Until very recently, Google ranked web pages on signals that, simplistically put, fell into two categories: content and links. A response to a query was based on whether content was relevant to a query and a calculation of the incoming links in qualitative as well as quantitative terms. However, concurrent with the roll out of Panda, we’ve seen Google indicate it will incorporate behavioral data for ranking signals. For example, as announced the expansion of Panda to all English users on April 11, 2011, Google Fellow Amit Singhal, wrote
that Google had now:
incorporated new user feedback signals to help people find better search results. In some high-confidence situations, we are beginning to incorporate data about the sites that users block into our algorithms.
Now a new patent filing from Google indicates additional user behavior which may be used. In a report on the filing, How Google Might Rank Pages Based upon Usage Information
Patent Analyst Bill Slawski says the application notes the limitations of those traditional signals – content can be manipulated and newer sites often have fewer incoming links and thus a lower score, and outlines some usage data that could be used to rank websites.
The patent application includes examples of two types of usage data, frequency of visits to a page or site, and number of unique visitors to a page or site, but it tells us that other usage data might be included as well.
Advanced SEOs will want to read Slawski’s analysis and the patent itself, no doubt (as well as the comments - Slawski's blog gets read by some very knowledgeable folks). As with all patent filings, it is rare to know specifically what will – or has – already made it into Google’s algorithm, but we can surmise from recent events that user behavior is highly likely to increasingly figure into ranking signals.
Savvy SEOs and webmasters will put more and more focus on usability, analysis of bounce rate, navigation patterns, and other traffic metrics that can give them insight into the user experience on their site.