Without much fanfare, on December 4th 2009 Google announced an update to Google Personalized Search. Although this didn’t attract much attention in the business world, it’s an important update that web site owners should be aware of. It’s a further indication of the direction that Google is moving in terms of their online search tools.
What is Personalized Search?
Google Personalized Search was first launched in 2005 (announcement). With Personalized Search, Google search results are more personalized to your specific interests, based on your prior search history. In effect, web sites that you had visited in the past, through a Google search, will show up higher in the rankings for a related search.
Prior to the latest update, personalized search was only available to those that were signed into their Google account. With the most recent update though, everyone’s Google search results will be personalized by default, although you can opt-out of this feature.
How Does Personalized Search Work?
Lets say that you’ve used Google Search in the past to find recipes for dinner. You’ve been able to find some great recipes on much lower ranked web sites, but now you can’t remember what they were. You do a Google Search, and lo and behold, the web sites that you had previously found now show up toward the top of the search results page. In essence, the search results page has been personalized based on your search history and location.
Each and every time that you do an online search with Google, your search keywords and the links that you clicked on are saved as your search history. Future searches on Google will refer to your search history so that your search results are more personalized to your interests.
How Does This Impact Web Site Owners?
Although Personalized Search is great for online users, this is not always the case for web site owners. The reason for this is that web sites are now ranked differently per each person. For example, your web site may show up at #1 for one person, but at #11 for a different person. The search listings will now be dependent on search history, location and more for ALL Google searches.
There’s not a great deal known in terms of what impact the Personalized Search update will have. Some of the early testing done does not show much difference yet. But the cookie that stores search history can keep up to 180 days of data, and so it may take more time to find out what the impact of this will be.
What Should Be Done Next?
In the meantime, there are some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) steps you can take to ensure that your web site is optimized as much as possible. These are a few of the best practices that you can do at this point in time. These are:
- Ensure that your web site is using page titles that identify the overall topic or content of each web page. Use as few words as possible, but make sure that they are relevant to each web page.
- Make sure that you are using the description meta tag. The meta description tag does not have an impact on your page ranking, but it does make a difference in terms of getting people to click on your listing in the search engine results page. Basically you want people to click on your listing because it will tell Google that your listing is more relevant than the others for that search term. This description should contain a description of features and benefits relevant to the page content.
- If you rely on local business, make sure that your web page includes information about your location. This can be something as simple as a brief mention of “Serving the city of…” in the page footer.
- If you don’t have a Social Media Marketing strategy in place, now would be a great time to get started. Make sure that your have at least a Facebook page for your company. Most importantly though, start creating a strategy to tap into the social networking world.
In addition to the steps above, you’ll want to have an SEO expert review your web site to make sure that your web site architecture, site maps, and other SEO related elements are in place and working correctly.
If you are a web site owner, keep a close eye on future changes to Google Personalized Search. This feature will likely change more often in the future and you’ll want to make sure that your web site is optimized and ranking as high as possible. You don’t want your web site to get lost in the Google Personalized Search results page shuffle.