BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

Google and Personalized Search. What does it mean?

October 20, 2010

Google announced on December 4 of 2009 that everyone who conducts a search with them will get personalized search results every time, and all Internet users will be able to take advantage of this little perk, not just users that are signed in.  For website owners who have worked to optimize their websites to build their positions and search engine authority, this could mean that there will be a new need for strong branding and different tactics engaged for driving traffic to the site. 

Basically, when an Internet user conducts a search for “Chinese restaurants” and visits the highest listings in the search engine results pages, they might see that the bottom few listings on page 1 and also visit those; the listings will then be added to the user’s personalized search data.  The next weekend when the user repeats their search for “Chinese restaurants” those listings will show up as ranking higher than they normally would in an organic search.

Not only that, but if the user found that he liked a particular one of those sites he visited better than the others, he may bookmark or “favorite” the site.  Instead of repeating his searches every weekend for Chinese restaurants, he would be more apt to just visit his favorite site directly from his browser instead of going through the search engine- it is faster and easier, right?

So now a few weeks have passed and he is getting tired of ordering fried rice from the same Chinese restaurant.  He goes back to the search engine to find a new place, and does this by searching for the Chinese restaurant again.  He sees that his bookmarked site is listed in the number one SERP spot and has displaced the others.  Now he is bummed because that must mean he’s already found the most popular Chinese restaurant site since it is at number one.  It wasn’t in the top spot a few weeks ago though, so what happened?

In a nutshell, what happened was that the user “told” Google that his favorite Chinese restaurant was Chinese Gardens, and even though Chinese Gardens does not do any SEO work on their site, its at the top of the user’s results.  Another user who searches for Chinese restaurants wouldn’t see Chinese Gardens until the 14th spot in the SERP, and another wouldn’t find it until the 5th spot.  Hence, the results are personalized, not so much optimized.

The main thing that would change as far as search engine optimization efforts are concerned for websites is that visitor generation needs to change and branding needs to change.  If traffic is generated (by employing no black hat techniques, of course) any way possible using Google-approved methods, your website stands a pretty good chance of rising to the top of those search results pages, even for personalized searches.  It is quite possible that someone who is searching for Chinese restaurants would find Chinese Gardens at the top spot just because he has visited it several other times through other channels.   
Changing your SEO strategy too much probably won’t yield a lot of dramatic results- your on-site optimization efforts should remain as they have been, but you may want to expand on those methods you have used to get that traffic to your site.  Building your brand and giving visitors to your site a good experience is what will truly bring them back repeatedly, improving your online business efforts as well as your search result rankings.