The impact of clicks and engagement on SEO

The impact of clicks and engagement on SEO

For years, Google has denied using clicks on organic listings as a ranking signal. We now know better. Recently revealed documents show that Google indeed uses click-related signals in its algorithm.

Here is an overview of those documents and my insights on the impact on search engine optimization.


Organic Clicks

At the federal antitrust trial against Google last year, Pandu Nayak, Vice President of Google Search, testified that the search engine uses a ranking system called “Navboost” (also known as “Glue”) which analyzes user interactions with search results (such as clicks, hovers, scrolls, and swipes) and retains the data for 13 months.

Navboost delivers results based on users’ interactions with related search result pages. The system also determines whether search results should include other features, such as videos, featured snippets, “People also ask,” and local packs.

In the same trial, an internal Google PDF from 2016 was presented, naming “user interactions” (i.e., clicks) as one of the top three ranking factors.

Many in the search engine community have long suspected that Google uses clicks in its ranking algorithm. We have also shared that this is highly limiting, existing only for higher-ranking pages (that generate many leads). Therefore, other ranking signals, such as inbound links and on-page relevance and quality, remain fundamental for all but the very top listings.

Chrome Browser Clicks

Last month, documents leaked from Google Search’s internal engineering department. The contents revealed the importance of organic clicks on rankings. Moreover, the documents described Google’s monitoring of users’ interactions with websites in the Chrome browser. Google has denied this for years.

So, regardless of the traffic source, Google knows how visitors using Chrome interact with a website.

‘Long Clicks’

SEO pros have theorized for years that click data informs content quality. “Dwell time” and “pogo-sticking” are often-discussed bounce-rate metrics.

Thanks to the engineering leak, we know that Google does have such a metric and calls it “long clicks.” The longer a ranking page holds users, the better.

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