How does the Google ranking algorithm know if users are happy with a web page?
You probably think that the algorithm uses data from Google Analytics to measure if a page deserves to go up or down in rankings.
What if I told you that Google Analytics is there for webmasters, and not for Google engineers?
If Google relied on Google Analytics for data for their ranking algorithm, most of the sites in existence would not have coverage.
A 2015 article by Marketing Land showed that Google Analytics was only confirmed to be on 8.4% of all websites. In 2019, BuiltWith shows that Google Anlytics is only installed on about 10% of all websites, and only 68% of all sites in the top million.
There would be a large dataset missing if the ranking algorithm relied on Google Anlytics for user signals. But Google representatives have also said in the past that Google doesn’t use Google Analytics for ranking.
Here’s Gary Illyes from 2015:
@dnespo we don't use analytics/bounce rate in search ranking
— Gary "鯨理" Illyes (@methode) May 13, 2015
John Mueller from 2016, when asked if Google does not use Google Analytics data in the ranking algorithm:
Yeah, we don’t use Google Analytics at all with regards to the search algorithm. And part of that is just because not all sites use Analytics. So you can’t really balance, “We have some signals for this site here, and we no signals at all for this site over here.” What does that actually mean? How do you weigh that?
— John Mueller, Google representative
So if Google does not use Analytics to determine whether users are satisfied with a web page, how do they get consistent signals for all the sites on the web?
A Logical Explanation
Google measures the user experience, and decides if searchers are happy with a given page. To do this, they must have a mechanism for seeing how people search, and tracking their progress through the page(s), even if they don’t have Google Analytics installed.
The answer is in plain sight.
If you were a search engine, and you wanted to get real user data to deliver better search results, how would you accomplish that task?
The only logical conclusion that I can come to is that they leverage the Chrome browser to get information.
Google already confirmed in 2018 that they use Chrome usage data to evaluate site speed. It is reasonable to believe they could also utilize Chrome user data to gauge user satisfaction with a given web page.
Let’s look at the stats, and see if this is viable.
Chrome has 63.72% global browser market share as of September 2019.
In the United States alone, Chrome has 50% browser market share as of September 2019.
Chrome for Android also is the most popular browser by version, with 33% of worldwide usage.
If Google uses anonymized user data from Chrome and Mobile Chrome, that would give the algorithm all the information it needs to make ranking decisions based on user experience and on-page behavior.
What This Means for Your SEO Efforts
It is no longer sufficient to keyword-stuff a page for SEO. In order to rank at the top of search results, you must be the best result.
- Creating high quality content that matches the search intent of most users.
- Investing time and resources in design and user experience.
- Updating the most important pages on your site, that drive the most qualified traffic.
- Paying attention to page-level data from Google Analytics, like time on page, and goal conversions on key pages.
If real users are unhappy with your page — whether it’s poor content, mismatched search intent, or outdated design — that will eventually be reflected in your search rankings.