Personalised Search: Good or bad for SEOs?

I was chatting to friend and colleague Matt Hodkinson from YourSeoConsultant this week. And we were talking about Google’s introduction last month of personalised search for ‘everyone’, and whether or not it would have a detrimental effect on search results.

Google personalised search works like this: if there’s a site you frequently visit, Google is more likely to show you this site at the top of the organic listings than some other site; even if another site has better content and better links. So for instance, if I’m looking for hard-to-find books, The Book Depository would rank higher on my search engine results page than Matt’s because I’ve visited their site frequently in the past.

Now, as a customer I’m thinking ‘great!’ Google’s giving me more relevant and accurate listings. Although it could be argued I want Google to find me sites I haven’t visited before – not show me ones I already know.

But from an SEO perspective haven’t things have just got a whole lot trickier? Not only does a site need to be fully optimised and have oodles of links coming in, it’s now competing with a potential customer’s previous shopping habits. And the Search Engine Result’s page will now look different for everyone; The Book Depository site will rank high on my results but not on Matt’s.

There’s been a bit of a hoo-hah about privacy issues as well. Google will now keep a record of a user’s browsing history for up to 180 days; unless of course you opt out. But, let’s be honest, most people won’t bother.

And it’s received a fairly lukewarm reception from SEO types, although Matt doesn’t feel there’s too much to be concerned about.

“Because it is personalised search, and the results will be relevant to the user, there’s much more chance that a user will click through.

The caveat I suppose is that a customer may visit a site a number of times and still not find what they want which is why they keep looking – and of course they’ll keep being shown the same site.”

Matt continues “Google’s not here to make life easy for SEOs. It’s here to give a user the best results and experience possible. And it’s up to good SEOs to make the best of the opportunities that present themselves.”

This will be an interesting one to watch.

  • Chris Tomlinson
    Posted at 13:33h, 28 January Reply

    Hi Sarah

    If you are logged into iGoogle (or gmail) you will always get personalised SERPs.

    The other day I had to be honest with a client and tell them that they were only coming at the top of Google because they visited their own site so often – and nothing I had done!

    Its always been a bit baffling to me, why, even when logged out of iGoogle, clients often get different SERP for same keywords as I do. (when apparently connecting to the same Google data centre).

    Maybe Matt knows than answer ?



    • Sarah Turner
      Posted at 16:05h, 28 January Reply

      Hey Chris
      Yes it’s changed. You now get personalised search whether you’re logged in OR out. I can’t help but feel this is going to be a total pain! You can turn it off of course. Google shows you how here.

  • Matt Hodkinson
    Posted at 14:15h, 29 January Reply

    You’re absolutely right; the whole debate around security of personal data has centered around Google’s tracking of search habits, regardless of your account status.

    Short of clearing out your cookie database between searches, there’s little to be done about it. As SEO’s we can but get clients above the fold, and leave the rest to fate! Joking aside, variations should be minimal in all but extreme cases.

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