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:
- Matt Cutts was somewhat in the air about usage data, but some folks like Greg Boser think that might be misdirection.
- Mike Grehan thinks it has value.
- Bob Massa thinks it has value. This link shows an interesting test Bob did.
- At least one unnamed search engineer from a major engine (other than Google) confirmed that their engine uses clickstream data.
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.
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