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The Future of Google's Search Personalization

Mark Jackson
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Even with the economy in the state that it is, our industry is growing and moving forward. Part of that surge forward is in the way that we measure SEO success. Yes. I've written about this topic many times, but I promise this column will be different.

What struck me was something that Bruce Clay shared in a Pubcon 2008 session I moderated this past week. Clay was speaking to the future of SEO and said, "2009 will be the year of the end of the ranking report."

"Well, yeah," I thought. Doesn't everyone know that's already happening?

Well, after an entire week of bringing the subject up to several conference attendees, apparently this is still "news" to many. People aren't getting the message about Google's personalization of search results.

So, for those of you who may not have received this message before: search engine ranking is dead. In the very near future, you will no longer be able to reliably check your rankings in the Google search engine.

How to Measure Success

Track your traffic, conversions, and ROI. These are the important metrics for any form of marketing or business. That's the way it should be.

Like it or not, personalization of the Google search results is here. Many are seeing it right now for several search queries.

Google has just been awarded a patent for language personalization of search results. They are (or will be) changing the search results based on the language you use in your search query and based on the language of the Web pages that show up on the search results.

I recently searched for a keyword phrase to do some research on other SEO companies. After performing one search and then entering another search query, Google added a phrase onto the top right of the search results: "Customized based on recent search activity." If you see this phrase on a search results page, then your search results have been personalized just for you.

To get more information about it, click on "More Details." Let's take a look at what Google says:

"Search customization details: search engine marketing company

When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you're signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.

The following information was used to improve your search results for search engine marketing company:

Recent Searches

You or someone else recently searched for search engine marketing using this browser."

Google is personalizing the search results based on your recent search engine queries. They say specifically that based on your location and/or your recent search activity the search results have been altered.

This is happening even if you aren't logged into your Google account. If you are logged into your Google account, you'll likely see even more different search results.

We're going to see more customization and personalization because Google believes this will bring us more relevant, useful search results. As Google moves more toward personalization, it will be even closer to the end of the search engine rankings: no more top rankings or number one ranking for a certain keyword phrase.

What This Means for Company Web Sites

When someone visits a Web site, they will potentially be more "qualified," and the ratio between traffic and conversions might improve. Traffic may go down, but in the long run, the visitors that do visit our sites via a Google search will be more qualified because the search results were personalized to what that they were really looking for.

There are several things that we'll see in the future as a result of Google's personalization of search results:

  • Personalized search will change our perception of search engine "rankings."
  • Google will focus on a user's intent, showing us search results based on our search history and the query we use. There will be different search results based on whether we're doing research, looking to buy something, or looking for something locally in our area.
  • There will be a local impact on the search results. Search results will change depending on the content and keywords on our Web sites and the geolocation of the user. Search results will change based on your IP address.

What to Focus on Now

Concentrate on understanding your ideal Web site visitor. Understand what you want someone to do when they come to your site. Focus on content and keeping visitors on your site.

The best thing you can do now is to start focusing on a different measurement of success. Don't focus on search engine rankings. Focus on ROI, conversions, and overall traffic.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.


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