After Google launched the first iteration of its personalized search feature way back in 2005, nothing would ever be the same. With this technology in place, internet users all over the world suddenly found their online activities being tracked. On the one hand, this helps search engines provide localized, targeted content; on the other hand, it can feel a little creepy to the average consumer. In the online marketing world, where do we draw the line?
What Makes Personalized Search Work?
While personalized search was first put in place a decade ago, the 2009 update to Google’s mechanism made some major changes. Before that update, only logged in Google users would receive personalized search results. Today, however, Google can provide personalized results whether you’re logged in or not.
If you’re logged in to your Google account, you’ll receive more personalized results. The algorithm will take into account your location, your device and operating system, your browser, and your search history. It will also use material from your Google systems, including your Google Calendar data as well as Google Plus information.
When you’re not logged in, Google uses your search history based on 180 days of cookie data to tailor results. It tracks your interests and behaviors to deliver content it deems relevant.
How to Optimize for Personalized Search
From a marketing perspective, personalized search means that optimizing for certain keywords can only take you so far. To make this less complicated for web marketers, Google uses something called “average position” to help everyone understand where their brands fall relative to others in search results.
In locations where your brand has made an impression on the web, your average position is where you’re positioned in search results. However, it can be a little complicated, and this is where vanity keywords and other outdated SEO and link building tactics tend to fall flat.
So how can you perform better on a search engine that doesn’t work like it used to? You’ll need to take advantage of a few different factors, and location is one of them. Get registered with both Google Maps and Google+ Small Business and make sure your content serves your area. Additionally, always make sure your web content is universally viewable across devices.
One Step Further: Providing Personalized Content
Taking advantage of personalized search also means tailoring your marketing strategy to fit Google’s algorithm. For example, personalized landing pages add relevancy and enhance user experience. Tagging a visitor’s IP address will allow you to automatically redirect them to a landing page specific to their location. This can be especially helpful if your company services multiple regions.
Tracking user habits can also help you personalize the content you provide. For example, keep tabs on how much time they spend on your site’s individual webpages. By getting a sense of the content they’re interested in, you can provide suggestions on your sidebar or by using an unobtrusive popup for other blog posts or articles.
Toeing the Line: Personal vs. Invasive
When it comes to personalization, it’s always a good idea to tread carefully. According to an Ipsos survey, 68 percent of Americans are concerned about having their activity tracked online. Personalization was developed to provide better, more relevant content to internet users – not to creep them out.
Making the distinction between “personal” and “invasive” is actually fairly simple; it just requires some finesse. If a user abandons an online shopping cart on an ecommerce store specializing in baby supplies, retargeting that person by advertising the abandoned items isn’t weird – it’s smart.
On the other hand, no one wants Big Brother to know intimate details about their lives. Don’t send an email that announces “We hear you’re expecting a baby in three weeks. Check out these amazing products for new mothers!” This takes several steps into being creepy territory.
Putting It All Together
Whatever you make of it, personalized search is here to stay, and it’s only getting more advanced. The world of online advertising and search engine optimization is rapidly changing, and marketing agencies will need to keep up – or risk sinking to the bottom of search engine rankings with no way to come back.