Unless you have been hiding under a rock or you have been making extra money in the stock market and got a fat bonus and retired to the Bahamas, as an SEO you might have heard about Google rolling out an algorithmic change based on personalized search.
For starters, we shouldn’t panic; personalization is likely going to only have an impact on rearranging top 10 results. In the post on Google Blog where the announcement was made, the example the engineers were giving was mainly based on CTRs (Click through rates) on a host(computer) level. Talking about it in simple terms, if your favourite hotel aggregator appears fourth for the query “hotels” and you keep clicking on that result disregarding the first three, during the next session is likely that Google will rearrange the results to show your apparently favourite site in the first spot.
So far, so good, if you were not in the top 5 for your selected query, personalization will have very little impact. You have a lot of work to do and the usual SEO work will need to be done to get to that privileged position.
If you are in the top 5 positions then things start to get interesting. Firstly, brand awareness will have a significant impact on CTRs. If your brand is well known, people will be more likely to click on your result and therefore the cookie hosted in the user computer will track those clicks and apply that data in the future. Marketing channels that seemed bound to die could be very useful to improve brand awareness and therefore CTR. There has been a lot of debate about the impact of display on branded and unbranded search, and ways to improve brand recognition, Social Media, display advertising, offline, etc, might now have more impact on results that they ever did.
Is that fair? Probably, not. Not only big brands have already been benefited by the Vince algorithm , but also they have deeper pockets and can engage in all these channels and reach more people. Not trying to be cynical here, but Google changes on the way they lay out paid ads or the way they consistently shrug off doubtful link profiles for big brands, makes me think that the companies that spend the most on Paid Search will benefit from more reach and more impact. I don’t imply that Google in particular, and search engines in general, will be purposefully biasing results towards big brands, but the algorithmic changes benefit big brands more on the whole.
I am getting off the point though. What I believe is going to be important now, is CTRs on organic results. In the past, when personalization wasn’t kicking in, search engines couldn’t use that data for the algorithm because it could have been easily spammable by click bots, but narrowing the dataset down on a host level (data tracked by the cookie), CTR suddenly gets at the top of your priorities.
This means that SEOs are going to need to work much more on how they present the results snippets to the audience. Titles and descriptions will need to become more compelling and stand out some way. Big brands might not want to experiment with it (at the end of the day, people tend to click more on their results) but not so big brands might try to play with ways to encourage clicking. I wouldn’t rule out SEOs testing the use of capitals in title tags, or special characters not seen too often (^ ¢ £ ¤ ¥ § ¬ ° ± º ø þ) or more marketing copy like copy using words like offers, deals, free, etc. I don’t think this will make results more relevant, it will probably make snippets very spammy like, but again SEOs don’t make the rules, Search Engines do. Additionally, these new ways to write titles will take up useful real estate from the 68 characters blue link and will make obligatory to target only one primary keyword per title. Additionally, link building with rich anchor text will be even more important because keyword prominence and playing with phrase based optimization will become more difficult in a more reduced title tag space.
So to sum up, these are my takeaways on SEO for personalized search:
- Ranking within the top 5 will be key in order to take advantage of personalization triggers. SEOs will have to work harder & quicker.
- Vince algorithm will work in favour of big brands that will have already a competitive edge
- CTR on organic results will be crucial. Factors such as brand awareness, multi-channel reach (display, social media, paid search, off-line), and snippet multi-variate testing will have to be taken into account.
- Link building will become even more important. Firstly to get into the first top results and secondly to make up for the lack of content based SEO techniques.
What do you think?