Musings on customised / personalised search engine results.
The idea of 1 set of keyword specific search results for all, has always been considered something of an old school way of search engines doing things, although in the light of anything better it was the best thing to be had, and arguably Google have given it the best stab possible.
As an improvement to that, personalized search results have always been something to strive for. A user types Jaguar, do they mean the animal or the car. They type 'Paris Hilton', did they mean...ok well you get the idea. A searchers searching habits should in theory at least , provide information which will help Google customize its results to deliver more relevance on a personal and query specific level.
These things, despite being good ideas, do take a long time to actually come through and work in practice though. I remember sitting in ad agency being told about the little red button on our TV remotes that would very soon revolutionise the way advertisers will interact with the TV audiences. That was back in 1998.
Increasingly though, we are seeing (in the US at least), Google subtly and occasionally customising search results for various searches based on "recent search activity", as you can see in the top right of this screen grab.
So what is the impact of results being customised for the user? Does it make checking your rank a fruitless task? How do you optimise ranking, when the results are re-ranked according to user behaviour.
Its a question well worth asking.
So firstly what do they mean, by customised based on recent activity? Well first you have to be logged in, and its that activity that will be used to re-colour the perception of the how sites are ranked, and they will only be adjusted if your are signed in as well. At least right now anyway.
Essentially Google is using previous search activity to make judgements on whether sites from those other searches will be more useful, and make various promotions, demotions, deletions and even new insertions as a result. Interestingly they are using location as another filter to potentially screen sites that may fall outside of your interest, if it becomes evident that some form of Geographical dependence exists around the search.
One of our guys has been researching the changes (Nice one Adam) and has looked at how this actually impacting results.
That said, whilst things can be subtle, its a very fine line between positions 9 and 10 on page, and relegation to the murky depths of page 2 no-man's land.
So what can we deduce from this as a potential impact on SEO? Well it certainly doesn't make SEO any easier, but then nothing ever really did. What it does underscore from our initial research, is that you certainly have to be in the game anyway, and that based on subtle movements higher positions are likely to help retain a first page advantage, and maintaining stability in those positions will require some very solid cementing via link building and content strategy.
Additionally, and this is still being tested, it appears that visibility and interaction across the tail of a term, might have some impact on the adjustment you receive at the head.
The research continues, and we'll keep you posted with what we
find. In the meantime if you want to see what some of your keyword
serps look like when customised, you'll need to use the "gl=us"
parameter in the search URL, and be logged in to Google's all
seeing eye. Or gmail :-)