Personalized Search Results and the Future of SEO

- August 7, 2008

In an ideal world, personalized search would be the rule and the only button that anybody would need on Google’s home page would be this one:


Any time you entered a search term (if that was even necessary in the ideal world); Google would magically read your mind and produce the exact result you want. Sadly, this world is far in the future and even if it were possible now, how often do we ourselves really know what we want? Personalized search results may be the answer to a better search experience.  

Search engine efforts to personalize search have been fraught with difficulties. Of course, as just noted, it’s very difficult to guess what someone wants. To try to improve their guesses, Google has been collecting information about users’ search histories and when they input a search query, they rank those queries based on the past behavior of the searcher. They do this by tracking your Web History when you sign in for their services. However, it’s fairly easy to disable this — just sign out – and this has always frustrated Google’s efforts to consistently collect this valuable information. A fairly reliable and robust set of data from a variety of searches would be necessary to make really informed guesses about what a user wants. Furthermore, Google (along with other search engines) has been under fire from Privacy advocates for using this data to tailor their advertising to user preferences.

Now, Google and the other search engines appear to be taking a new tack in their efforts to further personalize search and encourage us to let them keep our data. Recently, Google has been adding a link in the top right corner of a personalized search result:


By adding a warning to the personalized search results, Google lets users know that their results are filtered and gives them the opportunity to see the results without personalization by clicking on the More details link.

Google’s announcement also made it clear that they do not restrict search personalization to users that have volunteered their information by signing in for the service. They are using cookies to track a user’s behavior in addition to the IP address of the user. While this may be good news for users, it does make things a little tougher for search engine optimization because search engine rankings are obviously much more relative than we thought. Ranking number one without personalization does not necessarily mean ranking number one with it. What does this mean for search engine optimization? While we cannot control what results will appear in any one personalized result, we do have some measure of control over whether or not a user will click on the result if offered it. By creating good title tags that closely match the intended search query and entice the user to click through to the page with matching description tag text that further convinces them that your page is what they are looking for, you can increase the chances that your pages appear in any one user’s web history and therefore increase the chances that your pages continue to appear in their search results.

By giving users the ability to peer inside the search engine and get a glimpse of where the result comes from, Google also opens up opportunities for website owners to further enhance the personalized search results for their more dedicated followers. If more searchers are willing to opt for personalization services, it will become more important to take advantage of opportunities like Subscribed Links or Yahoo’s Search Monkey to make your links even more attractive to those users. This week, Yahoo added the enhanced results for Yelp, LinkedIn and Yahoo local search to their default search results:


Ultimately, what will get visitors to your site is proper promotion whether through search engines or other methods, including increasingly popular social media sites like and making sure that you have good quality and relevant content for your visitors when they get there. Personalized search is here and the only thing to do is get ready.

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