Personalised search results have been around for a while now, long enough for most people to have forgotten the fact that what they see displayed when they carry out a search on Google is very possibly different to that which other people will be seeing. Indeed the results any one person sees may be entirely unique to them. But whilst this all may be true, there are still a surprising number of online marketers who have failed to fully grasp the SEO implications of personalised search.
But by ignoring the clear implications of personalised SERP’s businesses could very well be missing out on a huge amount of traffic, and indeed many businesses have seen their traffic numbers decrease significantly over the past couple of years. In order to really understand what you should have done, and be continuing to do in order to optimise for personalised results it’s important first of all to fully understand what is meant by personalised results.
The first word many people think of is cookies, and of course these small text files are gathering an extraordinary amount of data about you without you even realising it, and this in turn does effect what you see when you search. But there are many more factors that this, and it’s important to be aware of this.
Many people assume that if you log out of Google completely then try browsing what you will see will be a standard set of results which are missing an personalisation. This is not true. Let’s think of the many factors which Google could use in order to determine what sort of results to display for your search.
- Geographic location. If you’re based in the UK then you’ll usually see more websites with domains ending in .co.uk. UK based businesses will often rank higher than those from elsewhere, whether you’re logged in to Google or not, and whether you’re using a brand new browser which has no hidden cookies.
- Your IP address. Again, regardless of whether you’re logged in or have cookies, your computer’s IP address will be linked to data which will identify certain things about you, including your localised position. If you’re in Birmingham then don’t be surprised to find Birmingham based businesses outranking those from Cleethorpes.
- Your browser & OS. The choices you have made about whether to go for a Windows based PC, or a Mac, as well as your choice of web browser may well be able to influence the results you see.
- The day or time. What you see in the morning may differ to results displayed at lunchtime or at night, not just because new content is available, but simply because at that time of day you may well be looking for different things. For example, on a summer’s evening a search for ‘Java’ may produce more sites offering information on holidays, on a Friday lunchtime you may find information about coffee doing better, and on a Monday morning you may see a bias towards results which relate to programming.
This is just a selection of a few indicators which are entirely independent from your Google account and from any cookies which may be stored. When you add in historical data, search frequency, how often you interact with adverts, and which ones you click, as well as bookmarking, search patterns, bounce rates and so on, it’s easy to see how very quickly your results could be very different from those seen by anyone else.
All of which poses something of a problem for SEO marketers. Because if you’re still focussed chiefly on getting your site to the top position, you’re missing the big picture. Because getting your site to the top of the results only means that it’s at the top of the results shown for people just like you.
So what’s the answer? How do you optimise your website for high ranking if rank no longer matters?
First of all, you need to understand the difference between rank and traffic, and then you can understand why rank does still matter, but just not in the same way as it used to.
Let’s look at the good news about personalised search: if you do your job correctly you could find your website much more visible to those who are actually looking for exactly what you’re offering. The more closely your target audience’s search needs match your marketing the higher your website will appear to those people. This means that the traffic you see should be of a higher quality than previously, since it’s much more targeted.
You see what this means? If your traffic is going to be more targeted, so does your marketing need to be. It’s no longer an effective strategy to simply fling the net far and wide in the hope of catching a few of the fish you’re after, not worrying about the hundreds or thousands you catch but just throw back. Your marketing has to be targeted, focussed and deliver your message to the very people you’re after. This means knowing who it is you’re trying to reach, and understanding what it is they need, and how they’re going to look for it.
Today it is essential to think much more about traffic, rather than about rank. If you focus on getting that targeted traffic, then your rank will rise, but not necessarily across the board. Your rank will rise, but only where it actually matters.
There’s more good news, because if you focus more on delivering exactly what your market wants, then you should find your bounce rate is significantly lower, which is another factor used by Google in determining your website’s authority and relevance.
So the message is clear: know your target market, understand what they need, know how they’re looking for you, and deliver a positive and engaging experience when they arrive. Don’t be as obsessed about your Google ranking position. You might be at the top, but if you’re only at the top of the results for people who aren’t especially interested in what you’re offering, you’re not only going to end up with a bounce rate higher than a Greek cheque book, you’ll be missing a large number of those people you ought to be reaching.
What strategies have you implemented to optimise your site for personalised search? Have you seen much difference in terms of the amount of traffic, and the quality of traffic you’re receiving? What’s your opinion about personalised search? Please leave a comment in the box below. And if you liked this post please share it using the buttons above.
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