This is essentially the same problem as last touch attribution, which gives all credit to the last interaction. But in reality, multiple channels (PPC, organic, social, email, affiliates, etc.) can play an important role in the path to conversion. Advertising Continue reading below The same is true with ranking. Many factors . So here's my answer: direct, indirect, who cares? CTR may not be a direct basic ranking signal, but if it impacts rank (and I think it does), then it matters. Also, while it doesn't impact rank, you should still care about it! But don't take my word for it that Google has the technology. Check out these slides from Google engineer Paul Haahr, who spoke to SMX. Also, AJ Kohn wrote a good article on Google's click-through rate as a ranking signal last year. He included some revealing quotes which I will share here because they are important.
The first from Edmond Lau, a former fax list Google engineer: It's pretty clear that any reasonable search engine would use click data on its own results and feed it back into the rankings to improve the quality of search results. Rarely clicked results should drop to the bottom because they are less relevant, and frequently clicked results rise to the top. Building a feedback loop is a fairly obvious quality step forward for search and recommendation systems, and a smart search engine would integrate the data. The second from Marissa Mayer in 2007 explaining how Google used CTR to determine when to display a OneBox: We hold them to a very high click-through rate expectation and if they don't meet that click-through rate, OneBox is disabled on that particular request. We have an automated system that looks at click-through rates per OneBox presentation per query.
So it could be that news works great on Bush today, but it doesn't work very well on another term, eventually it's turned off due to lack of click-through rates. We allow it in a scalable way and do a really good job of building relevance. Also check out this amazing excerpt from an FTC document obtained by the WSJ: Also, click data (the website links a user actually clicks on) is important for evaluating the quality of the search results page. As former Google search quality chief Udi Manber said: Ranking itself is affected by click data. If we find out that for a particular query, hypothetically, 80% of people click on result 2 and only 10% click on result 1, after a while we understand that result 2 is probably the one that people want.