I have spoke to a well known engineer at another major engine who told me that it plays a significant role in their engine.
It makes sense that they would want to allow users to give feedback, but they wouldn't want to use just traffic analysis, because that would just promote large conglomerate sites and/or stifle innovation across the board (by promoting first movers at the expense of better products that followed).
In the WMW thread Walkman said:
Traffic? This would mean that a search engine is the last to know /show that you're popular.
But when you think about it, hasn't search ALWAYS been this way? Following links that OTHERS PUBLISHED. The links were not only used to crawl, but also a good way to imply trust or quality.
Links to a site without traffic no longer imply the same level of trust that it used to. Sites selling link trading services use sales copy like:
The more websites you can get to link to your website, the higher you will rank in the search engines, guaranteed!
Some people will claim that using searcher feedback as a baseline to help determine site quality is nonsense, but most of those people are probably launching new brands off of their old brands and current popularity, which make them much more likely to instantly get significant traffic / mindshare / linkage data.
It is easy to learn from your own SEO experiences, but it is also easy to extend what happens to you as to be the way things happen everywhere, even if that is not the case.
I don't think Google would want to base a ton of the overall relevancy algorithm on site popularity (and clearly they don't since the top results are not always the most popuar sites), but they can and may use traffic patterns and searcher feedback to filter out junk sites. And it may help certain types of link spam stick out (ie: a site that just picked up 50,000 backlinks but few of them drive any traffic) may be a red flag for spam.
Couple some of the temporal ideas with power laws and much of the spam should be pretty easy to detect.
Google talk recently even started redirecting chat URLs through Google.com. Do you think they would do that without reason?
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