On December 4, Google announced an expansion of their Personalized Search feature that alters and varies the results for each user performing a search in Google.
Google has been working on the concept of personalized search for the past year or more. With Personalized Search, each user searching in Google sees different search results based upon their past searching activities in Google. Google can learn and differentiate different types of searching activities to help focus a user’s search results. For example, if s user is searching for “fish” and typically clicks on tropical fish sites, Google will artificially change the search results for that user to display more web pages focused on tropical fish, versus pages focused on fishing reports, game fish, fish markets or seafood restaurants.
If you have a Google account and have had Web History enabled, Google has been recording your searching activities and has used the data to help provide more relevant search results. Yes, Big Brother has been watching. The latest Personalized Search announcement acknowledges that this feature has now been rolled out for Google users on a worldwide basis, whether or not they are logged into an account. The new expansion uses a cookie that identifies a user so that Google can maintain data on the user’s past 180 days of searching activities.
What does Personalized Search mean for SEO?
Obviously, if each user sees different results, it becomes much harder for a site to achieve and maintain a consistent top rank position in Google search results. For the past year, Google has been artificially inserting YouTube (owned by Google) videos, Twitter Tweets, local maps, and other types of URLs into the search results mix for the first page of results. This does tend to push natural search results further down and has been diluting the effectiveness of top ranking positions.
In some cases, Personalized Search Results will help boost a site’s rank positions. There is a natural benefit for the user who frequently searches for tropical fish and for site owners with web sites that focus on tropical fish. In other cases, and especially if a site’s targeted keyword phrases are generic and cross over to multiple industries and interpretations, it may stifle the results and reduce a site’s traffic.
The best methods to lessen the negative impact of Personalized Search are to focus on targeted keyword phrases that are unique to your industry and continue to build natural links to your site that use variations of these keyword phrases in the hyperlink text. The hyperlinks will reinforce the theme for the pages and give a site a better chance for higher rankings when someone searches for your targeted keyword phrase. This is also an opportunity to focus more on long tail keywords that do not individually drive lots of traffic, but cumulatively may do so.
Bottom line: Personalized Search is not necessarily bad news if your site is focused on non-generic targeted keyword phrases that are unique to your industry.