Test Shows First Evidence of Google Testing Quality Score for Organic Search

August 7, 2019

Rand Fishkin just published the results of a test he did to see if query and click-through data might affect search rankings. To run the test, he asked his Twitter followers to search the term “imec lab” and click on the Moz result. He did not link to the post in his tweet:

Care to help with a Google theory/test? Could you search for "IMEC Lab" in Google & click the link from my blog? I have a hunch.

— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) May 1, 2014

Rand writes:

A blog post I’d published last week ranked number 7 in Google US results (incognito/logged-out, without regional geographic bias), the same as it had a week prior just after I wrote it (sadly, I forgot to take a screenshot last week when I first looked at the ranking). After noting the position and taking a screenshot, I sent this tweet

Over the next few hours, people on Twitter took action, and responded back. And then something fascinating happened:

I’d estimate between 175-250 people likely saw the tweet and took action (though it’s hard to know that number for certain). The blog post itself  received 228 visits from Google on April 30th, and I’d guess that the majority of these came from the tweet. To compare, on April 29th (the prior day), traffic from Google search accounted for a mere 7 visits to the page.

By the time I checked again (at 9:01pm Pacific), I saw the same thing folks on Twitter were reporting. The page in question had moved up to the 1st position (at least in non-personalized, non-region-specific US results).

This is just one test and it’s certainly possible the move in rank was due to some coincidence or confounding variable. But if not, this is evidence that Google is already testing (or already using, in low-volume/long-tail query spaces with a dearth of link data) click-through data in its organic search ranking algorithm.

In case you haven’t seen me riding this hobby horse, I’ve been posting a series of (highly speculative) articles on the potential future of the Google ranking algorithm:

  • First, there was the business with Google claiming guest-blogging is dead, which led to the idea that …
  • Google has realized the link is dying as a valid signal of authority; we (Larry and I) predicted organic search would move to a model more like Ad Rank in paid search, based on click-through rate and other user engagement data.
  • Then Matt Cutts admitted in a webmaster video that Google has tried versions of the algorithm without links. (He added that they don't work great..."for now.")
  • Then I asked a bunch of search experts, including Rand and some die-hard link-builders, to predict the future of PageRank and linking. Most were pretty conservative in their predictions, e.g. no big changes in the next 3 to 5 years.
  • Then I leaped on another off-hand comment in a webmaster video, when Cutts said that people don’t like to porn sites (even though they’re very popular!). I took this as more evidence that Google already has versions of the ranking algorithm that don’t depend heavily on links.
  • Yesterday, I responded to a Moz post suggesting that brand mentions might replace or supplement links. (Could be a patch on the link problem, but not a spam-killer IMO.)

I’m excited about this new development, though of course it’s too early to say that Google is already using a Quality Score—type algo for organic search. (Remember that Quality Score is mostly about beating your expected click-through rate based on your position.) What do you think? Is it plausible?

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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