become a massive crowdsourcing platform.

Google 1.0 was about tracking backlinks.  Today that’s still valid, but just part of a now bigger pie.

You should know Google 2.0 builds social sharing into the mix. Sharing is another proxy for interestingness. You don’t just want to make great content, you need to create content that is highly shareable.

Sharing is hard to deliver, but tools like Triberr or GaggleAmp or Buffer tend to make cross-sharing, resharing and timing of sharing easier to scale (both inside and outside the enterprise).

With the rise of importance in sharing we need to think about our full “Sharing Supply Chain”.

There are more sharers than there are content creators, so gaming the system is harder. Headlines have become even more important.

The SEO on a post does not change over time, but the potential to keep your post share-worthy for longer should make you reevaluate the lifecycle of each post.

What’s more interesting is what Google is doing with the input it gets from it’s billions of users worldwide. This is why I believe Google is the world’s biggest crowdsourcing platform.

  • We don’t know how this works.
  • We don’t know how much data they accumulate.
  • We don’t know which signals they choose to listen to.

We do know Google is listening. Google does its best job to render what’s interesting using all the signals it can muster, but beyond those signals Google is factoring in user behaviour on each search term. Google is being driven by 3 datasources:

  • Traditional page rank: backlinks and keyword analysis
  • Social sharing : a subtler form of content ranking.
  • Search user content engagement

So if an item is on Pg 3 of Google’s search at position 4 is outperforming the preceding items , this item will quickly move up the leader board and advance to page 2. So the process of bubble sorting continues.

Interestingness has become more and more dynamic and harder to game. With so many people influencing the results it’s much less feasible, if not impossible to have any meaningful influence on the search results. Quality will be your ultimate barometer.

Google 1.0 was a crowdsourced model where it outsourced the validation of interestingness to blogs. This worked well and was an enhancement on earlier models.

With the shift to Google 2.0 they have  massively scaled up the number of people providing input and more importantly those people don’t even know they are teaching Google to improving its output. That’s the magic. We are oblivious. With billions of inputs every day there is no way to truly game the system.

Logging not Blogging

Don’t be fooled to thinking Google made Chrome because the world needed a better browser. Google made Chrome to better log all the things we do. They can track bounce rates of pages, our engagement times and our in page activity.

  • Did we play content on the page?
  • Did we jump tabs or continue watching or listening?

There’s a scary number of possibilities, but they all make for a better future search experience.

Why do I believe this to be true?

Supporting Data

I used to think my view was pure speculation. I just spoke with Edelman’s Jonny Bentwood, he’s the brains behind TweetLevel, one of the leading influence measurement platforms. We were talking about the next release of TweetLevel, launching on Nov 15 2012. Here’s an image of their Topology of Influence. I’m impressed by the new release. I think they have a unique and highly valuable approach to tracking influence. In this example, you can plot other people on the same chart and get a sense of the role they play.

Topology of Influence

Jonny said something I had to write down. I also used it to begin this post.

“You Influence Google Search”

I wrote a blog post “Is Social Media an Inclusive or Exclusive Club?” after listening to one of his Influence Webinars. He really gets influence. I understood the significance of his comment. I know Jonny knows his stuff.

I’m not the only person believing this to be so. So why aren’t more people talking about this more? One theory is that it doesn’t serve the SEO gurus. That’s one theory. I’d be interested to hear your views.

Since joining Listly as co-founder we’ve seen some lists really perform. Some lists have created so much SEO traffic we simply had to explore. The outcome of this analysis changed our thinking on the lifecycle of content.

Countering The Normal Content Life Cycle

Most people expect your content’s lifecycle to look like this.

There’s a spike at launch as you promote your content. There may then be the odd additional mini spike after that, but that’s the norm. We all expect our content to flatline, so we feed the content beast with more content. We follow one spike with another. We eagerly tread the content hamster wheel. We certainly don’t expect that content to generate views at an increasing rate over time, post launch. That’s not today’s content norm.

However, we now believe, if you create great content that is loved by your readers – ie web search visitors, you can counter the spike and burn mentality. That’s my new theory. Take a look at these two charts. They show clicks per week over the last 10 months. Neither of these lists began with any kind of spike, but now they are a regular source of inbound traffic. It’s been a slow build. We’re wondering how to optimize this. What are the thresholds? The impact of old SEO strategies may still impact your content during the early stage of your content’s life, but over time power shifts to the audience’s view of value.

Hindi Evergreen Songs – Current SEO run rate: 25k views/month

Hindi Songs

Visio Alternatives for Mac  – Current SEO run rate: 4.5k views/month

Visio Alternatives

My key Takeaways

  • These lists have received a lot of views, but that process was not instant.
  • They gained visibility via improved SEO and this was not a function of any dubious activity.
  • Search results are a slow cooker. They can brew for months. Quality can take time to rise to the surface.
  • The lists have changed slowly over time, they have been extended and refined by the crowd
  • They have been shared by users.
  • They have been discovered by SEO. This discovery process has grown dramatically over this period
  • They have low bounce rate on this content

Your Thoughts

Have you seen any other examples to support of contradict these findings?

Did you know you were shaping the Google experience for future users on a daily basis?

  • Nick, i love that you put your theories out loud like that. It make sens for me too. I’m surprised about the things that articles can buzz in with time …

  • Hi Nick, excellent and thought provoking article. I think you’ve a choice between paid content marketing and free content marketing. Paid is using Adwords, Facebook Promoted posts etc. Free is producing great content that gets talked about, commented on, shared and linked to. So I fully agree with your arguments above.

    As Google + grows individualization of search results will happen more and more. I’ll see content bubbling up in my search results because people part of my circles share it out. It already happens on Facebook. When a group of your friends are listening to the same tracks on spotify Facebook rewards this by adding into the newsfeed.

    A company recently talked to me about looking for an SEO guy to help build traffic. I told them not to go near someone in the SEO world unless they have very strong knowledge of social media. Otherwise they will get lots of links and possibly short term traffic but longer term when Zebra comes out this will change (p.s. I only made up the name zebra but I’m sure Google will have another big animal update soon!!).


  • davidquaid

    Very disappointing Nick. A standalone Content Marketing model is based on the argument that “well written” content can promote a company on its own, for free, without the need for also understanding a search engine as well as a user (primary).

    In my view Content is critical to SEO – that’s what SEO does. But pretending that SEO is dead or gone or spammy or illegal just to pump your own business is sad, wrong and just very dangerous.

    Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have nothing to do with SEO as much as they have to do with killing spam and paid-for-links. Want to beat up a spammer? Look at Forbes. They were penalised for 90 days for selling links. JC Penney were banned for buying links. Not SEO’s, writers.

    Here’s what a search engine does: It tries to find the best content to match a search query. It doesn’t use keywords. It does try to gauge authority. It doesn’t trust a page on its own. It certainly doesn’t directly trust the number of tweets or comments. It uses over 200 signals, and PageRank, Age, and a host of factors work to this.

    any help bar sharing on Social Media and some sort of automatic recognition by Google.

    Allow me to demonstrate; This article is completely wrong in every paragraph, but I’m sure you think its fantastic. No doubt Google will let it rank either way and I’m sure it will get many shares. But that doesn’t make it accurate. And if its inaccurate – and grossly inaccurate as it is – does it make it spam? Are you just writing content to artificially inflate an idea / your own sales / a different view?

    I would like to firstly point out that the definition you have made about SEO is not the definition I or any top SEO’s I know would share. I’m sure a lot of content and social marketers love to bandy this about but its wrong. This is largely blackhat SEO touted by “link builders.”

    SEO is not about gaming a system. It is not about link building. Its actually about bridging search users to content they’re looking for and ensuring that the content is technically hosted for a search engine to understand what it contains. Web designers, in 99% of cases, do not do this inherently. WordPress, while the best boiler-plate CMS out there, doesn’t not do this automatically. SEO-all-in-one used to be a great plug-in but its not the answer to all of what a search engine needs.

    Google has a great definition of SEO and it dictates link building via relationships and automatic backlinks to content. They have clearly defined what is appropriate SEO, that it does contain a lot of technical aspects and that it in no way is spam or spam related or bad. Google actively encourage SEO

    Here are some objective, rather than notional or subjective ideas, to help you:

    Google has gone through a lot more than Google 1.0 or Google 2.0 iterations. Google has changed very little and has not dropped PageRank, Link Quality, On-site SEO. Google cannot read or understand writing or quality.

    PageRank – and every modification to it – is a patented theory. Therefore, its a published and openly available theory. All of the modifications, including how Google intended to break A-B, B-A linking programmes are also public knowledge and have been for years. More recently, Google published more complex link scheme detection (e.g. A-B, B-C, C-A) and this was 5 years ago.

    How can SEO’s know what the inputs are — its a closed system. Well, there’s a lot of testing. A good SEO agency could be managing millions of visits, SE Ranking Positions and all have a programme of on and off site SEO, a content strategy, conversion optimisation and landing page development. Any good or proficient SEO can test these by varying the different strengths, weights on pages and measuring the impact.

    While I’m not the world’s biggest fan of SEOMoz – you should start here to see what kind of testing a company can do when: They can index a large part of the internet and measure its rankings against live Google API fed ranking. This is big data.

    The number of pages going into Google doesn’t affect ranking/algorithm, it mostly just pushes pages back.

    Here’s one thing: A blog or site with the best content in the world and absolutely no authority will never rank anywhere….

  • davidquaid

    Hi Ian,

    Having followed you for so long on twitter, I’m really disappointed that you hold such a narrow view of SEO. The internet is built on an interchange of cross linking websites. Google cannot judge content based on “Great content.”

    Content is judged by users – regardless of who writes it.

    Social Media has a limited impact on SEO. I understand that this rules me out as a “good” SEO by your definition but I’m not ignorant of Social Media. But I know, technically, that Facebook and LinkedIn push all of their links via a handful of tiny URL’s.

    I understand the concept of a semantic web, or a search engine driven by User shares. There was a lot more impact for SoMe 3 years ago when twitter was a big “signal”. But these signals are small. But that’s moot – either way – as twitter, LinkendIn and Facebook have seen fit to block most content and the way Google sees it.

    At this point, if you feel compelled to tell me that Facebook ranks in Google and that Matt Cutts has a video – let me save you the time. The video is old and has been updated: Facebook and twitter have cut back on more and more information. This is done via passing through app.php or l.php or by blocking Google from indexing large portions of FB and twitter.

    yes, twitter and facebook have upped their game of getting more traffic via SEO. But this is not the same as increasing their [outbound] impact on SEO. Even Techcrunch famously

    I understand you (and I) come from a biased position. I know that you want more people to use and invest in Social Media marketing. But you cannot make incredulous claims and then – base them on your opinion when its clearly so very limited.

    We have a very active LinkedIn Page and account, we use slideshare, we have 3 blogs, we have a fairly large twitter account, we have an active Facebook page. Actually I have a Facebook page with 5.5k fans for one business. I quite like Social Media. And while I’m testing it, I will note that my limitations are mine, not someone elses.

    So in the interests of fairness, given that the article and the observer do not understand SEO – could I ask you to re-evaluate your position? Could I even ask if we could demonstrate any/all of the misconceptions contained herein?

  • Hi David, my argument is that you need to produce good content and lots of links from low quality websites are not only not valuable to you they are actually harmful to you now.

    Your view on SEO and Social Media is not what I’m talking about as it’s obvious you understand the value of social from your activity mentioned above.

  • davidquaid

    Hi Ian

    Who defines low quality ? And your argument was that unless an SEO had a ‘very’ strong knowledge of Social Media, they’re no good —- how is this related?

  • Thanks Pascal,
    Sharing ideas does take courage. It’s only by sharing that we learn.

  • Hi David,

    SEO plays a vital and valid role. I’m not saying SEO is invalid. I’m saying gaming SEO is invalid. There is a huge difference in the two.

    I think I said “White Hat SEO is in”. Am I wrong?

    Are you claiming you can game Google?

    CTR is a factor in the formula. My post is sharing data of a long term study of CTR impact. I’m not saying its new. I’m saying I think it’s long term impact are much different and more significant than expected.

    Patents are written to keep competitors out, not to tell people what to do or how to code. What Google did in the past is not a reflection of what it does now or tomorrow. We know Google is a moving target, which is why sharing what we know is of value.

    FYI : My 1.0 / 2.0 comparison was a simplification.

  • Nick excellent post with great examples to support you findings. I need to agree with on your theory of why Google launched Chrome, anyone who thinks Chrome was develop for helping users is indeed naive to say at least. Google as any other networks is trying to collect data. Is not about to get better results is to offer better target ads in the future. Google is well organize and smart at what they are doing, they recently finished an anthropological research on mobile, for simple reason… to understand what mobile device means to people so that they know how to craft business module of mobile ads and so on.

    SEO is just another big story and probably one of the biggest paradox, of course like Klout, Google will not share public info on their algorithm. But of course we are listening 95 % of the time focus on SEO and so on… Where are the same experts to tell us to focus on quality over the quantity, lets be realistic how many keywords can you repeat in the same post? How many links can you insert in one post before you are consider the spammer…. Last but not least what ever Google will say, but i am pretty sure money can buy anything… Sign a big fat PO for advertising at Google and you will see how quickly your ranking will be improved.

    Again great post! Looking forward reading more from you .

  • davidquaid


    Let me start again: Your blog post is very nice in theory but there’s too much that is objectively wrong.

    If we entered into a debate about exactly how much relevance the following factors had; Age, EMD, PageRank, TLD, passed PR – then it would different and almost anybodies opinion would be valid. Totally agree. The exact impact of EMD or Age is pretty much unquantifiable.

    But this is very, very valid: the value of age, EMD or Pagerank is thousands of times greater than perceived-quality or Social Sharing.

    You divided SEO into new and old. You didn’t simplify – you create a view that what was SEO is gone (and that SEO is something specifically different) and a second one where content not links were the game changer.

    This is wrong, oversimplification or not. Link Building hasn’t changed and its not a game of cat and mouse. Low quality links were never allowed. Penguin and Panda were more about punishing paid and inferior links and had little to do with content.

    Anyone can still game Google – here are 209,000 search results:…13354.13354.2.13601.…1c.1.J69oeqlImMQ&pbx=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.&fp=2d03d1f9c0251810&bpcl=38897761&biw=1400&bih=965

    Let me be more specific – letting people believe/give the impression that writing a good blog post and sharing it on Social Media = SEO and will help you get ranked.

    Here is what we need to tell people: Writing good content that is relevant to people and what they search for and being very well connected online with other websites will get you better ranked.

    Social Media will do little.

    The sound bites at the end: Unfortunately, patents explain exactly what a system, engine, idea, solution, invention does beyond the point of ambuiguity.

    I would say Google has changed very little and unless your SEO was based out of sweatshop in Asian country, its going to mean very little to you.

    Google cannot read links in Facebook or twitter because they are nofollow, sometimes even private and often non-indexable.. The only SoMe platform that makes ANY difference is Google+ and because its a Google product, out of its own (and I agree, peculiar interpretation) idea of fairness, its products are not allowed to influence rank.

  • professional copywriting

    Google may have kept the details of their algorithm secret, although it changes so regularly that probably only Matt Cutts actually knows how it works, but they have always been transparent about their ambition to cut the black hats out of the picture. They have also been very open about how the input of users, especially Google+ and Chrome users will shape their SERPs in the future. Because of the huge amount of data that is generated by social media, either in posts or engagement with others’ posts, it is only logical that the search engines would start to use this in their calculations too.

  • I could imagine that to be so. One person holding the master key. The data offers so much insight and potential. Thanks for commenting.

  • Thanks Jure. I’m sure you re right on the money front:)


    A tribe of SEO experts were born to game organic results. Google has
    been in a cat and mouse game with these self professed gurus ever since.