How to SEO: Is Google Using Web Analytics as a Ranking Factor?

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In the aftermath of Google's Panda algorithm update, which was designed to weed out poor-quality websites, much speculation remains as to how Google determines quality, and whether or not Analytics is a factor.

Some SEOs dismiss the idea that Google is tapping into Analytics data as pure paranoia. However, others have put forward a good case to suggest that it is actually happening.

The official Google stance is that individual site or page Analytics data are not used for ranking purposes. Google is quite emphatic on this point.

However, even if this is the case, Google already has direct access to two user metrics: namely, the results page click-through rate (SERP CTR) and user 'dwell time'.

That said, being paranoid about Analytics data is largely unwarranted. For the time being, the theories on what’s really going on with Google’s Analytics use are very much more Roswell than Watergate.

Here are some of the more interesting theories.

Does SERP CTR (Search Engine Results Page Click-Through Rate) affect SEO?

Officially, Google uses this metric to determine the usefulness of the results it has served up in response to any given user query.

In real terms, this relates to whether searchers are clicking on a search result or not.

Those who use Google Webmaster Tools can check this metric for themselves via 'Your site on the web' > 'Search Queries'.

Although this type of data is available mainly to assist with paid search campaigns, it is equally valid for organic searches.

Does Dwell Time Affect SEO?

A term originally coined by Bing's Duane Forrester, ‘dwell time’ is a compound of bounce rate and time on site. It is a measurement of the length of time taken to hit the back button and return to the SERP after clicking on a result.

The shorter the dwell time, the poorer the result.

There is certainly evidence to suggest that Google uses dwell time to invoke the user site-blocking facility. That is, when a user clicks a listing and returns to the SERP very quickly, he is offered the option to block all results from that site.

Therefore, a low dwell time would indicate to Google that the user has found the page to be untrustworthy, inappropriate or irrelevant.

What SEO Improvements Can Be Made?

Any page that is experiencing a lack of traffic and/or a low dwell time will need to look at the reasons why, and address them.

There are three ways to do this:

• Ensure that the rich snippet page description which appears on the SERPs underneath the link accurately describes the actual content of the page. Remember, it’s a 156 character limit.
• Make the content of the page immediately available to the user. Check the page is fast loading and relevant content is situated "above the fold" (so visitors won’t need to scroll)
• Follow the usual rules concerning relevant content creation for users, not search engines.

It is highly unlikely that Google has the scope to analyse and take account of data from every individual page: it is much more likely that it is using the two user metrics described above, but more on an aggregate than individual basis.

Even this isn’t definite.

The bottom line isn’t even SEO-orientated. If you have a high bounce rate, slow loading pages and consistently low dwell time, SEO really isn’t your priority: sorting out your website development is.

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