How Useful is Usage Data?

Apr 26th

Features such as toolbar search suggestions and inline query suggestion show that search engines value global usage data enough to suggest alternate routes / queries. So to some extent they must trust usage data.

On an individual page or site level basis it is much harder to tell how important usage data is because it is hard to naturally create the other quality signals without creating some usage data. Opinions are as follows:

Assuming you are doing other things right (like building a citation worthy brand that people regularly revisit) then adding usage data to your site guarantees that you will gain more of virtually every other quality signal an engine can use. Even if engines do not look at clickstreams directly, then having more traffic still helps because it expands your reach and how many quality votes you get anytime you do something that is citation worthy.

The difference between an A list and C list blogger is not just content quality or originality. Just as often it is likely due to the size of their subscriber base, which grants them the mindshare necessary to quickly spread information.

I think the Google Toolbar and SERP click-through tracking can be combined with all the other forms of tracking to give them some signal of quality. Sure it can be spoofed, but the places where it is being spoofed ... most of those places probably lack the other corroborating quality signals necessary to rank.

Remember there are user accounts too. Faking user accounts with real search and usage history over extended periods of time is much more difficult than spamming Direct Hit would have been back in the day.

When you search Google for things like VOIP some sites like Skype do not show up anywhere near the top of the search results, so you know the algorithms are much more than just usage data, but usage data could be a key component to the algorithm.

Published: April 26, 2006

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Comments

April 27, 2006 - 2:50pm

I always thought that some form of usage data would make Google's algorithm more relevant. Since del.icio.us and digg it, I believe that this becomes even more apparent with actual feedback coming from users as to what sources are relevant and useful. If Google can somehow figure out ways of not being gamed, usage data would be invaluable and provide much better results than it does today. But the question remains, is that even possible?

January 6, 2011 - 12:15am

I know this is a little late for a response, but I came across your article via web search and there is just not that much literature on this subject.

I noticed Skype only uses "VOIP" once on their homepage, as a meta keyword. Other than that, they only refer to their service as "internet phone" etc.

Skype shows up in the #7 spot when you search for VOIP on Google: http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/support/user-guides/voip/

So I'm not sure that's adequate data to discredit the notion that usage data is significant to search engine algorithms.

Have you discovered any more examples for/against the value of usage to search engines? That would make for a good post!

I was thinking you could use two types of evidence: a not-very SEO optimized but highly trafficked site like Drudgereport shows up really high for "news," OR a highly optimized but low trafficked site that does not show up in search results.

Curious to hear your thoughts.

Thanks,
Chad

January 6, 2011 - 12:46am

Hi Chad
what you just discovered is not related to usage data, but rather this. The same thing is happening where our site's homepage is earning a ranking for "seo tools" but then Google is (currently) ranking our internal category page for that. The same thing is true for both seochat & seomoz on the keyword "seo" ... their homepage earns the rank, but then Google picks what they feel is a more relevant internal page to rank.

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