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SEO & Personalization: An Evolving Relationship

Josh McCoy
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robot-and-handPersonalization is here! Wait, it was kind of already here, so now is it “totally” here?

It’s often hard to dissect how far we are into personalization already as we work past the ramblings of many who are angry that Google and Bing might actually know something about them. We also have to look back at where we’ve been as well, and as SEOs, formulate where we need to go in the future.

Personalization is the logical next step in the progression of the top search engines. In Google alone, we have seen the entry of local results, the birth of universal search, the Caffeine update, Google Instant, and Search Plus Your World. This shows that our content marketing efforts need to be fresh, fast, and – most importantly – relevant.

Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt reinforced the fact that changes to search are on the horizon.

”Google search will continue to become more personalized, getting away from the ‘10 link’ approach that we see in search results today," Schmidt said at the Mobile World Congress.

So, why is everyone so mad? In the previous context, Google wants to give us the most relevant results possible even if it is a little creepy. I’m willing to accept the creepiness of artificial intelligence knowing everything about me in order to make my life easier via extremely relevant search results.

When GPS systems became a featured component in newer cars did we freak out that a computer knew where we were? Did we pull over and look for our horse and buggy? No, we appreciated the convenience and it probably saved a few headaches getting to our destination. This is simply the same thing that search engine personalization is evolving into.

How Does Personalization Affect SEO?

First off, Google and Bing are becoming smarter at corralling SEOs into today’s search model. The days of building out pages with content just to target a certain term, building some links, and walking away are over.

Optimized sites/content are now becoming a vehicle for forward facing web marketing. Content must have likability. It must be shared and be of the quality that will be passed among the masses socially. In the future, the algorithm won't accept that you feature some keyword terms on a page and some randomly associated links.

Gone are the days of waiting for traffic to arrive at your site. Instead of building a website, now you’re building a brand. A brand that delivers content through news outlets, a brand that is engaged in social media, a brand that pushes content through email and through other avenues just to name a few.

The creation of quality content, as well as the strategic delivery of content, helps to propel it to more people and help it gain interest. With this, one will be presented with results that feature their friends’ desired content and content similar to what they have searched before. If you have viewed content in YouTube, Google will remember this as with the content of your Gmail, and so on.

Now, some SEOs may begin to think that “standard SEO” is dead. It’s not.

As we move forward, we still have to concentrate on indexing, “crawlability,” and information organization. We’re only being asked to think outside the box and to create content of quality that generate attention. We will need to think more about the returning visitor and being in one’s Google Web History, than so intently focused on the new visitor.

Be Relevant

Your content needs to be more than spammy attempts to rank a page for targeted terms. Think outside of keyword terms you would monitor on a ranking report as rankings will fluctuate now even more from user to user.

Be the “owner” of a keyword theme. Build your brand around that theme and picture your internal pages as support for that overall theme.

Content is still king and being known for quality content will warrant a returning visit or shared content. With progression toward Google’s Knowledge Graph, we have to also remember that search engines want to shy away from the older model of matching keyword queries to text and gain a better understanding of the meaning and relationship of text on a page.

This “entity” matching model shows that we need to think of a piece of content as a whole rather than the instances of a keyword phrase. Nearly two years ago Google bought Freebase, a community-built knowledge base featuring 12 million relational entities.

Amit Singhal, Google Fellow, revealed in a recent Mashable interview that Google aimed to “build a huge knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes.” Currently, thanks to Google technology, the amount of canonical entities is now over 200 million. This goes to show that Google is now not relying on content to match a query but using its own artificial intelligence to gain a contextual understanding of what your content is about.

So, old outdated content is out and I would shy away from the sexy Flash graphic with a few sentences underneath it. That isn’t something to be deemed as sharable and you also didn’t help the crawling bot to understand the theme of your page.

Be Fresh

Google wants to deliver fresh content and personalize it to a user. Do you feed news to Google? Are you continuously feeding your standard/image/video XML sitemaps to Google to show updates?

As Ben Gomes of Google recently stated in a ReadWriteWeb interview, “We're really quickly crawling the content that's changing fast. The content that doesn't change as fast, we don't crawl as often. And then, we've gotten really good at bringing that data from the Web to the user in a very short period of time.”

This falls back to standard SEO arena of indexing and crawling frequency. We have to set forth in promoting our content to users to become a preferred personalized listing but also remember we have to promote content to the search engines too.

Be Social

This point hints on the two above. Build a brand, generate a following, and do this with fresh and relevant content. Your users will like it and so will their friends.

Informative content will be passed by humans and shown by search engines. Have you employed Like/Share functionality across your site? Managing a site with no social sharing ability is like going to a networking function and sitting in the corner with a veil over your face. You can watch everyone talking and sharing but at the end of the day you were left to hold your content all to yourself.

The evolution of personalization will have a strong emphasis on social interests of groups as this will show potentially preferred interest in certain content.

SEOs are being asked to continue to do what we should have been doing over the last few years, move off-site. The days of “here is my site, come visit” are over.

You should be available in mobile, local, and now more than ever in social. Today’s search engines are matching intent with interests. You must be found at the point of adding context to content.


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