Why You Can Almost Guarantee Google is Using Your Analytics Data

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Why You Can Almost Guarantee Google is Using Your Analytics Data
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While many webmasters and publishers use Google analytics without a second thought, smart publishers, marketers, and SEOs are left to speculate… Is Google using this data? What might they use it for? And am I doing myself more harm than good using it?

Truth be told, unless Google ever does a full disclosure about analytics data (which to date hasn’t happened), we are left to conjecture and guess. However, if we look at Google’s business decisions, especially since Larry Page has assumed control, the only conclusion you can logically come to is that yes, they are using it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Conference attendees have been using Q&A sessions to try and pin down Google engineers about whether or not they are using bounce rate, exit rate, time on site, or other specific factors. But, by asking these narrow questions, they allow the engineers to sidestep the real question with carefully worded answers. What we need to do is stop trying to figure out exactly what factors they are using so we can try and exploit them–instead, we need to get answers to the larger question: “Is data from Google analytics currently used in search engine ranking pages?” Why is focusing on Google’s use of one factor bad? Much like that kid in class who asked “Is this going to be on the test?” you’ve lost the plot. That kid has stopped focusing on learning and simply wants a good grade by regurgitating specific facts back to the teacher. It’s unlikely that Google is looking at any single factor; instead, they are looking at more than one aspect to determine overall quality. Engineers from Google constantly tell us to stop focusing on these narrow factors (like pagerank) and focus on the big picture and what it says about our website.

Ever since Larry Page has assumed control, one of his big focuses has been shuttering some of Google’s non profitable projects, like Google Labs. It’s not that Google is no longer innovating; it’s that they are taking a more pragmatic approach. Projects need to be cost effective, and they’re not giving them the same length of time as they did in the past to get to that point.

Let’s take a look at analytics. Maintaining uptime for the massive number of sites that Google analytics runs on requires a huge investment in hardware, software, and skilled engineers and technically skilled labor. Next we need to add in the programmers, Q&A, and resources associated with maintaining and updating the user interface/reporting side of gGoogle analytics. Simply put, it’s a huge investment of time, resources, and money. With Google’s recent shift in direction about projects needing to be profitable to stay alive, there simply isn’t any logical conclusion you can reach except that they are using the data. There’s a true saying about this situation: “if you aren’t paying for a product or service, you are the product being sold“.

There are multiple business uses for this data, including forcing up prices on adwords keywords, determining adwords quality scores, understanding consumer usage, and validating organic search engine ranking factors–to name just a few. Yes, Google adwords may have started as a supply/demand bid driven market system, but once adwords quality score got factored in, it became a black box model and prices could be raised artificially as needed. Don’t believe me? Try and explain why quality score forces me to bid $5 to display ads for my own name in adwords, but I can show ads for Matt Cutts for $0.30. Unless, of course, you want to defend the bizarro logic that I am more relevant for someone else’s name than I am for my own.

The real takeaway here is that Google is the data Borg. Without feeding the Borg signals that people are visiting, using, and returning to your site, you have little chance of ranking organically. These are the types of signals that real businesses and brands will send the search engines. These are the signals that become difficult and expensive to fake without large distributed botnets, malware, or hacking. The question you need to ask yourself is at what point does it become easier to spend more time building these signals the right way and less time on faking it via black hat spam techniques …

Check out Graywolf’s SEO Blog for more articles by Michael Gray

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  • josh

    So are you saying that we should keep analytics, or would we do better without it?

    • http://www.theokaynetwork.com/apps/plusonespy Adsense Publisher

      I’m thinking we’re better with it than without. If there is even a little truth to Google using Google Analytics data as ranking signal then if you’re not using Gogole Analytics it could harm your site. Not to mention I have yet to see something as powerful as Google Analytics on the market, especially something that’s free for letting Google use the data themselves.

  • Michael Trucker

    I launched a test site last month and had added my Google Analytics code to collect stats. I had NOT used Googles ‘submit your site’ feature or have any other sites linking to mine but when I ran the site: command a few days later most pages were indexed. The only way that could happen is if they are using GA data. (Otherwise running the site command would have returned zero results, right?)

    If they are using GA to add sites to their index then we should assume they are using all other data, and bounce rate would probably be a major factor.

    • http://www.stareclips.com/?seo StareClips.com

      Did you visit your test site using Chrome or using a browser with the Google Toolbar installed?

    • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

      “(Otherwise running the site command would have returned zero results, right?)”

      WRONG. Just because you assume Google won’t find and crawl a site quickly doesn’t mean they don’t find and crawl the site quickly.

      • http://www.stareclips.com/?seo StareClips.com

        I think his point was that Google clearly “found” his site and crawled it… and if he didn’t submit it to them and nobody was linking to his site yet, how did they “find” his site, unless it was through the fact that he integrated it with Google Analytics.

        Of course, I think there are many other ways they can discover a site. They monitor domain name registrations. So, if the site is hosted on its own (new) domain name, it’s possible they saw the domain registration and began crawling that domain.

        Another possibility is through data seen via Chrome (when you opt to send usage data to Google) or via the Google Toolbar (when you opt to send usage data to Google).

        Of course, signing up for Google Analytics and giving them the URL of your website should give them enough information to find and crawl the site without using the “analytics data”… they’d just be using the data you provided to them to sign up. That’s fair game. Whether they are using the actual analytics data (number of page views, bounce rate, etc…) is the mystery. I don’t believe they are.

  • http://www.stareclips.com/?seo StareClips.com

    The “Michael Gray” versus “Matt Cutts” scenario is really an easy one, so I’m not sure why you’re reading so much into it. The term “Matt Cutts” is a whole lot less diluted. It’s almost always about Matt Cutts the Google employee. However, there are many “Michael Grays”. There’s the coach, the musician, an actor, etc…

    So, there is a much stronger bond between, say, “Matt Cutts” and “SEO” than there is between, say, “Michael Gray” and “SEO”. Therefore, the “quality” is different.

    There are also twice as many searches for “Michael Gray” than for “Matt Cutts”. This is likely also due to the diversity of people out there with that name.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Google has repeatedly denied using Analytics data for ranking and indexing purposes, but I can well believe they have the opportunity and perhaps the incentive to use the data gathered by Google Analytics to study the structure and behavior of the Web.

    That said, there is no evidence to suggest they are doing anything more with the data than they have claimed to be doing.

  • http://www.rentcarsingapore.com Car

    They are providing the value and service so i bet using the analytic is fair right?

    Anyway google is using these info to improve where we are now right.

  • http://wredlich.com/ny Warren Redlich

    Interesting – perhaps you are more relevant to Matt Cutts than you are to your own name, since your name is a more common name.

    GA creates value for Google through user loyalty. I love Google (LOVE!!!!). GA is one of the reasons why.

    They just introduced multi-channel funnels, which helped me tremendously in looking at the assisting sources for revenue. LOVE!!!

  • http://www.birminghamhypnotherapyclinic.com/ Georgios

    We need the data to make data available! So Google somehow needs to get the data to analyse them and give them to us!

  • http://www.blissseo.com.au SEO

    Great post, I’ve long thought Google would be stupid not to be using this data to improve their search results without having to even bring in the adwords point, which is a very good one.

    I do have to say though I’ve got one website I’ve been running as a test site for over 4 years and it does rank quite well in a very competitive industry, the thing is it’s never had analytics but it does have webmaster tools.

    One of two things then, it’s not just analytics data they are using or it’s not essential to have either to rank, I don’t think it’s the latter…

  • Ravinder

    Really Interesting Post.

  • http://www.cosmeticsurgerymarketingguide.com/ Aalapi

    I don’t need any guarantee Michael. I am 100% sure about it.

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