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The search engines are working hard to create a personalised experience. They’ve moved way beyond the simple question and answer format that helped popularise sites like Altavista and Yahoo in the ’90s to become a go-to source for information of all kinds.
Google are leading the charge when it comes to personalised search. Using vast stores of data on the search habits of individual users, they have been able to identify frequently visited sites and ensure that they are prominent within related search queries in future. In turn this means that organic results, i.e. those that are deemed (generically at least) ‘most relevant’ by Google, are shuffled down the page.
Invariably this has caused a fair amount of consternation in the SEO world. Whilst it’s by no means a new thing, personalised search has been around for a good couple of years, there is a certain inevitability about it taking over and changing a much larger percentage of searches. Localised search, mobile devices and social signals have all had a similar impact, compounding the pain felt by those attempting to gain organic rankings.
One of the few things that you can guarantee with Google is that they will never keep things the same for long. Whether it’s an algorithm update, SERPs shuffle or a toolbar tweak, the search engine is a constantly evolving beast – again, not great news for SEOs.
However, rather than seeing personalised search as a damaging factor, website owners and optimisers should be looking at the opportunities it presents. For instance, if you’re a company that actually offers ‘unparalleled customer service’, as many claim, it should benefit you. After all, you can use your organic rankings to get noticed and then once a customer falls in love with your site and everything it offers, they will return and their results will change to benefit you.
There is a flipside of course. If nobody can ever find you, either because they already regularly use a competitor of yours or you simply don’t appear in the organic rankings (although this would be an issue in itself), then you could be lost in an online wilderness.
If anything though, personalised search should be seen as a great way of securing repeat custom. If you have invested time in creating a user-friendly website, offer competitive pricing and excellent service, plus you have taken the time to market your business effectively, then you shouldn’t have any issues. For those businesses that don’t meet these very basic principles, it’s only likely to speed up their failure.
So personalised search might be an irritation for some, but it is something that everybody will have to work with more and more. With the focus being placed squarely on quality and your ability to deliver great service, this is no bad thing. Good companies could suffer, but the same is true in any form of online marketing. You have to get yourself noticed and make sure that you have a product that people truly want or relate to, not one or the other.
Personalised search is bad news for spammy SEOs and those who invest more in paid links than their site itself. However, for all others the risks and rewards should be equally balanced.