Flying Blind – SEO in a World of Personalized Results (part 2)

There is no such thing as “normal” search results and there hasn’t been for a long time.  The fact that it’s impossible to predict searcher behavior (unless perhaps you’re Google) coupled with the lack of true visibility into your position on a search results page has made SEO (search engine optimization) more challenging than ever before.

If you turn personalization off, you can get a pretty good idea of who the top players are for a given keyword phrase.  The thing to keep in mind is that Google constantly shuffles the results and who shows up is based on individual behaviors. It’s hard to say if the first two pages of results come from the top 100 or the top 1,000 most relevant results, but the goal is to get in the dance and to be one of the sites that’s part of the shuffle.

In some ways the personalization of search results has made SEO even more fun.  Yes I said that; it’s more fun.  Taking traditional keyword research and applying it to behavior and user intent to infuse interest into content fascinates me.  It’s always been the case that people search with intent, or in other words, they have a purpose in mind when they site down at their computer or fire up search on a mobile device.

They have a problem to solve and they are looking for answers.  We don’t always think of things like someone searching for a new pair of slippers as a person who is trying to solve a problem, but if you think about it, that’s what it boils down to.  Maybe their old slippers are worn out and need to be replaced or they are looking for a gift. It could even be that they are the person in charge of costumes for the local theater and slippers are needed as part of a character’s wardrobe.

A single search term like slippers on it’s own doesn’t tell the search engine much about what problem someone is trying to solve.  And the searchers trying to find slippers for three different reasons may even end up on the same website.  By tracking the words that I use in my search phrases and combining them with the websites I show an interest in, the search engine learns what concepts go together in my mind which may be completely different from someone else searching on the same term.

If I search on “slippers” I get a pretty generic set of results which includes mostly shopping sites.  Based on mass behavior, Google knows that it’s likely that my intent is to make a purchase.

"google search result slippers"

It starts getting interesting after incorporating words like costume and men along with the slippers and while those words might not make sense to anyone else. Google picks up the pattern and uses it to personalize the results and all of the sudden there are links to retail websites that sell men’s slippers as well as websites that sell costumes.  If I had continued to search and surf, the results would have gotten more and more personalized.

"Google search result slippers and costumes"

Now lets talk about how you can optimize your website in the ever changing world of personalized search results.  It’s all about content.

You start with the basics of keyword research and then take it the next step and use tools like Wordtracker, Google Trends, or the AdWords keyword research tool to build a list of search phrases that are related to your primary keyphrase(s).  Build a list and use the list to think about creative ways to incorporate it into your content.

Think about the phases of a purchase cycle:

  • Problem identification
  • Information research
  • Comparing alternatives
  • Purchase
  • Post Purchase

People need information around each one of these phases. If you sell a product or service that can solve multiple problems, e.g. something that can be a self purchase, a gift, or a prop for a play you have a goldmine for creating relevant content that will help your site get into dance or into the shuffle.

You can create content around each stage of the purchase cycle and the various ways a person might use the products or services your selling.  Not only will you be found by the search engines, your customers will love you!