Personalised Search and It’s Impact on SEO

So Google recently announced that it has defaulted it’s search results to “personalised”.  What does this mean in terms of the future of SEO?  I’ll try to explain.

Google Personalised SearchBefore I do, let me explain how Google’s new personalised results work. 

Google personalised results have always been available however previously, these results could only be viewed when a user was logged into a Google account.   Google has now defaulted to an opt out  if you don’t want personalised personalised results, ie they will serve personalised results unless you opt out by clicking on “Web History” in the top right hand corner of the results pages and opting out.

How do personalised results work?  Basically, Google stores a cookie on your computer and tracks your search behaviour including which sites you visit for up to 180 days.  Now, when you search for a certain keyword, Google queries your past search history and comes back with sites that match your past searches.

Here’s Google’s official video announcement

For instance if you’re searching for “golf” in the past Google could either serve you a site related to Golf the car or Golf the sport.  Now, with personalised search, Google knows if you’re a sports fan or a car enthusiast and would serve you results based on your preference.

Now that you’re clearer on what personalised search is (I hope), how will these results affect SEO?

To put it mildly, the rules of the game have changed!  In the past, SEOs were able to follow basic SEO best practices such as code optimisation, keyword usage, site architecture and link building and have a very good chance of ranking for target terms.  This is still the case today however another factor has been pushed into the mix, personalisation.

This means that by following SEO best practices, you might rank for your target keywords but this is not guaranteed to be the case on every computer.  Some computers with Google web history enabled and a Google cookie residing in the hard drive might get results based on the user’s web history,  This web history as mentioned above is based on some of the sites they’ve visited before.

So while the rules of the SEO game have changed, SEOs can still achieve results by taking into account a user’s journey when purchasing a product or service (for instance) and ensure that a client’s site appears for searches at various parts of the journey.  

As an example, if a user is interested in purchasing a car and your client is Golf,  you will need to ensure that your client’s sites is visible not only for buying stages of the purchase cycle, but also during the research stage.  If Google registers that you’ve clicked on the Golf site early on in the process, then there is a good chance that the Golf site will outrank any other site in this niche.

I hope the above explains personalised search and what SEOs can do to ensure they do not lose out from this fundamental change in Google’s algorithm.

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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