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Search Personalisation

Tanya Goodin
Tanya Goodin
Founder & Owner
5 March 2007

Search Personalisation is coming and it’s closer than you think!
Personalisation is gaining more and more attention. Understanding what
Google in particular is trying to do for their users helps us to figure
out what is required for the sites we manage.

If Personalisation takes off in the manner in which Google seem to
think it will the impact will be felt throughout the search world –
both for users and site owners.

Personalisation is where a set of results for a search term is adjusted
to reflect both your search behaviour, and possibly that of your peer
group. For example, if you are logged into your Google account and you
conduct a search a given set of results will be published. If you then
click through onto any of these this will influence the rankings you
see on subsequent but identical searches and the sites you previously
clicked on may rank higher than those you didn’t.

You can then conduct the same search without being logged in and you
may well get a different set of results from those when you are logged
in.

In the same way it looks like Google may take into consideration user
behaviour from people conducting the same or similar searches, and
these are then reflected back into a more specialised (personalised)
set of results.

Google is very much into information gathering, whether this is through
how people click through on their results pages, getting information
via those who have installed the Google Toolbar (everyone here!) or by
recording all actions from those who are signed into their Google
accounts.

All this information gathering enables Google to make calculations
and judgements to help create more relevant results, which is
ultimately what they are trying to do.

In a recent interview about personalisation
between Matt Cutts of Google and Gord Hotchkiss from Searchengineland
there were a number of pointers as to how big Personalisation is going
to be, and what site owners need to be doing about it!

Currently there is a lot of focus on being ranked well for the so
called ‘trophy terms’. And while these will in the short term continue
to drive a lot of traffic their impact will diminish. Instead of having
one set of results from Google (actually, we don’t already, users in
the UK get different results than those in the US or Germany for
example many more variations of this one set will be introduced
depending on your previous, and peer behaviour.

This divergence of results means that, to quote Matt Cutts, ‘more
people can show up at number one but for a smaller volume of queries’.

It also follows that it is not going to be all about chasing trophy
terms, and hasn’t been for a while. It is too simplistic to look at the
rankings and think ‘We’re number 1 for our key term – everything’s OK’
or ‘we are not number 1 for our key term – everything’s bad.’

Focus needs to shift from the trophy terms to the tail of the searches
as these may well add up to more traffic, and ultimately sales, than
the trophy terms can provide.

So what does this mean for site owners?

Well, invariably this all comes back to content. Having content
that is well written, useful and relevant to the user. Sites that have
a few generic trophy terms will not cut it in the future world of
Personalisation. It is about understanding what people are actually
typing into the search box and what they are responding well to.

Delivering sites that contain the specific information are going to
work well and to create that you have to know what users are expecting
from your site.

It is also making sure that you are appearing on all parts of a
search engine’s portfolio of tools. Google has been moving to being
more of a community through the addition of all their additional
features over the last few years.

So think about how to get onto Google Local, Maps, News and even
Notebook. It is important to appear across a wide range of any search
engines properties as these may all get pulled into the personalised
search.

Personalised Search is already here, albeit in quiet way. But it is
going to impact on us all sooner rather than later so now is the time
to start preparing, and if you aren’t, your competitors may well be.

Once again it looks like content is going to rule. Sites need to start
addressing the content on their sites and in particular the many varied
niche terms that can drive traffic.

While we are yet to be convinced that in the very short term
content will override the impact of links we feel there is a real, and
very welcome, move back to sites being valued by the search engines for
the content they provide. After all, a well written site should provide
everything the search engine, and the user, needs!

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