claaarky - 11:14 am on Jan 16, 2013 (gmt 0)
The important point really is whether or not user engagement metrics are being used directly or indirectly in ranking calculations. I say 100% "yes" because it explains how Google are able to achieve what they are doing and what they want to do in the future.
I personally don't care where that data comes from but many people don't even believe Google is utilising data about how real people actually use websites and the first question they ask to undermine that idea is "where do they get the data from then?".
Chrome is the obvious answer because it's so easy to collect the data that way, and was specifically created for the purpose so it's always a strong candidate in discussions. Google have said they don't use Chrome data in the algo but the question in mind is does THEIR definition of the algo include Panda. If not, then they may have chosen their words carefully and could actually be using Chrome data to calculate quality scores which are then fed into the main algo at Panda refresh time. Unless someone specifically asks Google whether Chrome data is used by Panda, that point will never be cleared up for me.
There's also the fact that Bing have openly admitted in the past to using user metrics obtained from Internet Explorer in their algo (when on the same stage as Google who kept tight lipped on the subject). Many believe Bing's results are superior to Google's and IE is still the dominant browser (more data makes for more accurate/meaningful data). There's quite a bit of smoke around the idea of using browser data.
When it comes to privacy, is using anonymous browser data a breach of privacy? I mean, Google Analytics collects website usage data and Real Time shows you where individual users are in the world, how they came to your site and what page they are currently on. It doesn't tell you WHO they are though, so using browser data could be fine as long as it's not personally identifiable.
Cookies can be blocked, so that's not reliable.
Trying to 'guess' the quality of a site and how engaging people will find it based on a robot crawling the site looking for various predetermined signs is a laughable idea in my view. That is an unfathomable task and would be so influenced by Google's own judgement of quality that I don't see that as an option that can even seriously be considered.
Collecting data on the real behaviour of real humans is the only way I can see Google could so accurately nail quality or hope to produce more accurate/relevant results. You can't fool all the people all the time, that's why employing user metrics is such an effective way of weeding out the rubbish.
The only reason for wanting to know where that data comes from is to prove to those who still have their heads in the sand that, since Panda arrived, the way people react to your site has THE biggest influence on rankings now.