A Way for Search Engines to Improve
by By Richard Zwicky

Wouldn't it be nice if the search engines could comprehend 
our impressions of search results and adjust their databases 
accordingly? Properly optimized web pages would show up well 
in contextual searches and be rewarded with favorable reviews 
and listings. Pages which were spam or which had content that 
did not properly match the query would get negative responses 
and be pushed down in the search results.  

Well, this reality is much closer than you might think. 

To date, most webmasters and search engine marketers have ignored 
or overlooked the importance of traffic as part of a search engine 
algorithm, and thus, not taken it into consideration as part of
their search engine optimization strategy. However, that might
soon change as search engines explore new methods to improve
their search result offerings. Teoma and Alexa already employ
traffic as a factor in the presentation of their search results.
Teoma incorporated the technology used by Direct Hit, the first 
engine to use click through tracking and stickiness measurement
as part of their ranking algorithm. More about Alexa below. 

How can Traffic be a Factor?

Click popularity sorting algorithms track how many users click 
on a link and stickiness measurement calculates how long they 
stay at a website. Properly used and combined, this data can 
make it possible for users, via passive feedback, to help 
search engines organize and present relevant search results. 

Click popularity is calculated by measuring the number of clicks 
each web site receives from a search engine's results page. The 
theory is that the more often the search result is clicked, the 
more popular the web site must be. For many engines the click 
through calculation ends there. But for the search engines that 
have enabled toolbars, the possibilities are enormous.

Stickiness measurement is a really great idea in theory, the 
premise being that a user will click the first result, and 
either spend time reading a relevant web page, or will click on 
the back button, and look at the next result. The longer a user 
spends on each page, the more relevant it must be. This       
measurement does go a long way to fixing the problem with      
"spoofing" click popularity results. A great example of a search
engine that uses this type of data in their algorithms is Alexa.

Alexa's algorithm is different from the other search engines.
Their click popularity algorithm collects traffic pattern data 
from their own site, partner sites, and also from their own 
toolbar. Alexa combines three distinct concepts: link popularity, 
click popularity and click depth. Its directory ranks related 
links based on popularity, so if your web site is popular, your 
site will be well placed in Alexa.  

The Alexa toolbar doesn't just allow searches, it also reports 
on people's Internet navigation patterns. It records where 
people who use the Alexa toolbar go. For example, their 
technology is able to build a profile of which web sites are 
popular in the context of which search topic, and display the 
results sorted according to overall popularity on the Internet.  

For example a user clicks a link to a "financial planner", but 
the web site content is an "online casino". They curse for a 
moment, sigh, and click back to get back to the search results, 
and look at the next result; the web site gets a low score. The 
next result is on topic, and they read 4 or 5 pages of content. 
This pattern is clearly identifiable and used by Alexa to help 
them sort results by popularity. The theory is that the more 
page views a web page has, the more useful a resource it must 
be. For example, follow this link - 
- today, look at the traffic details chart, and then click the 
"Go to site now" button. Repeat the procedure again tomorrow and 
you should see a spike in user traffic. This shows how Alexa 
ranks a web site for a single day.

What Can I Do To Score Higher With Click Popularity Algorithms?

Since the scores that generate search engine rankings are based 
on numerous factors, there's no magic formula to improve your 
site's placement. It's a combination of things. Optimizing your 
content, structure and meta tags, and increasing keyword density 
won't directly change how your site performs in click-tracking 
systems, but optimizing them will help your web site's stickiness 
measurement by ensuring that the content is relevant to the 
search query. This relevance will help it move up the rankings
and thus improve its click popularity score. 

Search Engines Can Use the Click Through Strategy to Improve 

Search engines need to keep an eye to new technologies and 
innovative techniques to improve the quality of their search 
results. Their business model is based on providing highly 
relevant results to a query quickly and efficiently. If they 
deliver inaccurate results too often, searchers will go elsewhere 
to find a more reliable information resource. The proper and 
carefully balanced application of usage data, such as that 
collected by Alexa, combined with a comprehensive ranking 
algorithm could be employed to improve the quality of search 
results for web searchers.

Such a ranking formula would certainly cause some waves within 
the search engine community and with good reason. It would turn 
existing search engine results on their head by demonstrating 
that search results need not be passive. Public feedback to 
previous search results could be factored into improving future 
search results.  

Is any search engine employing such a ranking formula? The    
answer is yes. Exactseek (http://www.exactseek.com) recently 
announced it had implemented such a system, making it the first 
search engine to integrate direct customer feedback into its 
results. Exactseek still places an emphasis on content and 
quality of optimization, so a well optimized web site, which 
meets their guidelines will perform well. What this customer 
feedback system will do is validate the entire process, 
automatically letting the search engine know how well received 
a search result is. Popular results will get extended views, 
whereas unpopular results will be pushed down in ranking. 

Exactseek has recently entered into a variety of technology 
alliances, including the creation of an Exactseek Meta Tag 
awarded solely to web sites that meet their quality of 
optimization standards. Cumulatively, their alliances combine 
to dramatically improve their search results.  

ExactSeek's innovative approach to ranking search results could
be the beginning of a trend among search engines to incorporate
traffic data into their ranking algorithms. The searching public
will likely have the last word, but webmasters and search engine
marketers should take notice that the winds of change are once
again blowing on the search engine playing field.

Richard Zwicky is a founder and the CEO of Metamend Software, a 
Victoria, B.C. based firm whose cutting edge Search Engine 
Optimization software has been recognized around the world as a 
leader in its field. Employing a staff of 10, the firm's business 
comes from around the world, with clients from every continent. 
Most recently the company was recognized for their geo-locational,
or LBS technology, which correlates online businesses with their 
physical locations.