Personalized, Universal and Optimized

Early this year, Google stepped up its push toward personalized search results for users logged in to Google services. Four months later, personalized search began to offer users a minor reshuffling of search results. It’s hardly noticeable to the average user right now, as it takes time to build up trends based on personalized search patterns.

Today, I’ll help increase your understanding of personalized search influencers as they relate to natural SEO (define).

First, let me point out SEO professionals have plenty of reasons to see nonpersonalized search results. If you don’t want your personal search history to influence your search results, make certain you’re not logged into any Google service, such as AdWords, Bookmarks, or Gmail, while searching with Google. You can flush your search history on a regular basis, too. Or, you can simply append (&pws=0) to the end of any search query string to get nonpersonalized results. This is a particularly handy tip when you get a call from a client or your boss asking about search results you’re not seeing. Take everybody back to the baseline of unpersonalized results, and now you have a conversation.

Personalized Search

Personalized search is the active default setting on new Google accounts. For those with existing accounts, personalized search histories must be manually enabled. Once enabled, Google closely monitors your search sessions to develop a pattern from your search queries and associated actions. Behaviors that influence personalized results include:

  • Location, as retrieved from your browser settings
  • The bookmark button, to keep track of certain Web sites
  • Your Google search history
  • Web history (sites you visited)

Universal Search

While personalized search has yet to create more than an irksome ripple in page-one results, Google’s universal search has the potential to change the paradigm of page one search results, particularly for big brands.

Search for “coca-cola” and see what’s above the fold when you click on the stock quote information from Google Finance, or display the map for the history of Coca-Cola exhibition in Atlanta, as fed from Google Maps. The page change is dramatic, greatly influenced by content from Google search verticals over any measure of personalization.

Universal search, like OneBox results before it, can include results from blog search, book search, Google Base and product search, code search, the Google directory (DMOZ), Google Finance, Google Images, Google Local and Maps, Google News, Patens Search, Google Scholar, Google Video, and Google Web search.

If you’re going to control your brand messaging in Google, it’s important to leverage vertical venues now. According to Hitwise, early beneficiaries of Google Universal’s initial stickiness and clickiness include Google Maps and Google Video, through which search-referral traffic is soaring. For the average online retailer with brick-and-mortar stores, this means Local Search is more important than ever. Get those listings audited, updated, and optimized now (especially as geotargeting is one of the more accurate aspects of personalized search).

If you’re not distributing video to YouTube, Google Video, and Metacafe, think about how much search-referred traffic your brand is potentially missing. Someone else could be pilfering traffic from your hard-earned branding efforts, particularly as Google has just expanded its video repertoire to include results from, CollegeHumor, eBaum’s World, Yahoo Video, and MySpace. Yet only YouTube and Google Video present inline video player options in search results.

The same applies to images. No matter what type of Web site you optimize, Google Images can play a key role in sending search referrals from universal search. Follow standard guidelines for optimizing images used on your site, such as image size, file name, alternative attribute, annotation, and linkage, to have the opportunity to grab another top spot in Google Universal SERPs (define). Images can play a role in Google News results too, particularly if many of your images originate on blogs.

If you don’t blog for the brand, consider sponsoring fan-based blogs or providing valuable insider tips and news to vocal brand advocates. Reconsider your press release syndication services and ensure Google News is in the mix. Not doing press releases? Now’s the time to get in the game and publish news briefs and articles about your organization’s philanthropy, location-specific promotions, or the latest news from sports sponsorships and the like.

With an ever-evolving pattern of relevant search results, the long-standing futurist mantra has changed. It’s no longer enough to think locally and act globally. Personalized and universal search mean you must also position brands horizontally and syndicate vertically. That way, you can truly own optimal brand messaging in Google.

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