Google’s Stance on Traffic Diversity as a Ranking Factor

  • June 14, 2024
  • SEO
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Google’s SearchLiaison recently tweeted to encourage webmasters and content creators to diversify their sources of website traffic, clearly explaining the rationale behind this recommendation. Shortly after, a user queried whether traffic diversity itself is a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. SearchLiaison promptly clarified that it is not.

Insights from the Conversation

This question about traffic diversity stemmed from a broader discussion about where webmasters should focus their efforts—specifically whether they should concentrate solely on creating content or also invest in off-site promotional activities.

Here’s the query that was originally posted on Twitter:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

SearchLiaison, Danny Sullivan, broke down the query into its core components and addressed each part. Drawing from his extensive experience in journalism and technology, he provided valuable insights into off-site promotion and site performance.

For clarity, let’s dissect his response further.

Addressing off-site promotional activities, Sullivan’s tweet stated the following:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”

In essence, Sullivan advises against confining one’s strategy to merely optimizing for Google. He underscores the importance of designing websites and creating content that prioritizes the needs and interests of the audience.

Sullivan further elaborates that sites which perform well in rankings are those which naturally attract diverse traffic by appealing to their target audience.

Sullivan continued:

“Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.”

From this, it’s clear that a site’s popularity and appeal can be gauged by the variety of ways in which people discover and engage with its content—be it through social media discussions, email referrals, or links from other websites.

Other indicators of a site’s success include active engagement in the comments section, direct email inquiries from users, and expressions of appreciation through emails with feedback or success stories.

Consider the example of fast fashion giant Shein, which initially struggled to rank for its targeted keywords. Despite this, Shein gained immense popularity and sales through viral marketing and gamifying user interaction, eventually establishing itself as a global brand. A similar approach helped Zappos build a strong reputation through customer service excellence and easy returns.

Sullivan added:

“It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

He emphasized that the diversity of content is not a ranking factor, debunking any misconceptions that such diversity directly influences Google’s ranking algorithms.

Sullivan added a crucial caveat:

“This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things).”

Clarifying the Misconception

A journalist queried:

“Earlier this week, @searchliaison told people to diversify their traffic. Naturally, people started questioning whether that meant diversity of traffic was a ranking factor.

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

Sullivan reiterated that he did not imply that traffic diversity is a ranking factor and linked to his original tweet for clarification.

He clarified in a subsequent tweet:

“I mean that’s not exactly what I myself said, but rather than repeat all that I’ll just add the link to what I did say:”

The journalist responded:

“I would say this is calling for publishers to diversify their traffic since you’re saying the great sites do it. It’s the right advice to give.”

And Sullivan answered:

“It’s the part of “does it matter for rankings” that I was making clear wasn’t what I myself said. Yes, I think that’s a generally good thing, but it’s not the only thing or the magic thing.”

Beyond Ranking Factors

Some SEO practitioners have a longstanding habit of analyzing every statement and publication from Google for hints on how its algorithm might work. This is evident from the way they scrutinize the Search Quality Raters guidelines. Google’s general reluctance to confirm whether specific factors influence rankings only fuels this practice.

This tendency to hunt for “ranking factors” often leads to misinformation. Gaining a nuanced understanding of information retrieval requires careful study of research papers and patents—a process that demands more effort than skimming documents for quick clues.

The least effective method to understand search mechanics is through speculative hypotheses that are then selectively supported by misinterpreted documents, leading to confirmation bias.

Ultimately, a balanced approach that optimizes both for Google and for users—at least equally—tends to yield the best results. Prioritizing user experience and traffic diversification, along with solid SEO practices, has been a proven strategy for years.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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