Google Oddities – Active Visits Affecting Search Results?

Like most people with a website, I regularly check the stats tosee how things are going: How many people visited today Wheredid they come from? How many times have the search enginessent someone my way? These are metrics that I use to knowif I’m hitting internal goals, and allow me to alter plans whenthings head in the wrong direction (If I lose readers, I’lljust have to make up some story about Google buying Digg and thenduking it out with Microsoft Reddit Live! That sort of thing seemsto play very well these days. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Ofcourse there’s a bit of hypocrisy in the fact that I’m largelyspeculating about search algorithms, with very limited facts, whilecriticizing acquisition-of-the-hour rumors).

While the number of visitors has a fairly constant floor, thedaily count ceiling can vary wildly if I’ve posted somethingnew, if someone posted it to reddit or Digg or Slashdot, based upon how many peopleadded things to their http://del.icio.us bookmarks, and soon.

A Wednesday might have 2200 visitors one week, while it sees15,000 visitors the next.

Search engine referrals, in contrast, are usually fairlyconstant, with a generally predictable number being sent over,following a recurring weekly curve: Monday = X, Tuesday =X*1.1, Wednesday = X*1.15, Thursday = X*0.75, Friday = X*0.65,Saturday = X*0.4, Sunday = X*0.3. X as been slowly edgingup as I add content, and as more inbound links appear and thusPageRank and similar rankings improve.

This week it hasn’t been quite as predictable on the searchengine front.

After a Sunday drop in search engine referrals, from Google inparticular, on Monday Google referrals jumped 50%over the week before. On Tuesday they again jumped 50%. Then onWednesday they dropped 20% under the mark set thepreceding week. Again it came in 20% below on Thursday.

I would write this off as nothing more than normal fluctuations– maybe users just weren’t searching for the sort of contentcovered on here on Wednesday and Thursday, so the referrals droppedoff — but for the fact that Monday and Tuesday coincidentally alsosaw a large influx of visitors from Reddit, Digg, Delicious,popurl, and a few other meme sites, quadrupling the normal traffic.Of course these new links were far too fresh to affect thePageRank, so by traditional analysis shouldn’t affect the searchreferrals at all.

This got me thinking, in my normal conspiracy theory way: Whatif Google has started tying site visits, metered by the Googletoolbar (which sends back the sites you’re visiting if you havepagerank display on), and has begun using the current values todetermine search results?

They could tune this in such a way that a site has to get acertain percentage of non-search referred visitors for each searchreferral, otherwise the search result is downgraded. The benefit,of course, is that search spam sites that only see visitorscourtesy of the search engines would be quickly punished.”Valuable” content that is seeing signficant non-search relatedtraffic would be promoted.

Just some food for thought. I have no proof of this, but I’vealways felt that there would come a time that their web visit statswould start to influence the search results.