User Behavior Isn’t A Ranking Factor? So Sayeth the Google…

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Yesterday, John Mueller (the guy who’s essentially become the face of Google while Matt Cutts has been away) was asked whether user behavior on your website is a ranking factor in a Google Webmaster Hangout.  Mueller’s answer was as follows:

So in general, I don’t think we even see what people are doing on your web site. If they are filling out forms or not, if they are converting and actually buying something… So if we can’t see that, then that is something we cannot take into account. So from my point of view, that is not something I’d really treat as a ranking factor.

But of course if people are going to your web site and filling out forms or signing up for your service or newsletter, then generally that is a sign that you are doing the right things. That people are going there and finding it interesting enough to take a step to leave their information as well. So I’d see that as a positive thing in general, but I wouldn’t assume it is something that Google would pick up as a ranking factor and use to kind of promote your web site in search automatically.

I’m calling bullshit on this.  I’m not a tinfoil hatter by any means, but the idea of Google not looking at user behavior just doesn’t ring true to me at all.  And what’s with the “I don’t think” stuff?  Plausible deniability?

Obviously only the folks at Google know what the ranking factors are, but I find it extremely hard to believe that things like bounce rate, session length, session depth and positive actions (filling out forms, placing orders, etc) have no impact on rank.

The whole point of of Google constantly changing and updating their algorithm is to keep moving forward and improving, right?  So why wouldn’t Google look at user behavior to determine page quality as compared to the term being searched?  The whole point of Panda was to reward and rank higher quality sites and black hatters have proven time and time again that they can rank with shitty spun content, so why wouldn’t Google use these data points that they collect to determine relevance?

Now I know that not everyone has Google Analytics code installed on their servers (although most sites do), so I suppose it would be unfair to reward certain actions, but consider this scenario:

  • User does a search
  • User clicks a link from the search results
  • User sees the site and bounces (leaves within seconds of arriving) by hitting the back button
  • User clicks on the next search result
  • User doesn’t go back to the search results

This seems like a fairly clear signal that the first link didn’t have information that matched the search query while the second link did.  If this happens over and over again, are we really expected to believe that Google will choose to ignore something that is so clearly a behavior resulting from a site not returning information that is relevant to the search term?  Didn’t think so.

It seems that I’m not the only one with this opinion:

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