In French Boîte noire, the ” Black Box “is a complex computer program whose inputs and outputs can be observed, but whose internal process is not accessible due to its confidential nature.
In the world of search engine optimization or SEOworld, the notion of a black box is an abstract concept generally used to designate software whose processes are not known to the general public
For a better understanding of this intriguing concept, we will study it in great detail. The objective here is to provide clear and satisfactory answers to all the questions and concerns raised by the subject
- What is a Black Box in concrete terms?
- Which disciplines use the Black Box concept?
- What do we know about Google’s Black Box algorithm?
- What is the impact of this Black Box algorithm on SEO?
- How to bypass Google’s Black Box?
This introduction to the Black Box provides an overview of its history, key definitions, various applications and SEO implications.
Chapter 1: The Black Box Theory in all its details
The Black Box theory is a term that is often used in the scientific world, in computer science as well as in high engineering spheres.
1-1- History of the Black Box: different references over time
The term Black Box, in the modern sense that we know today, made its initiation in the English language around 1945. But it is important to note that the concept was officially mentioned several years before.
Certainly, it is to Wilhelm Cauer that the first reference to systems as Black Boxes is attributed. Indeed, in his work published in its most elaborate form in 1941, the German mathematician assimilated electrical circuits to Black Boxes in his reflections
An expression probably borrowed from the military world and which was used at the time in telecommunications to designate apprehended enemy devices that could not be dismantled for fear of being booby-trapped
These enemy technologies had to be examined and studied without their internal components being visible and accessible.
However, although Cauer himself did not use the term literally in his writings, many scientists have clearly described the process through multiple black box analyses.
But long before Wilhelm Cauerscientists like Vitold Belevitch and his contemporaries were already arguing in 1921 that the operation of electrical networks with two pairs of terminals should not be treated in any other way than as black boxes.
To corroborate these various statements, many comprehensive studies and descriptions of the Black Box would be conducted many years later. With his rather exhaustive theorization of the principle in 1961, Norbert Wiener follows the complete exploration of the Black Box by Ross Ashby in 1956
Thus, the Black Box theory has been taken up, studied and perfected again and again by many other scientists, epistemologists and engineers over the years to this day.
1-2- What exactly is a Black Box?
A Black Box is any system, device or object that can be observed in terms of its transfer characteristics (inputs and outputs), without a clear knowledge of its intrinsic organization and functioning.
This term therefore represents a device that can be identified only by its behavior.
The Black Box principle can be summarized as an opaque box whose contents are invisible or incomprehensible. The incoming stimuli (inputs) are transformed, changed and then presented by unknown mechanisms in the form of more or less different responses (outputs).
As you can see, the Black Box principle is applicable in almost all fields. And for good reason, when it comes to the human brain, computer algorithms or transistors, the notion of Black Box comes up frequently
In this case, it is used to designate the inaccessible or deliberately omitted internal workings that constitute these incredible structures.
Of course, the existence of processes presented in the form of Black Boxes also underlies the undeniable existence of so-called White Box processes.
In contrast to the Black Box, White Box or Clear Box systems are transparent in the sense that their inner workings are visible, accessible and understandable.
1-3- Concretely, how does a Black Box system work?
Like the theory of open systems to which it is closely related, the Black Box theory focuses on the study of input and output flows.
1-3-1- What is an open system?
As opposed to a closed or isolated system, an open system is simply a circuit that interacts in places with the outside. These interactions are nothing more than exchanges and transfers of data in the form of information, energy or matter, on either side of the system’s limits
These interactions of the open system are still called input and output flows. By simple analogy, we understand that any Black Box system is an open system. This is perfectly valid even if the central element linking the inputs and outputs is completely hidden in the Black Box case
1-3-2- Summary of the Black Box system
The analysis of a Black Box system is done exclusively by recording and accounting for its visible states (its reactions to stimuli)
Consequently, the characteristics of a Black Box are deduced only from the point of view of its interactions with the environment
This study approach only allows to highlight the form or the limits of the Black Box whose content remains unknown and misunderstood
The true understanding of a Black Box is based entirely on the hypothesis of a cause and effect relationship between the stimulus and the reaction
An explanatory principle that the system has observable inputs and outputs, and that the system itself is inscrutable to the observer.
Chapter 2: At the heart of the Black Box by Google algorithm
In accordance with its external presentation, Google is certainly the most representative case of how the Black Box theory has developed and why it seems intriguing.
2-1- How did Google search become a Black Box?
2-1-1- Evolution of Google search
Browsing the web before the advent of Google was a real pain for cybernauts. The web in its time was synonymous with cluttered portals, unwanted ads and endless spam
The web giant has established itself in the sector by ensuring clarity, relevance, cleanliness and speed in its search result proposals
Google’s commercial success has given it immeasurable power over the nature and quality of the information we receive
The search engine does not reveal the technical details of its ranking methods, but it has provided an outline of a process that has the appearance of being simple and fair
Google ranks websites based on relevance and importance. More important is the number of Backlinks the more reliable the web page is considered by Google. As a result, it has a better chance of appearing in the top results of the search engine (SERP) and claim the first place in the ranking.
This is the guiding principle of the famous patented PageRank which is responsible for Google’s meteoric rise.
However, this same method is the source of many problems. The more the search engine revealed its ranking algorithms, the easier it became to manipulate them. To overcome various practices Black Hat SEOpractices, the original patent of PageRank initially known to all in its smallest details, began to be clandestinely modified
2-1-2- The creation of the Google Black Box
Important adjustments were made and many complex settings were added in secret to combat bad practices tending to circumvent the algorithms
This is how the race for the methodological secret of search engine optimization began. A never-ending game of cat and mouse, which is the reason why Google and its search technologies appear as a black box.
Behind the smooth appearance of Google’s neat interfaces and well-ordered results, lies an impressive network of mechanisms and other means of defense in constant motion
2-1-3- The fallout of the war against spam
The legitimate SEO actors in charge of optimizing pages for search engines are caught between these two fires. And for good reason, they too are denied access to precious information about the exact functioning of the search engine algorithms
In war as in war, Google uses the never-ending fight against spam and manipulation to justify its neglect of the many controversies surrounding its ranking techniques.
To improve indexing without incurring the “Google Death Penalty” (a de-indexing to improve indexing without incurring the “Google Death Penalty” (a pure and simple de-indexation of disbelieving sites), SEOs have no choice but to scrutinize all the recommendations and rules of Google
2-1-4- A rather opaque and sometimes doubtful black box
The search giant takes advantage of its power and extends its services beyond the simple web search. An expansion that makes many people happy and gives the company even more weight
As the official organizer of information on a global level, it has become visibly easy for the giant to control information.
Despite its titanic index and its incredible performance, Google is becoming less and less trustworthy
Faced with the omnipotence of the ultimate indexer, many questions and concerns arise. The main one being: is Google using its dominant position in the search world for the general interest or to better establish its power?
To this day, no one can really answer this question. Google is very careful to protect its black box. The company does not hesitate to add thick layers of bureaucratic, technical and contractual opacity at all levels to hide its processes, its intentions and even its answers
For the vast majority of Internet users, the impenetrable nature of Google’s technique makes it a mysterious Black Box, but it is important not to forget the protective role of this Black Box.
2-2- Black Box and SEO: what is it really?
The justified presumption that Google’s algorithm is a Black Box has obviously extended to SEO
As if to confirm this idea, the multiplicity of organic optimization levers really contrasts with the smallness of the optimization results
In other words, it had become difficult, if not impossible, for everyone to understand the causal link between the actions taken (inputs) and the results obtained (outputs).
How to explain it? Has SEO really become a black box? So to speak, many have thought so at one time
2-2-1- Is SEO really a Black Box?
Of course, the secret algorithmic workings of search engines are still not accessible. But do we really need to access them in SEO?
Not really! SEO is not about the search engine itself, but rather about the interactions it has with websites
For Google, the priority is to continue to offer relevant and high quality content to Internet users
In doing so, it has always made a point of reminding users of the SEO standards and its main ranking criteria
The proven guidelines of the search engine are simple and largely sufficient to allow its users to raise their website to the top of the ranking
2-2-2- How to explain the discrepancy sometimes observed between the actions taken and the results obtained?
In terms of natural referencing, two main hypotheses can explain this phenomenon.
Either the site’s referencing potential has been badly evaluated. For sites designed without respecting the rules of referencing or with a strategy unsuited to their objectives, referencing will be poor.
Either, the execution of the SEO actions has not been properly done. An erroneous plan, prioritization problems, communication problems, all these elements can distort the functioning of the site’s referencing.
Most of the SEO problems are closely linked to the skills of the SEOs.
2-3- What is the future for SEA?
Over time, in its development drive, Google has simplified a number of practices to the maximum. Techniques that until then were only known and mastered by specialized agencies are now available to everyone
The company has gone to the point where it now asks advertisers to trust its algorithm to automatically manage all actions that were once manual.
The platform google’s flagship advertising platform is now akin to a black box.
The search engine’s advertising solution leaves the protagonists of the SEA, less and less latitude in the setting of Ads campaigns. Google Analytics-Adwords now works in a closed circuit. The challenge now is to guide Google’s secret algorithms towards the advertiser’s business objectives.
The Black Box theory is now used as a real business strategy by the search engine and its peers
Despite this automation of ATS, the role of ATS experts is still as important as ever. Better yet, it is evolving
Yes, the old trading-buying logic is now obsolete. Instead of simply choosing CPCs (Cost per Click) associated with keywords, SEA consultants are now required to perform an unavoidable work of reverse engineering.
- Carrying outAB testing in order to treat the audience typologies in the best possible way;
- Analyze the functioning of automatic bidding tools for a better calibration;
- Analyze the SEA traffic (the bounce rates) and record the campaign’s share in the conversion tunnel;
- And much more.
2-4- Machine learning to get past the Black Box
2-4-1- What is machine learning?
Machine learning is an important component of the field of data science
It is a section of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and computer science that essentially deals with the use of data and algorithms to replicate the way humans learn, gradually improving its accuracy.
Using statistical methods, algorithms are designed to make classifications or predictions by identifying key information in data mining projects
This information then drives decision making within applications and businesses, ideally impacting key growth indicators.
2-4-2- Effective tool and means to bypass the Google Black Box
With machine learning, the data collected on search engine behavior is used to discover trends in the data. The identified trends can be used to build more effective SEO strategies.
To decipher the Black Box, many tools such as ranking trackers had been initiated, but were quickly surpassed by machine learning tools
Indeed, theautomatic learning in this context consists in studying the algorithms of the search engine to decipher its internal functioning
However, this solution that allows to see through the black box is to be handled with care.
Since it could expose the algorithms of the web giant, this approach makes them vulnerable. With bad intentions, it could be used to introduce spam and malware.
Is it really relevant to reveal the contents of Google’s Black Box?
Chapter 3: The Black Box: A truly ubiquitous and polymorphic concept
The Black Box is a term that is now well known to everyone and can be applied to many disciplines (computer science, human science, economics, etc.). Of course, each of its applications has its own specificities.
3-1- In computer programming and software engineering
As stated in the Black Box theory, the term Black Box is used in computer science to verify the output of a program. It allows to make sure that the reactions are in adequacy with the inputs without ever examining the executed program itself.
Here, more than an observer, the agent responsible for the study can participate in the experiment by determining and controlling the inputs.
On the other hand, from a user perspective, the internal workings of a program are considered Black Box for two reasons. Either, because the program is closed source. Or, because there is no need to examine it (routine use)
3-1-1- Black Box tests
A black-box test evaluates exclusively the functionality of a program from the outside, without looking at the internal structures that generate the responses to the test (the inputs)
In accordance with the Black-Box system theory, even if the internal workings of the application are visible and understandable during the inspection, the tester deliberately chooses to ignore them
This testing methodology compares to White Box testing methods, where the operator resolutely takes into consideration the internal workings of the program.
Black-Box testing is a style of software testing that can be applied virtually any level and type of testing
3-1-1- Black Box testing procedure
Because the possibilities of combinations of inputs, time sequences and states are innumerable, it is almost impossible to test some software completely.
Among the Black Box testing techniques, some focus on reducing the input space into groups whose subsets are individually examined by the testers.
Thus, during Black Box testing, the following will be examined:
- Segmentation by equivalence class where the software data is subdivided into equal portions so that all sections are tested.
- Boundary values to check for errors in the input values.
- Parameters for bugs.
- And so on.
Black-box testing essentially involves the organization and adjustment of software inputs without reference to the source code. The aim is to determine, assess and verify the outputs.
3-1-1-2- Advantages of Black-Box testing
Black-Box testing forces the tester and his team to assess the software from an external point of view by substituting himself for the user. This separates the tester from the designer of the code on a social and critical level
This being the case, the tester’s objectivity regarding the handling of the software (the box) is ensured. Moreover, since the test is remote from the development of the application, its execution and the resulting results can allow the software to be explored in a way not envisaged by its designer.
Furthermore, a Black Box test does not require any preparation before execution, unlike White Box tests where configuration, instrumentation or code analysis steps precede each test.
With the Black Box, the operator just tries to use the application.
3-1-2- The other IT appearances of the Black Box
Still in computer science, we find many other references to the Black Box.
- In cryptology, the Black Box theory is used in the design and processing of cryptographic algorithms, but also to understand and study the capabilities of an invisible or unknown adversary;
- BlackBox (in Unix computing) is a stacked window manager for the X Window System platforms;
- BlackBox Component Builder for software development in Component Pascal;
- Project BlackBox, the Sun Modular Datacenter prototype;
- And many others
3-2- The Black Box of digital marketing
The homonymy with the Black Box in the world of marketing is usually summed up in the simple fact that companies do not know and master exactly how marketing works. And when the term is combined with the adjective digital, the mystery is at its peak like an authentic Black Box.
Of course, this is only a view of the mind since the Black Box is purely imaginary. Indeed, the techniques of digital marketing are described in a rather exhaustive way on the Internet
In order to grasp digital marketing in the best way, all you need to do is research the subject online and do your homework
It is not difficult to open the imaginary box of digital marketing. And for good reason, altruistic digital marketers don’t hide their work. Better yet, many are working hard to develop and share the best of their knowledge in order to differentiate themselves from the competition and prove their mastery of the profession.
Moreover, it is very simple and quick to pay for the services of a digital marketing agency. So, if there is an aspect of your digital marketing that you are concerned about in any way, they will make it a point to explain it to you
Furthermore, if digital marketing as a discipline is not a Black Box, some of the tools it uses for its operation are technically Black Boxes
Indeed, for laymen and even for marketers, the way some campaign management software works is unknown. The user-advertiser only has access to the graphical interface of the campaigns programming, even the optimization procedures of the tool remain very little visible
3-3- Black Box applications outside the software
In addition to the technical context of computer programming and data mining products, the term Black Box is also used in countless areas of life. The exact meaning of the term and its prerogatives differ from one sector to another. Even so, the concept of Black Box always carries the emblem of the mysterious.
3-3-1- In telecommunications
Here, Black Box is used to designate the resistance that is connected to a telephone line to prevent the telephone company from detecting or intercepting with its equipment, a call that has been picked up.
3-3-2- In the entertainment world
More specifically in the cinematographic world, Black Box is equivalent to a peripheral equipment specially dedicated to a particular function. On the television and theater side, is called Black Box, any empty and unfurnished studio.
3-3-3- In the transportation sector
In transportation, the term Black Box is used to name a device for automatic recording of data related to the operation of transport devices:
- air, etc.
This Black Box recording technology is specially designed to withstand:
- weather resistant
- high gravity impacts
- highly pressurized environments, etc
The only reason the device is so resistant is to protect and preserve the data stored inside it.
In addition to its various features, the Black Box normally transmits a signal that often helps locate the transport device in case of a disaster. You’ve probably already heard about the Black Box that helped to inform the circumstances of a plane crash
Even if according to the Black Box system theory it is the plane itself that is visualized as a Black Box, in the context of transportation, only the box is so named.
3-3-4- In the financial field
In financial terms, the Black Box is a computerized trading system whose operating rules are difficult to access.
Moreover, in economics, according to the famous neoclassical theory, the company would be a Black Box. As the Black Box principle states, we are only concerned with what comes in and what goes out.
3-3-5- In the human sciences
In psychology and philosophy, the school of behaviorism conceives the human mind as a Black Box system
In these disciplines, this theorization is applied to the conscious being who reacts to stimuli coming from his environment and whose internal mechanisms at the origin of this response are not to be dealt with.
From this article, we will remember that the notion of the Black Box is not new. It is a multidisciplinary and omnipresent concept that can be applied to any thing and any situation.
In the context of Google search, the Black Box refers to the barriers the search engine has erected around its algorithms and actions as a company
However, the technical inaccessibility of search algorithms does not prevent the proper SEO of websites. This is because the search giant has made a point of describing the main factors that govern the indexing and ranking of websites in the SERPs.
What do you think about Google’s Black Box?
Do you know of other areas of application of the Black Box?
Feel free to give your opinion in the comments.
See you soon!