On December 4, 2009 Google announced that they were rolling out personalized search to all users and not just signed-in users. That means that everyone who conducts a search will get personalized results every time. How will this affect search engine optimization and the work you have done building your positioning and search engine authority?
Here’s a great video from Google about Personalized Search:
Let’s break it down. If a user conducts a search for “local pool halls” and visits the the top listings in the SERP and the bottom three listings on page 1 of the SERP then those top four websites will be added to that user’s personalized search data. The next time that user conducts a search for “local pool halls”, those four sites will likely rank higher than they would in a normal organic search (naturally, the top site won’t go any higher, but what about those other three?).
Suppose that user decided that it liked one of those four sites better than the others and it just happens that it was in the No. 10 position of the SERP. The user bookmarks the site. Instead of searching for local pool halls, now that user simply visits the site directly from his browser every time he wants to see the site.
Let’s say that two months pass and the user has visited his favorite local pool hall site twelve times. He decides to search for another local pool hall because he wants to see if there are any others that might rival his favorite. He searches and that favorite site now is in the No. 1 position while the previous No. 1 has fallen to No. 2. Everyone else falls in line behind them. What happened?
Here’s what happened: That searcher told Google that his favorite local pool hall was X and even though X doesn’t do any on site optimization on their website that searcher finds it at the top of the SERP. Meanwhile, another searcher on the other side of town sees Y at the top of the SERP and someone else sees Z.
So how does search engine optimization change? The big change I see here is in branding and visitor generation. The key is to make sure you get visitors to your website by any means possible. Barring blackhat practices, if you generate traffic using Google-approved methods of traffic generation then your sites stand a much better chance of rising to the top of the search results for personalized searches. It’s possible that a first-time searcher could find your site at No. 1 just because she has visited it a number of times through other channels – even if your site would lose in the organic search game.
I hope this isn’t confusing. I wouldn’t change my SEO strategy too much. Your on site optimization efforts should remain on track as they have in the past. But you might want to expand the methods you use to drive traffic to your site. You want to build a strong brand and give your visitors a good experience. If they like what they see on your website, they’ll be back and that will improve your search game and your online business efforts.