Flying Blind – SEO in a World of Personalized Results (part 1)

I started my career a world in which the world personalization meant imprinting someone’s name or initials on a anything from a pencil to a gold trimmed ornament and had nothing to do with SEO.   Catalogs and call centers were the only sales channels available to our customers because the internet was just starting to go mainstream.

Two out of the three companies I worked for sold a line of personalized products through their catalogs as well as on-line. Personalization meant one thing within the organization.  Then along came the web and toward the mid to late 90’s another form of “personalization” emerged.  Companies like Net Perceptions introduced the concept of delivering a customized online experience based on individual customer behavior.  Then we began “personalizing” emails with first names and welcoming people to websites with a “Welcome Back Beth” messages to provide a more personalized experience.

It didn’t take long before conversations about personalization had to be prefaced with which type of personalization was being discussed.  This is a great example of how one term can be used to describe multiple concepts and it’s definition is different depending on the context of the conversation.

This type of scenario is exactly why Google began to “personalize” search results back in 2009.  In a nutshell, Google tracks the activity of every person (computer) that performs searches.  Not only do they track the search terms and keyword phrases, they track which links a clicked on and the activity that follows the click.  Everything from how long a visitor spends on the page to whether or not someone shares a page.

Personalization Search Factors:

  • Location – the physical address of the computer
  • Search History – Google keeps a record of what a particular browser has searched for – the last 180 searches are taken into consideration
  • Social Sharing – if you share it, you must like it and Google will give you more results like that
  • Social Connections – content that has been shared by people you’re connected to on Google+
  • Previous Search – Google looks at what you just searched on and combines it with your new search to see if it makes sense to include both terms in the results
  • Mass Personalization – in addition to your individual behavior, Google takes overall search behavior into consideration

"cheerful confident young business woman - Search results are all about me"Someone searching for how to personalize a pencil is looking for something completely different than a person who is looking for information on how to personalize a website experience and it’s the search engine’s job to figure that out based on individual behavior and return the best results possible.

What does this mean for your website?

Back in the beginning, you could search on the keyword phrase and immediately know who was at the top.  The search results were primarily limited to the almighty keyword and didn’t take into consideration the additional relevance factors that have come into play over the bast few years.  It was easy to see who the competition was and the number one position on the search engine results (SERP) page was number one.

That is no longer the case.  After normal ranking takes place, personalization is added on top.  This means there are countless possible combinations and there is not a reliable way to determine where you are ranked.  In essence, every one of us could say that Google’s search results are “all about me.”

Can SEO be done in a world of personalized results?

We’ll explore that topic in the next post – be sure to come back and learn about some valuable tips to help you succeed.