There's an interesting article on SEOMOZ about how usage data is effecting your results in the Google Search Engine Results Pages. Have you read it? If not, click here.
However, there is a FAR more important issue to consider here. The issue is not whether or not Google is using usage statistics to alter their search engine results pages-- the issue is whether or not YOU are using your usage stats to alter your site design, navigation, tags, and optimization.
Many of us are using stats reporting-- but how many of us are designing our sites around the data we are receiving?
A step by step approach, for those not currently utilizing usage data:
1) If you are not already doing so, sign up for a site statistics program through your hosting company. Many are free. Call your host and find out what they offer, or call your web designer and have him/her do it.
2) Sign up for a Google API. It's free and easy.
3) Sign up for Google's site statistics program.
4) Add the required tags to EVERY page on your site, including windows for your photo galleries.
5) Sign up for automatic reporting on a weekly basis, from both Google site stats and your hosting company's statistic programs. You'll get slightly different results and two different ways to interpret the data. Read it every Monday morning and plan your week around improving your results.
6) Read your site stats with a pen and highlighter in hand. Jot down questions and goals. Be specific.
7) Watch specific variables:
a) where your traffic comes from in terms of referrals
b) what keywords your customers are using (and then find out where you rank for these and other top keywords)
c) what is the BOUNCE rate for your top keywords and referrals
8) Then, come up with a plan on how to:
a) get similar referrals from other companies (with good anchor text)
b) increase your ranking in the SERPs for those keywords-- and similar phrases that are more popular
c) redesign your site with bounce rates in mind. Give your customers the kind of page they would like, based on what they are expecting when they type in the keyword or click through from the referrer.
Our company specializes in a slightly different business from most Active Rain members. Rather than selling homes, we offer gainesville apartments for rent. Our keywords are target market may be slightly different, but our action plan for search marketing is much the same: attract web traffic-- and keep it.