Search Personalization and SEO

What I find challenging about the SEO (define)/SEM (define) industry is the constant, quick evolution of SERP (define) appearance. As researchers and search engine software engineers gain knowledge about online search behavior, they test and adapt search interfaces to make the querying process a more positive user experience.

One forthcoming search interface is personalized SERPs. Searchers have been able to customize search results using advanced search pages for quite some time, but they aren’t aware of available search personalization capabilities. We’ll see this change significantly within the next few years.

Will personalized search results affect SEO strategies? In this week’s column, I examine some pitfalls and benefits of current optimization tactics.

Search Personalization and Web Positioning Reports

In all likelihood, many SEO professionals will find personalization challenging because some standard SEO practices will no longer be useful or applicable.

Let’s look at position-checking services. I’m not particularly fond of position checking as an SEO success metric because search engine rankings yield little useful information. And search engine software engineers have frowned on position-checking software usage for many years. Nevertheless, SEO clients often demand ranking reports as a part of an SEO package.

How will search personalization affect position-checking services? Today, independent SEO professionals can check rankings on Google, Yahoo, MSN’s Live, and and generally come up with the same reporting. With personalization, consistent rankings will no longer be the norm. One searcher demographic may want to filter out content from one Web site, whereas another might prefer to keep it. Personalized SERPs will look considerably different for each type of searcher.

I’m writing this week’s column from the lovely country of Ireland (a rest stop on my way to Search Engine Strategies, Munich). Sipping my Guinness, I’m highly amused at the idea of algorithm chasers adapting to personalized search results. Cheers to algorithm chasers.

Filtering Content

Even I filter out content from specific Web sites. I’m not interested in clicking on links to sites that require a subscription to view their content. My time (all searchers’ time, in fact) is extremely valuable. If I’m using Google or Yahoo to find information on a specific topic, it’s extremely irritating to view information in a Google and Yahoo SERP, then be delivered to a subscription form. If you’re expecting to see the keywords and snippet on the destination page, do you want to view a snippet, click a link, and get a form? I don’t.

So guess what, and WebmasterWorld? On my personalized SERPs, your sites are always filtered out. It doesn’t matter that the search engine representatives have supposedly verified your subscribed content is relevant. As a searcher, I’ll believe your subscribed content is relevant when I see it. Since you haven’t made that content readily accessible, I don’t want valuable screen real estate on my personalized SERPs wasted on your listings.

Funny thing, I actually subscribe to those sites. But search usability is important. Brand-recognized companies should gain a better understanding of the subject, especially since search is evolving to personalized search interfaces.

Back to my Guinness.

Usability and Personalized Search

I remember listening to my favorite conference speaker, Chris Sherman, talk about personalized search and how SEO professionals and Web site owners must be prepared. I shrugged my shoulders.

Since I don’t use position-checking software and I’ve never been an algorithm chaser, personalized search interfaces don’t intimidate me. I welcome the change.

My focus has always been on maintaining a search-friendly Web sites and user-centered design (UCD). Therefore, I’m already prepared for personalized search interfaces. The Web pages I design and optimize will probably show up better in personalized search results because I design, code, program, and write for site visitors. If two Web pages contain similar useful content, the site that’s easier to use tends to get more third-party link development.

So I’m fully prepared for personalized search interfaces. I’ve prepared my clients for personalized search interfaces. The question is, are you prepared?

Meet Shari at Search Engine Strategies April 10-13 at the Hilton New York in New York City.

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