For some time now I’ve been talking about the eventual shift in how search engines rank their pages from algorithmic factors to more social or “people-based” factors. Bill Slawski at SEO by the Sea just posted an article that sheds some light on Google’s progress on this front: How Google Might Rank Pages Based Upon Usage Information.
Bill’s article discusses a patent recently filed by Google entitled Methods and Apparatus for Employing Usage Statistics in Document Retrieval in which they discuss ways to rank pages based on how people use those pages, either the number of unique people who view them or how often they view them.
What struck me as interesting about the patent was not the techniques it describes (you can read Bill’s blog for discussion of that), but the fact that Google is showing a clear focus on finding more ways to rank pages beyond their current algorithmic on-page and link-based factors.
Many folks (and a lot of SEO-types) believe that Google is out to find the perfect search algorithm, to find a set of rules that rank pages and links so the best ones filter to the top. But what Google’s Search team really wants is to deliver the ideal search results that a person with a given search phrase would want. Their algorithms are just a tool, a proxy to deliver the “ideal” search results, and they are well aware their past reliance on analyzing links and the frequency of words on a page are insufficient to deliver ideal search results. So, Google is taking the next logical step by looking at the way searchers interact with the pages they are on and how satisfied they are with their results, and they’re mixing those factors in with their basic algorithm. Google is edging closer to delivering results that people want when they search for “keyphrase” rather than delivering results that have been mathematically calculated to be relevant to “keyphrase.”
Other recent shifts in Google’s algorithm have also highlighted this trend: they are letting users block sites from their search results, letting users “+1″ search results and pages, and they are making efforts to send fewer of their searchers to “content farms” and sites that rely on syndication.
Traditional SEO factors will be less and less important and indeed less helpful to site owners who want their pages to rank well in Google, and those owners will have to redouble their efforts on making sure their visitors are truly satisfied with the content and services they find, which will also increase the traffic they drive from Twitter, Facebook, and other social venues.
Now is the time to start tuning up your content and your user experience, and of course to make sure you’re answering your visitors questions, because you can’t count on driving traffic by focusing on traditional SEO techniques forever!
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