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Personalization and Universal Search Engine Optimization (Part 1 of 4)

In their quest to provide high quality search results on an ongoing basis, major search engines are trying to better understand their searchers’ intents, interests and search habits. Google has been leading the way by offering personalized search results based on your past queries.

There are two main ways to track people’s actions and behaviours. The first is to use cookies associated with each computer. However, this approach is not very accurate and scalable. The second approach is to get users to log in to an account where you can track them more accurately and efficiently.

When Google launched GMail as part of its product mix, many people saw it as just another free web based e-mail platform with very cool features and a huge mail storage capacity. However, this was Google’s first major step toward making search personalization a reality.

Shortly after introducing GMail, Google came up with the concept of the Google Account which could be used as your authentication path to all products/services offered by Google. Different products that spring out of Google Lab or are added to the mix through business acquisitions help Google build a diverse user base who frequently log in to their Google Account.

Google can incorporate its users’ search history as a variable/lever in its algorithm and provide personalized search results. Even though there are so many obstacles in generating an accurate single view of all searchers (e.g., business account vs. personal account, sharing the same account, shared computer), this is a great step in the right direction.

Impact of Personalization on SEO

It has been argued that search personalization spells the death of search engine optimization as it is going to be virtually impossible to know how you rank on each and every user’s search results.

In my opinion, personalization does not hurt SEO, but it does make a comprehensive and aggressive SEO strategy a necessity. Without a doubt, personalization makes optimizing your site for search engines more challenging. However, with any challenge comes an opportunity for those who learn how to adapt. To succeed you need to get more creative and take a 360◦ approach to your SEO initiatives.

Before I get into some of the old SEO techniques that are now golden rules, let’s have a look at Google Universal Search and how it might be incorporated with personalized search.

Google Universal Search

Google recently launched its ambitious and long anticipated project: Universal Search. According to Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience, this project, which she first introduced as an idea in 2001, is Google`s approach to bring down the walls between their various vertical search properties and provide users with more diverse and robust search results.

To better understand the implications of this initiative by Google, we need to have a closer look at the various verticals Google owns. Some of these verticals (e.g., code search, patent search) are very niche and might not affect many businesses. However, other Google search verticals such as local, news, finance, blog, video and image search are more mainstream.

As a result, the comprehensive and all inclusive SEO approach, which used to be considered as a best practice, is now considered a necessity. Web owners can no longer rely on simply optimizing their text content and links. They should produce and optimize images, videos, local listings, blogs and news.

Coming up in Part 2 … Being everywhere your audience’s eyeballs are.