Google Finally Admits Toolbar Data is a Ranking Signal

Many SEOs have long believed that Google uses data it collects from the Google Toolbar to influence search results. Now Google has finally confirmed it.

What search activity are they using? Google still won’t say beyond what they’re previously revealed (malware detection and page load time).

Unfortunately, confirmation that Google uses Toolbar data is the extent of the news Search Engine Land was able to pry out of Google’s Amit Singhal.

Granted, the focus of Singhal’s admission was all about once again painting Google as morally superior in the Bing-Google “sting” theater earlier this month.

Why? Because Singhal said Google doesn’t actually use data from Bing or other search engines as a signal to influence their search rankings — although Google did admit to collecting all the search data from users who have installed the Google Toolbar.

How big of a signal is toolbar data really? Leading industry expert Mike Grehan says toolbar data can be incredibly powerful.

“Andrew Tomkins, Engineering Director at Google and former Chief Scientist at Yahoo, made it quite clear at SES New York in 2008 that, in his opinion, whereas anchor text had always been the ‘workhorse’ of search, the strongest signal now comes from the toolbar,” said Grehan, VP, global content director with Incisive Media, publisher of Search Engine Watch, ClickZ, and producer of the Search Engine Strategies international conference series.

As evidence, Grehan points to Tomkins’ contribution to the Bulletin Of The Technical Committee On Data Engineering (A Characterization Of Online Search Behavior) from June 2009. Could be Google hired Tomkins away from Yahoo specifically to help in this area.

“If the, now, engineering director at Google is so convinced that toolbar data is so important… Go figure,” Grehan said.

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