If Google integrates direct traffic into the rankings of your website has been an ongoing debate throughout the years. What do we think of the issue?
Does Google incorporate direct web-based visits into the rankings of your search results?
For clarity, it is direct traffic when an individual (or bot (we’ll discuss it in a moment) connects directly to your site’s URL instead of through other channels, like an online search engine or Social media platforms.
According to the theory, they already know who you are, which says to Google beautiful things about your reputation and authority.
Let’s find out what professionals have to say on this issue.
The Claim: Direct Traffic As A Ranking Factor
The concept is that direct web visitors can be a sign of endorsement for your site, similar to linking.
Direct traffic refers to any website you visit that does not have an http_referrer (for some reason or another).
To count direct traffic for ranking purposes, Google must evaluate the natural traffic to your website using any of the tools it offers.
Given that it comes with Chrome, Google Search Console, Google Analytics, its DNS service, Google Fiber, and other services, there’s an abundance of possibilities about the location from which this data might be derived.
The Evidence For Direct Traffic As A Ranking Factor
A Backlinko article, dated January 22, 2020, says, “It’s confirmed that Google uses data from Google Chrome to determine how many people visit the site (and how often).”
Clicking that link takes you to a post based on the Brighton SEO 2013 fireside chat with three Googlers who were ex-Googlers Fili Wiese, Jonas Weber, and Alfredo Pulvirenti.
We can find this in a debate about the possibility that Google makes use of social signals to rank:
“…perhaps One of the major highlights of the conference was the fact that Google certainly uses Chrome user data to observe every click.”
If you looked at the present, you’d see on a trusted website that Google has confirmed that it uses Chrome data to figure out how many people are visiting sites and the frequency at which they dwell. It is possible to see that this has been verified by Googlers, and you would think this to be real.
In reality, these ex-employees claimed that Google utilizes Chrome data but did not specify what it does, nor whether it was part of the actual algorithm or in testing.
All of this shows that, as of April 2013, Google had employed Chrome data to monitor clicks at some time before that (because they were past employees rather than current employees).
If you didn’t notice the date or thought that an article from January 22, 2020, was accurate at the moment, you could have been forgiven to think that this was actually verified with Google (to be entirely sure: it wasn’t).
The issue came up in the past. It was considered.
In 2017, Semrush published its first Ranking Factors study and named direct traffic the top Google search ranking factor.
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SEO professionals fought on Twitter.
Blog posts were written by people for and against.
There have been lots between the two sides about this issue throughout many years, and we will not change anything to revisit the whole thing now.
Let’s look at some of the best rational pieces that provide convincing evidence of why the notion of direct traffic as a ranking factor is utterly incorrect.
The Evidence Against Direct Traffic As A Ranking Factor
The first of the blog mentioned Mark Traphagen’s pitfalls of putting too much faith in rankings studies such as those conducted by Semrush.
Eric explained: Eric said:
“It’s feasible for two events to happen simultaneously but are not connected or have anything to relate to each other. My favorite is that selling ice cream and drowning-related deaths can be strongly correlated.
One could conclude that a rise in sales of ice cream results in more drownings or more absurd, but the reverse is not true. We know the valid reason for why these two events are linked in such a way.”
(They coincide because it’s summer and people are out swimming and eating Ice cream. However, neither causes the other.)
A site with qualities that indicate good things to Google could also be able to say beautiful things to users and gain higher amounts of direct web traffic.
But it doesn’t mean that it was because of traffic that caused the increase in rank.
Another excellent resource on this subject is written by Martin MacDonald, who is concerned with the reliability of direct traffic as a potential ranking signal. He explains:
“The term “direct traffic” as a technical concept as being requests that are not accompanied by an http_referrer is far too vague.
It’s not the primary type of traffic that is prevalent most of the time, but rather:
- Requests are made using non-web browsers.
- Numerous URL shorteners.
- Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks as well as applications.
- Links that do not match security protocols.
- Links shared among platforms (desktop to mobile, in particular).”
Then, direct traffic can be the most accessible signal for a game.
As MacDonald claims, “If all you need to do is remove the referrer for the internal links, and fool’ Google’ into thinking its direct traffic, you can accomplish this using a couple of pages of PHP code, or even with server configuration …”
Bots can be run to purchase visits to websites. You can fake it yourself.
At the end of the day, can direct traffic reveal something that the other indicators do not to Google?
Direct Traffic As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
Google does not utilize the direct route as a ranking signal.
It’s loud, easy to manipulate, and hard to verify and collect.
Beware of studies that establish an association with direct web traffic and search Ranking as a cause.
Be sure to check the date before doing fact-checking! Be sure to follow each claim back to the source. What was valid 10 years ago might not be relevant today and could be misinterpreted at any time.