The Random Google

Is Google purposely randomizing things just to mess with us? Let’s take a look at one patent and two SEO experiments.

Random Choices

In March 2011, I wrote an article outlining an interesting phenomenon I observed with PageRank distribution in a controlled test environment. Linked to a number of similar instances it made me believe that there is an element of randomness in much of what Google does in search.

“The apparently random element in content indexation and assigning of PageRank which in addition to variable value of PageRank causes indexation to suddenly stop and resumes at later stage (perhaps when crawlers internal limit has been reached) appears to be a complex set of variety of internal rules rather than a purely random behaviour. 

Some degree of random behaviour could potentially be beneficial to a search engine as it would provide a platform for organic growth of the algorithm much like sporadic mutations in gene replication enable living species to evolve.

Secondary benefit could be a layer of protection against deliberate reverse-engineering of its algorithm as each attempt to probe the system would result in subtly distorted version that would not match previous attempts.”

Cited from: Obstacles in Experimental Testing and Reverse Engineering of Google Algorithm

One month later we did a domain hyphenation test which apart from its own results revealed another element of randomisation in Google’s listings.

Here’s a screenshot:


We of course expected these pages to list in proper order.

The second experiment was conducted a year after, this time with images and the results were even more baffling:

Full Colour

What should have been an ordered list of images appearing in a neatly organised list on the source page is randomized in the search results. Order was dictated by file name, image content, alt and position in HTML. My comments after observing this were again pointing at a possibility that random has a role at Google:

“Google may be purposely adding a RND function to things to mix things up a bit. This would keep results fresher and allow random discovery. Also it would prevent any systematic attempts at reverse-engineering of Google’s ranking algorithm.”

Cited from: SEO Experiment: Google Image Search

We performed a similar, simpler test with two variations, and the results were also mixed up and out of order in both cases. Order on the page, nofollow or other devices we attempted did not help with getting the results display what we wanted.

SEO is Fun

That was supposed to say “SEO IS FUN”.


Finally Bill Slawski spots a patent which describes algorithmic behavior designed specifically to confuse and confirm those attempting to game with Google’s algorithm:

“A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank. The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.”


Have you observed any cases of randomization in Google results?


Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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2 thoughts on “The Random Google”

  1. Nick says:

    I have seen a few instances of something like this. For example, a relatively “normal” on page adjustment like adding an H1 where there was not one on an older page caused the page’s keyword position to drop at first, then fluctuate a while, then stabilize.

  2. Luke Chapman says:

    I’ve noticed some randomisation of the search results too. I just searched for a phrase in a private browsing window and the site in question came back as result #1. Same search about 15 minutes later and it was down at #3!