Is User Behaviour a Google Ranking Factor?


Is User Behaviour a Google Ranking Factor?


For years, SEOs have debated whether or not user behaviour is a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm. Google are very secretive about their algorithm and have never confirmed that it is or isn’t.

But most of the confusion about whether or not it is a ranking factor stems from Google itself. Over the years Google representative have been very inconsistent when answering the question, sometimes they confirm it is, sometimes they don’t but most of the time they just leave us scratching our heads.

However many SEOs still believe that user behaviour is still a primary ranking factor and here’s why:

1) Google has said so multiple times

Most Google representatives seem to be reluctant to admitting the impact that the user behaviour has on a websites performance but not all are.

Google's former Search Quality chief, Udi Manber once stated.

"The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we'll switch it."

Edmond Lau, who used to work on Google Search Quality team, also said something very similar on the subject,

"It's pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on their own results to feed back into ranking to improve the quality of search results. Infrequently clicked results should drop toward the bottom because they're less relevant, and frequently clicked results bubble toward the top."

And Amit Singhal, a Google search engineers, stated back in 2011 that Google had added several “signals” which revolved around “how users interact with a site is one of those signals”.

2) Real life experiments

Recently, Rand Fishkin of Moz ran an experiment to try and prove that User Behaviour was a ranking factor. He asked his Twitter followers to search for “best grilled steak” click on the position 1 result and then quickly bounce back, and then click on position 4 and stay on their website for a while.

Amazingly, within a couple of hours position 4 was now position 1!

3) A Google patent backs it up

A Google patent states “User reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged, so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking."

From these 3 facts, the majority of SEOs now agree that user behaviour does have an impact on rankings within Google but what metrics have the biggest impact?

User metrics that affect rankings

1) Click-through rate

We know Google monitors click-through rates of the search results. The click-through rate is determined by the amount of people who clicked on the website from the search results listing compared to the amount of people the page was displayed too.

Obviously your CTR is affected by hundreds of things that you have no control over, which Google will be aware of but it is still an important metric.

2) Time spent on site

Google patents also specify state that the time spent on site is a metric that helps them rank your website. Google monitors the amount of time a user spends on your website before returning to the search results.

The longer your audience stays on your website, the better.

3) Bounce rates

Google wants to deliver their users with the best websites and they want their users to be satisfied with the results. Google wants the website to provide the user with exactly what they are looking for immediately so if the user hits the back button straight away then Google knows that website isn’t what their users are looking for.

If the bounce rate is high on your website, Google will determine that the website isn’t the best for that search term and rate them down. 

Luke Stanley