As a follow-up to my previous post regarding the accusations from Google that Bing is using click-through data as part of their ranking methodology. It is pretty certain that Google does as well and there is evidence to show that they both have been doing so for some time. Even Matt Cutts said in 2002 that "using toolbar data could help provide better SERPs." Although to this day, Google hasn’t officially disclosed if they use the click-stream data as a factor in their search ranking algorithm.
To try to prove their accusation, Google created some fake SERPs for "non-words" and sent clicks through to Bing to make sure they got hold of the data. Even though it was nonsense data, Bing still took it serious enough to use it in about 10% of their search results. Bing then accused Google of click-fraud, but because there was no PPC component it was immediately dismissed.
Bing was not forthcoming in their practices, stating: "We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop." Bing now reveals that they DO use 100% click stream data from sources like their IE toolbars and use this information as factors in their ranking algorithm.
In an additional statement from Bing they revealed that:
"We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm. A small piece of that is click-stream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users."
I think the bigger story here is why this seems to be such a contentious issue for Google? Why the cloak and dagger routine between the two? I can understand that Bing may not want to divulge its practices, but it seems like adding insult to injury by denying the accusations and then admitting to them later. Both Google and Bing appear to behaving like temperamental juveniles in school yard.
What can we take away from this? Large corporations often behave like children. Even if clickstream data isn’t a leading factor in the ranking and probably never will be, it is part of the equation and as such cannot be ignored. As SEOs, we should be looking for ways to get URLs into the data stream of toolbar users.