Google’s use of Google Analytics data in determining search quality is a persistent myth of SEO, and despite repeated denials, SEOs often use this claim to explain the correlation between a high bounce rate and lower rankings. So is your bounce rate impacting on your rankings? Let’s investigate.
The short answer is ‘no’ – Google does not use any Analytics data in determining search quality, let alone bounce rate. But how do we know this? Because Google has told us, repeatedly. Given that one of the central pillars of the company’s philosophy is ‘don’t be evil’, I for one am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Speaking about the issue, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of webspam, said (in response to the question ‘Do you use Google Analytics data in webspam?’):
“Not only do we not use it in webspam, I promise you my team will never go and ask the Analytics team to use their data and we’ve held true to that promise.”
But just to make sure, he consulted the top brass:
“I went ahead and I emailed the most senior most knowledgeable person who would know about this and I said ‘we don’t use Google Analytics in our ranking in any way do we?’ and the one-word reply was ‘no’.”
It seems Google perceives a number of problems with using bounce rate as a search metric. The indefatigable Matt Cutts weighed in on this front in a Sphinn thread, claiming:
“Bounce rates would be not only spammable but noisy.”
But the problems of using Analytics data as a basis for rankings don’t stop there. Some other commonly-noted issues include a lack of data on collection points, the number of sites using analytics (which affects the worth of the data set as a search metric) and knowing how to take bounce into account (it might not always be negative) – not to mention the range of difficulties in giving behavioural signals increased weight in general.
Explaining the Correlation
So if Google denies using bounce rate as a metric and there’s a whole host of issues in using behavioural data to inform rankings, why does the myth persist and threads like this continue to pop up?
Many SEOs identify a correlation between bounce rate and a drop in rankings and are quick to pin the blame on Google. However, correlation does not equal causation and although Google’s recent updates seem to put more emphasis on stuff like click-through rates, the weight it gives to metrics like these is hotly-debated and largely uncertain.
What we do know?
Google takes more than 200 factors (or signals) into account when ranking your website and Eric Schmidt has claimed that both what these factors are and what weight each item is given will never become public knowledge. But why not?
“We’re always changing, we’re always changing everything and if we started saying ‘here’s how the black box works’, all of a sudden huge incumbencies would come about this change and that change, and we just don’t want that pressure,” Schmidt said.
Given Google’s repeated denials and the distinct lack of evidence on bounce rates as a ranking signal – it’s fairly safe to assume bounce rates aren’t being tracked (and if they are, the weight they’re being given is infinitesimal). However, that doesn’t mean factors linked to bounce rate are not playing some sort of role (industry luminary Barry Adams suggests return-to-SERP for instance).
Despite this, you shouldn’t ignore bounce rates. They still serve as an important indicator of a website’s performance and are something you should be looking to improve in the general course of your webmastery.