Is it a Google ranking factor?


Does Google factor direct website visits into your search rankings?

To be clear, direct traffic is where a person (or bot – we’ll get to that later) navigates directly to your website URL relative to another channel, such as a search engine or a social media platform.

They already know you, and that says a lot about your authority and popularity at Google, at least that’s what the theory says.

Let’s see what the experts have to say about it.

The claim: direct traffic as a ranking factor

The idea here is that a direct website visit is an endorsement of your webpage, just like a link.

Direct traffic is any site visit without http_referrer (for one reason or another).

In order for direct traffic to count as a ranking factor, Google would need to somehow measure those direct visits to your site using one of its tools.

Considering that it has Chrome, Google Search Console, Google Analytics, its DNS service, Google Fiber, etc., there are plenty of possibilities as to where this click data comes from.

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Proof of direct traffic as a ranking factor

A Backlinko article dated January 22, 2020 states, “Confirmed that Google uses data from Google Chrome to determine how many people visit the site (and how often).

Following this link to the source takes you to an article based on a Brighton SEO 2013 fireside conversation with three ex-Googlers: Fili Wiese, Jonas Weber and Alfredo Pulvirenti.

There we find it in a conversation about whether Google uses social signals as ranking factors:

“… maybe one of the most important points of the session was that Google definitely uses data from Chrome users and can track every click it contains.”

If you were to search today, you would read on an authoritative site that Google has confirmed that it uses Chrome data to determine how many people visit a site and how often. You could see this verified by Googlers and would logically probably think this to be true.

What these ex-employees actually said was that Google is using the Chrome data – not how, or whether it was in the algorithm or live testing.

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All of this proves that in April 2013, Google had already used Chrome data to track clicks (because they were former employees, not current employees).

If you skipped the date or thought an article dated January 22, 2020 would be correct at that time, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was confirmed by Google (to be clear: it wasn’t the case).

It has happened much more recently, however, and in a significant way.

In 2017, Semrush published its first ranking factor study and named direct traffic the number one ranking factor for Google search.

Screenshot of Semrush “Ranking Factors Analyzed” by author, August 2021.

Chaos ensued.

SEO professionals have been battling it out on Twitter.

People have written pro and con blog posts.

There’s been a lot of back and forth on this one over the years, and it won’t change a thing to rehash everything now.

So let’s jump right into two of the more reasoned articles, which offer some pretty compelling evidence as to why the idea of ​​direct traffic as a ranking factor is seriously flawed.

Evidence against direct traffic as a ranking factor

The first of these aforementioned blog posts features a video chat between Eric Enge and Mark Traphagen, on the fallacy of reading too much in ranking studies like the one conducted by Semrush.

As Eric explained:

“It’s possible that two things happen together but have little or nothing to do with each other. My favorite example is the fact that ice cream sales and drowning deaths are strongly correlated.

So someone might conclude that increased ice cream sales are causing more drowning or even more nonsense, vice versa. But we do know the real reason the two things correlate so well. “

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(They correlate because it’s summer and people swim and eat ice cream. But one doesn’t cause the other to appear.)

A site with qualities that signal good things to Google can also say good things to users and generate more direct traffic.

But that doesn’t mean the traffic caused the rankings to increase.

Another great resource on this topic is from Martin MacDonald, who takes issue with the quality of direct traffic as a potential ranking signal. He explains:

“The technical definition of direct traffic being simply requests made without http_referrer is far too vague a concept.

We don’t usually talk about the type of direct traffic, but rather:

  • Queries made from non-web browsers.
  • Many URL shorteners.
  • Social media platforms and applications.
  • Links with incompatible security protocols.
  • Links shared between devices (from desktop to mobile in particular). “

Finally, direct traffic is just too easy a signal to play.

As MacDonald says, “if all you have to do is remove the referrer on all internal links to ‘trick’ Google into thinking about its direct traffic, you can do it with a few lines of PHP code or with the configuration. from the server … “

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You can run bots or buy site visits. You could pretend it yourself.

And at the end of the day, is direct traffic telling Google something that other signals don’t?

Direct traffic as a ranking factor: our verdict

Direct Traffic: Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Google does not use direct traffic as a search ranking signal.

It’s loud, easy to handle, and difficult to collect and check.

Beware of studies that characterize a correlation between direct traffic and search rankings as causation.

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And always check the date when checking the facts! Track every claim to its source. What was true 10 years ago may not be true today – and it may have been misinterpreted even then.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita

About Nereida Nystrom

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