Back in 2007, Google announced that they were introducing personalized search results to anyone signed into their Google Account. So for Gmail, Ads, Analytics, Adsense users and for ALL of the other Google products… as long as you remained signed in to your account, your Google search results conformed to your past search history.
At the time, I remember wondering (worrying) what chaos this would bring to the SEO world if that personalization were at everyone’s fingertips… if any given search phrase resulted in a slightly different position based on individuals’ search history. I pictured clients calling me up complaining that they did a search at home and were #2 and now that they’re at work they’ve suddenly dropped to #8… Oh, and by the way, they called to verify with a buddy and he couldn’t find them at all. Well, Google was pretty serious about these personalized results. I didn’t realize how serious until they extended Personalized Search to everyone!
“Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. It’s completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users). You’ll know when we customize results because a ‘View customizations’ link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we’ve customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization.”
The idea behind this change is to better the search results for the user, regardless of how it complicates the life of an SEO. I wonder if it will be well received or not. Actually, I wonder if it will even be noticed. It’s one of those silent types… like carbon monoxide. The typical searcher is NOT going to know enough (or care enough) to disable this type of recorded query from a discrete link in the upper right hand corner of their screen. They’ll leave it to the default setting and go about searching as they’ve always done. Nothing will change in how people go about searching, most of us will be oblivious that Google is slowly reshaping our results. However, those who aren’t oblivious, will likely be those who are calling their SEO consultants to “voice concern”.
So how does this change our SEO strategy? I think more than at any other time, “Content is King” now reigns supreme. The users will be that last layer of the Google algorithm and that means the quality of the content has got to be at the top of its game, surpassing the competition. Titles and description tags will need to be even more thought out to capture the clicks… Remember, a deep search of you on one day might return your site to Page 1 on a repeat query if you can engage your searcher with a 1-1 match of their intentions. Look to your website stats and traffic to guide your strategies. Also, I think brand building (on some level) will be even more crucial to this type of personalized search over time. If you think about what type of content will get pushed up first – it will likely be those recognizable brands and sites that are getting more clicks and working their way up in our results. Does this mean SEO is obsolete? Absolutely not! If anything, now more than ever you need to have a good SEO company (or in-house consultant) to help you make your next moves.
Is Bruce Clay an Internet Oracle? He spoke of big changes coming in search earlier this year. Perhaps he sums it up best…
“Ranking is dead,” says Bruce, recalling his words from his presentation. Going forward, he says you’re going to have to look at analytics, measure traffic, bounce rates, action, etc. SEOs will have to ask themselves questions like: – Did I get the conversion I was after? – Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO? Bruce thinks that in the first six months of 2009, we’re going to see a lot more implementation of behavior and intent-based search leading to a mindset of ranking is dead, and traffic is all that matters.