Google and Toolbars and Rankings Oh My

At this year’s WebmasterWorld Pubcon conference in Boston, I had the opportunity to talk to Matt Cutts from Google a few times and when I posted my recollection of comments about Google and user or toolbar data for rankings he wanted to clarify. That presented an opportunity for a mini interview about Google’s position on toolbar data.

I started out by posing a few specific questions:

1. Does Google currently use toolbar data for rankings?
2. What do you see as the pros and cons of using such data for rankings?
3. Can you describe any scenario where information from a downloaded application from Google might be used in some way for ranking web pages?
4. If Google does not employ toolbar or other user data for rankings and another search engine does, could that provide the other search engine an advantage?

And Matt provided this reply:

Hey Lee, it was nice to meet you in person at Pubcon! I’ll answer this all in one chunk, if that’s okay. Personally, I think this issue is on SEO’s minds more because there was a speculative thread at where WMW folks discussed toolbar data.

I read the story at SearchNewz and saw your conclusion from our conversation that “Google does not use toolbar data for rankings” and wanted to clarify that answer a little bit. In general, when someone asks me the question “Do you use signal X in rankings?” a good way to answer that question is usually to say that while we don’t comment specifically on most of the factors that we use in ranking, it’s wise not to rule something out absolutely.

Let’s take the example in a different context. Meta tags got a bad rap in the early days of search engines because a few people abused them heavily. As a result Google doesn’t use meta tags much in ranking documents. But I’ve learned not to say “We would never use meta tags” because it’s not wise to preclude using any particular signal; in the future, someone might work out a way to use that signal.

So I’m not going to say definitively that Google doesn’t/won’t use toolbar data (or other signals) in ranking. I think what you were picking up on was my long list of “cons” in data like that.

For more insight from Google’s Matt Cutts, read the full post over at Online Marketing Blog.