Search Pogosticking and SEO

// // November 14th 2008 // SEO + Technology

Search pogosticking is defined as going back and forth from a search engine results page (SERP) to individual search result destination sites. The behavior may indicate poor search results since the user hasn't been satisfied by one or more of the SERP results.

Google and Yahoo are clearly using, or thinking about using, this metric as part of their search algorithm. It makes a lot of sense and could provide an important user-defined input for the algorithm as well as guard against potential over-optimization. As an aside, access to this human feedback mechanism may be one of the reasons why Google hasn't been eager to pay a premium for Digg.

How would search pogosticking influence SEO?

A user is presented with search results based on a specific query. The engine captures what result you click on and whether you return to that SERP and click on subsequent results and/or refine your query. (They could even conceivably determine the time between each click as a proxy for satisfaction with that result. This would reduce the chances of penalizing results that did deliver value.) The information can be aggregated for each query and compared to average pogosticking behavior by SERP rank.

So, let's say that for a specific query the engine sees that the current SERP has an abnormally high pogostick rate for the top ranked result. This information could then be fed back into the algorithm as a negative signal, thereby reducing its SERP rank in a future algorithm update. Obviously, it would have to be statistically above the average pogostick rate for that position to be flagged. However, I'm certain both Google and Yahoo have smart folks who can calculate when it reaches significance.

Does search pogosticking sound far fetched?

It shouldn't. Do a Google search and look at the page source. You'll see something like the following next to each search result.

onmousedown="return rwt(this,'','','res','1'

The 'res' likely stands for result and the next parameter is the actual rank for that result on that page. More information on this rewrite and tracking behavior can be found at searchlores and blogmal.

Even without this technical knowledge it should be obvious they're doing something like this if they're providing users with customized search results. I'm not sure the ability to provide custom or personalized results is the true aim, but makes the collection of this information more palatable for many users.

SEO by the Sea recently posted about this topic including a relevant pogosticking patent application by Yahoo. I recommend you read his post as well.

How can I track pogosticking?

You can't know for sure whether a user is pogosticking. Bounce rate can sometimes be a good indication, but there are instances where query intent is satisfied and a high bounce rate is the expected result. Many Q&A sites meet this criteria.

The best course of action is to review pages with high bounce rates and make certain you're matching query intent and delivering value to those users. Post-click SEO is going to become a larger part of the equation, bluring the line between SEO and traditional design and UI.

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