Is Traffic a Ranking Factor? [Case Study]

Written by Constantin Oesterling on 2020-05-21

Is traffic a ranking factor and if so, what’s its weight?

That’s a question that Google answers with “No”.

Hi Suhas! No, traffic to a website isn't a ranking factor. If you're starting to get relevant traffic & users love your site, that's a good start though!

— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) August 26, 2019

Of course they would.

However, looking at what people in the SEO community say about this, the answer is less clear.

SEMRush lists direct traffic as THE strongest ranking factor.

semrush ranking factors

CognitiveSEO correlated referral traffic from Reddit with a global boost in rankings for keywords related to the page that received the referral traffic.

Craig Campbell uses Quora Ads to increase engagement and traffic to pages he wants to rank.

A Google May core update analysis by Eric Lancheres in Matt Diggity’s Affiliate Lab found a strong correlation between winners and ad traffic.

Taking all that into consideration, it would be stupid not to test a factor that easy to manipulate, right?

I had used Quora and Facebook Ads with heavy optimization for on-site engagement previously, but the results were inconsistent.

In some cases, I’d see ranking improvements, but none in others.

So instead of trying these again, I signed up with different less popular display ad networks.

My reasoning was that by using ad networks instead of single platforms I’d diversify the referral sources as much as possible.

Although according to the CognitiveSEO post it should also work with a single traffic source, I didn’t want to repeat what I had already tested previously.

After a few initial tests and blowing a few hundred bucks on traffic, I ended up focusing on just Android/Chrome user agents and GEOs like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to get as much as I could for what I spent.

The only exception being the German keyword where I actually sent German traffic, which is obviously the target GEO.

I’ll let the results speak for themselves:

Keyword 1

usa health2
  • Traffic started on May 18th
  • US Health SERPs
  • 1,600 MS
  • Total visitors sent: ~300

Keyword 2

german results
  • Traffic started on May 19th
  • German Health SERPs
  • 390 MS
  • Total visitors sent: ~280

Keyword 3

usa health1
  • Traffic started on May 20th
  • US Health SERPs
  • 370 MS
  • Total visitors sent: ~180

Keyword 4

usa tech1
  • Traffic started on May 20th
  • US Web Hosting SERPs
  • 1,100 MS
  • Total visitors sent: ~190

Sooo… Is traffic a ranking factor?

Fuck yeah it is!

And it looks like high bounce rates and low time on site don’t even matter.

The mere fact that (Chrome/Android) traffic hits a page and maybe scrolls down for a second or two seems to be enough to boost rankings within ~24 hours.

The various referral sources may have contributed to the positive impact.

My theory is that if your site/page is being “featured” in ads on a ton of other sites and (tracked) people click on these ads and somewhat interact with the landing page, it’s kind of a viral signal that Google takes into consideration as a ranking factor for the keywords of the target page.

The moral of the story:

  • Get the pages you want to rank out there and either earn or pay for referral traffic
  • Run traffic campaigns at the same time as link building campaigns to consistently get better results and make the ranking boosts stick
  • Google still sucks. You just have to test enough things to figure out what exactly it still sucks at

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