Google Personalized Search: Part 1: Personalized Search Will Affect Your Business

by Jennifer Grappone on December 11, 2009

As of December 4, 2009, Google’s search results will never be the same. Seriously, they’ll never be the same, even from one computer to another.

Google’s expanded personalized search is a game-changer in search engine design. It’s a big deal but it has gone largely under the radar. All Google searchers will now get customized results that are influenced by past searching and clicking behavior, bookmarks, and other factors. Any time a user clicks through from Google to a website, it gives that site a boost in that user’s future search results. Organic search results – previously considered an “objective” third-party viewpoint – now differ based on who is doing the searching.

Personalized search is activated for all Google searchers whether they are logged into a Google account or not, unless they opt out. We don’t expect many people to opt out.

Why isn’t this making more headlines? For one, we’ve all grown comfortable with seeing localized results (“bakeries near San Francisco, California”). Plus we’re all starting to get used to more and more personalization in advertising, particularly on Facebook screens (“37 year old woman in San Francisco California? Click here”). Enhanced personalization of search results is a natural evolution.

Personalized search will affect your business

The full ramifications of this change are still unknown, but here are our preliminary thoughts on what personalized search means to website owners:

  • When you check Google, don’t assume that the ranks you see for your site are the same as what your customers are seeing. To turn off personalized search, opt out, or add the tag &pws=0 to the end of the Google page URL.

For example, if you search for “early reader comic books” in Google you may get a URL like this:
http://www.google.com/search?q=early+reader+comic+books

But you’ll get unpersonalized results with this URL:
http://www.google.com/search?q=early+reader+comic+books&pws=0

  • Personalized search will increase the importance of search queries that occur early in the buying cycle. If people click on your site during the browsing, comparing, and information-gathering phase, you’re likely to get increased Google exposure later, when they’re ready to buy. Does your site offer a good destination for keywords containing “compare” and “review?” Do you know what people search for in the early stages of buying your product?
  • The advent of more personalized search places a higher value on clickthrough rate (how many times a person clicks from Google search results to your site). Your clickthrough rate can be improved with compelling, well-written titles, URLs, and meta descriptions.
  • Personalized search may increase the percentage of site visitors who are repeat visits. Does your website offer something useful for the second and third visit and beyond?
  • Do you have a website with an easy-to-remember or easy-to-guess domain? Lots of people are probably typing your URL directly into the browser instead of finding you in Google.  This is very good for your site traffic in general, but now there is a down side to having an easy-to-remember domain name: if users are less likely to use Google as a navigation tool for your site, you  might be at a disadvantage in personalized search.
  • It isn’t clear what percentage of Google search results are personalized. If personalization is very heavy, it may be more difficult for newly established websites to use SEO to gain market share from already-established business.

Can personalized search results be influenced? Certainly. Your website’s ranks in personalized search results will be improved by any method that encourages people to navigate to your site using a Google search.

In our next post, we’ll discuss ways to influence personalized results.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John Davison June 29, 2010 at 7:21 am

This was a good read. It seems that personalized search could really change the way we do SEO. Just when I thought I was getting the hang of things, too.

graham coupland December 16, 2011 at 10:15 am

Thank you for the information. Until yesterday I had 5 keywords that I had managed to get to page 1 of google, today I do not appear to be ranking anywhere at all. I am hoping that the problem rectifies itself as I have not done any work on the site for several days so find it difficult to believe that I have done anything to anger the google gods.

Trent February 19, 2012 at 12:28 am

I am trying to figure out what happened to my site… we were ranking in the top 2 pages for over a year for Vancouver Recruitment Agencies and now were on page 10…. it’s really disappointing as the truth is that our traffic is way up from last year as we have grown our team and have more activity directing people to the site. It’s very odd. If anything, we should be experiencing higher traffic and thus higher rankings…. not so … sigh

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