How Marketers Leverage Google Personalized Search

Marketers generally like to use every tool available to get an edge – as they should. A fairly new twist to SEO and online marketing comes about as a result of Google’s increasingly personalized search results. The challenge with these new Google personalized searches is pinning down their accuracy due to the multiplied SERP variations. And that means a tougher time ensuring the search data is right for sound SEO purposes.

Still, effectively leveraging Google’s personalization can give you a definite marketing edge. So let’s see how personalized search results are affected by location, device type, search history, and many more factors.


What Are Personalized Search Results?

Google personalized search results are based on more than the traditional ranking factors like relevance and authority. Personalized results take into account additional information the search engine has about a user at the time of the search, for example, demographics, location, search history, and interests. The putative goal of personalized search is to enhance the relevance of the search results for a particular searcher.

Formerly, the main goal of SEO was to get to the top of the first page of Google (and other search engines) for a specific keyword or keywords. Not anymore, though, because that approach doesn’t account for specific, individual users. Now, in order to deliver the most relevant search results (as well as offering a more profitable ad experience), Google is increasingly attempting to custom tailor and personalize SERPs.

Personalized search results are based on a host of individual factors: whether you are signed into a Google account, past search history and evident interests, Google+ profile, time and date, and location. The idea is to serve up the results and content that will best satisfy your needs as a searcher. What this means in practical terms is that someone searching for, say, “affordable dentist” from Seattle using a Google Chrome account from a mobile Nexus 6 Android device at 6:00 pm will get much different results from a person searching the same keyword from Bellevue at 10:00 am on a laptop and not logged in to a Google account.

Current Trends in SERP Personalization

Chief among the trends in SERP personalization is the blending of contextual search results and personalized search results. Up until fairly recently, there had been a pretty clear line of demarcation between the two, but now not so much owing to progressively more sophisticated search engine algorithms. Contextual results used simple data points to add a layer of context to search results. Personalized results use those same data points along with more complex ones to achieve a search experience that is both contextualized and personalized – completely custom, seamless, and tailored for every distinct searcher and query.

Another major trend in SERP personalization involves resistance to over-personalization and concern about personal data tracking. Users have expressed concerns about intensive tracking of their browsing habits and personal information and about how that information was stored. The same thing has impacted marketers who had to use an incognito browser window in order to run a Google search that would allow them to view a universal listing rather than personalized results.

In addition, Google has begun to realize that there are some problems. Although they have well developed capabilities to understand the likely intent of queries and match them up with snapshot results, their interpretive abilities aren’t as strong. Google is less able to accurately predict the current desires and intent of searchers because past behavior may not be all that relevant in the present. As a result, Google has announced that they will scale back the scope of personalized searches to concentrate more on location and most recent user searches.

This last trend may make it easier for marketers to measure and track SEO efforts. In theory, marketers won’t have to worry about so much variation in SERPs from one individual searcher to the next. With customizations influenced primarily by the nature of the search query – and less by individual searcher characteristics – things become much more manageable.

But keep in mind that this is still largely conjectural, and Google personalized searches are still going strong. So fully leveraging personalized searches requires extensive SEO expertise in this area.

Which Factors Influence the Personalization Algorithm?

The many factors influencing the personalization algorithm include:

  • Where a searcher is located geographically
  • The type of device and operating system a searcher is using
  • The specific browser used
  • Search history, including kinds of searches, sites visited, and click history
  • Visit history and frequency for specific domains, with more engagement having greater influence
  • Google+ data, especially searches, shares, and links
  • Searches related to Google Calendar for Gmail users
  • Bookmarks for Google Chrome users as another indicator of visit frequency

How Search History Influences Search Results

Personalization on Google for searches is fairly heavily impacted by previous searches, especially the search results a user has clicked on and the browser history. This information allows Google to “understand” a user’s interests and then tailor the search experience accordingly.

According to SEO PowerSuite, “Google creates a personalized profile for every searcher based on their browsing history, search history, and SERP clicks, and subsequently alters the search results we see based on our interests.” And that’s where it gets tricky for marketers in their personalized search SEO efforts.

The difficulty lies in checking and tracking rankings. As with the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, that which is observed is influenced by the action of the observer. So checking rankings influences the results observed – precisely because they are personalized. And on top of that, if a user clicked on your competitor in a search, that competitor will rank higher for that searcher because that click is part of the user’s search history used for personalizing results. In this scenario, search results will be personalized for your competitor, and you won’t know where you really stand SEO-wise.

Why Is Device Type an Important Personalization Factor?

device type

Even the type of device used is an important personalization factor, especially considering the wide divergence in SERPs for desktops/laptops and mobile devices. It is “probably fairer to call Google mobile a distinct search engine in its own right – one with its own set of ranking factors” (SEO PowerSuite).

Pages rank differently and queries are interpreted differently between desktop and mobile devices because of the algorithm’s emphasis on mobile friendliness. The significance of authority and relevance remain pretty much the same across the board, but pages that are not optimized for mobile devices are either ranked significantly lower or removed altogether. Basically, mobile-friendly pages are lifted higher in the SERPs.

For personalized SEO, then, the task becomes monitoring desktop and mobile rankings separately, as if you were dealing with two different search engines. And then you should probably put more effort into optimizing for mobile – because more than half of Google queries originate from mobile devices.

Understanding the Importance Location Targeting

Location targeting, basically Google search GPS, is another highly important aspect of personalized search and must be taken into account for effective SEO. Google knows every searcher’s location and uses that bit of information for offering personalized search results. Google can track your location best through a mobile device, with surprising accuracy and precision. But even if you’re not using a mobile device, Google can get a good idea of your location from your IP address and still do location targeting.

Using your geographic location, Google puts businesses and other relevant places nearest to you higher up in the organic personalized results. Location targeting comes into play primarily when searches indicate or imply that a searcher is looking for a physical business – which is why it is such a critical SEO factor for local businesses.

The problem for SEO here is (again) tracking rankings when there is such a wide variance in results. For example, searchers in the same city, but just a few miles apart, can see different search results when searching for the exact same term. With location changing search results so much, effective rank tracking gets more difficult.

What you have to do is determine your target locations and then set up a rank-tracing strategy, as well as the tool(s) you use, to monitor rankings for each of the different target locations. And, again, this is especially critical for local business with a physical presence. The key here is using a marketing firm with local SEO expertise.

How to Use SERP Personalization When Marketing to Your Audience

There are a few things you can do to ensure you show up higher in results for SERP personalization, such as:

Dialing in and Refining Keywords

Search results may be personalized now, but keywords remain just as important as ever. And this includes pages that aren’t primarily search landing pages because of what is called “personalization bias.” This is the phenomenon resulting from personalization whereby people who are “biased” toward your brand and click on your results are served up search results with your brand higher in the rankings. So every page needs keyword targeting, especially now that personalized search is here.

Being in the Places that Matter for Location Targeting

Getting your business in all the relevant places is the first step – Google+, Google My Business, Google Maps, and so on. In addition, you have to ensure that your content is actually helpful for searchers in those locations.

Using Google+ for Content Sharing

Google+ factors into personalized search, so don’t neglect it. Not only can you get traffic directly from sharing content on Google+, but people who click on your offerings will then see you higher in the rankings for similar searches because their searches are personalized according previous clicks and site visits.

Striving for Multi-Device Friendliness

The type of device used for searching is a huge factor in personalized search results. The upshot, then, is that you have to strive for multi-device friendliness, but maybe with a greater emphasis on mobile.

Personalize Your Search Engine Before SEO

Success in personalized search marketing begins before you do any personalized-flavored SEO. You “can perform better in personalized search . . . by thinking about things like getting potential searchers to know and love your brand and your domain before they ever make the query. It turns out that if you’ve gotten people to your site previously through other forms of navigation and through searches, you may very well find yourself higher up in people’s personalized results as a consequence of the fact that they visited you in the past” (Moz).

The great thing about this pre-SEO tactic is that it can snowball, gaining momentum and growing larger as it rolls along. If you get people to engage with your brand, you will later show up higher in the search results they see. And that means they are more likely to click on your links, which makes you show up, owing to personalization, even higher in the results they see the next time. You just keep ranking higher and higher in increasingly more of their search queries. And so on and on.

What this means, then, for your online presence, with respect to personalized search, is that you have to do some “pre-marketing” for your brand. And that also means you need a marketing partner who can do the job well.

google seo

Fingerprint for Google Personalization Success

SEO is now about more than merely getting found online by showing up high in the SERPs. It is also a matter of showing up high in the personalized search results for those people who are your exact target market. It’s a new challenge that calls for some new tactics used alongside the old tried-and-true ones that have always worked.

But do you want to have to learn all that new stuff, or would you rather concentrate on running your business? That’s where Fingerprint Marketing can help. We understand well the strategies that will help you show up in the SERPs for the right people and will bring you more local business. Our team has the qualities you need on your team. They are inventive and creative and geeky so that you can “reap the benefits of a sizzling marketing plan.”

To discover how we can help you with the challenges of personalized search, contact us today!

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