2010: Personalized Search and Shifts in SEO Strategy

As most of us know, Google has formally launched “personalized search” in an effort to continually improve each individual’s search experience in their engine. The goal is to track user’s search behavior in order to continually improve and “personalize” the relevance of results. When these discussions first began, many SEOs and Internet marketing companies feared that this would mean the end of Search Engine Optimization as we know it. We are still waiting to see what effect this will have over the coming months but from the information disseminated thus far, it seems that most of the fundamental best practices will still apply.

google-cartoonSo How Does this Impact SEO for Our Clients?

The truth is, some of the important areas of focus that these changes bring to light, have really always been important. The end goal of SEO is to grow a business through relevant natural search traffic that leads to conversions (whatever those conversion goals might be).  You can chase rankings all day long but if the result is not good quality traffic and conversions that lead to growth, there is something missing. The key things that still matter are:

  • Focus on traffic and conversions more than rankings: Of course, we are still always going to look at rankings but now more than ever, we really need to combine the focus on rankings and the resulting traffic. If a site sees an increase in rankings but stagnant levels (or decreasing levels) of traffic, personalized search may be posing a negative effect and the strategy should be adjusted. On the other hand, if rankings see a slight dip but traffic is improving, the site might be experiencing better results from the shift to personalized search.
  • This has of course been important for a long time but there is a renewed focus on “brand” quality: The quality, interactivity, value, and user experience of a website will always impact traffic, bounce rates, repeat visitors, and link popularity.  Google is now placing more emphasis on this with personalized search. This can create challenges for new businesses that may not yet be a “trusted brand” yet. However, it certainly does encourage any business to develop great content and have a good user experience.
  • Other sources of traffic might have a positive impact on natural search results: It seems that all traffic sources will now be taken into account with Google’s personalized metrics. This could mean that paid search traffic and other key drivers to a website might positively (but indirectly) impact natural results within the personalized search spectrum. It will be interesting to see the results of this in the coming months.

How Should We Be Adjusting Our Strategy and Campaigns?

Best practices still apply. As mentioned above, we must continue to improve user experience, brand loyalty, content, and traffic (from all sources). Continue to follow best practices for basic SEO coding and making all pages accessible to the search engines, use a keyword strategy relevant to your business goals and that is aligned with your user’s search behavior, continually develop good content, and earn great inbound links by being proactive in your industry.

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