With such a large search engine market share and the associated brand awareness that Google possesses, it is a safe observation to state that Google is a bit of a trendsetter. In fact, saying that would be quite an understatement, as they now have a “search market share” of 66-67 %. So suffice to say, when Google introduces something new, that the ripples can be felt all over the digital world. That being said, I’m certain that Google’s personalized search is no new development for anyone reading this—it’s been around for some time. But there are some interesting new changes and startling predictions that have come about recently as a result of personalized search that warrant discussion. So, in the following paragraphs, a few issues will be discussed and explained, namely: a brief recap of what personalized search actually is, some discussion as to the impact that personalized search has had on other internet services, and finally some strategy tips learned from other types of media in regards to how to deal with Google personalized search.
In a nutshell, personalized search is Google’s attempt to customize the search engine experience to the user so as to give the most relevant results back to the searcher. It does this in two ways, differentiated by whether or not the user has signed up for a Google account. The first way, after signing up for a Google account and logging in, is allowing the user to allow Google to keep track of what sites the user visits and also what search queries the user enters. Based on these preferences, Google then tailors results on SERPs based upon the user’s history in relation to their search query. Google allows the user to edit their history via access to their Google account, and also allows them to opt out of having their SERPs personalized (meaning an end to Google’s tracking). The other way that Google personalizes SERPs pertains to people who haven’t signed up for a Google account. In this case, Google takes into account the web history of the last 180 days through using a cookie, and displays customized results to that local computer’s history. So, Google is not exactly giving personal results tailored to the individual user, but to anyone who has used that computer in the past 180 days. Despite this, users and non-users alike can decide to opt out of Google accessing their previous history.
As previously mentioned, Google is “kind of a big deal,” so when they come out with something new, the ripples can be felt all over the digital world. So, as personalization has now come to the forefront of what is deemed “relevant” for a user’s experience, other sites have followed suit, particularly news media sites. This is all well and good, but if you heavily account for a user’s preferences and most visited sites in deciding what to show in SERPs, how do they expand their tastes and find new sites that may still interest them? How do users get diverse search results that may help them better understand what they were looking for in their search query? And important for those of us in the SEO business, how do we reach people using Google if our client/company doesn’t fall within one of the user’s preferential “interests” as defined by Google? It seems as though, on first inspection, that this may hurt SEO efforts and limit serendipitous results in regards to search queries. So how to combat this? One answer, shown through another media outlet that is suffering from personalized search results, is social media.
Online news sites have found that around 75 % of people get news from someone else via e-mail or social media, and over half of them (52 %) forward it on to their contacts. In addition, a survey conducted by NPR found that 74.6 % of their Facebook fans stated that Facebook was a “major way in which they receive news and information.” In addition, this same survey (included on the link above), 72.3 % of those surveyed expect their friends to send them links to interesting news stories. So what does this mean? News media consumption is often based on a user’s preferences, and in some cases certain online news sources have begun collecting user preferences in order to show more “relevant” stories to their users, much like Google personalized search. And in order to get more news out to people outside of their usual readership, many of these news sites have begun expanding into Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. How better to expand a following and gain more readers than to give your audience a great bit of news through such an easily transmitted channel such as Facebook, and then watch as your news spreads to users who had never even considered your site as a source. The analogy between those of us in SEO trying to up our traffic while dealing with Google personalized search, and the various news media outlets competing with a user’s preferences is fairly clear, and the answer easy to understand and implement—use social media. Get your client/company’s name out there on the social channels by giving something to be spread by your followers. What you decide to use (a blog post, an ad, a new video, really anything that is good “bait” much in the same way as most types of link bait) is up to you and your client/company, but the end result should help you get over any lack of traffic you may perceive as a result of Google personalized search.
So, even though personalized search may affect or change certain SEO tactics, there are still many that will go unaffected, like utilizing social media. And, if you are ever looking for new strategies, social media is always a good avenue to test. As seen in another industry that is often affected by user preferences (be it directly through preference-based reporting or just by any user’s inherent preference), it can be a powerful tool when utilized correctly to help overcome user preferences and add a certain amount of “serendipity” back into the process of search.
Bryan is an Assistant Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.