Chapter 8: Personalization & Search Engine Rankings

Years ago, everyone saw exactly the same search results. Today, no one sees exactly the same search results, not on Google, not on Bing. Everyone gets a personalized experience.

Of course, there’s still a lot commonality. It’s not that everyone sees completely different results. Instead, everyone sees many of the same “generic” listings. But there will also be some listings appearing because of where someone is, who they know or how they surf the web.

pc - Personalization & Country specific search resultsPc: Country

One of the easiest personalization ranking factors to understand is that people are shown results relevant to the country they’re in.

Someone in the US searching for “football” will get results about American football; someone in the UK will get results about the type of football that Americans would call soccer.

If your site isn’t deemed relevant to a particular country, then you’ve got no chance of showing up when country personalization happens. If you feel you should be relevant, then you’ll probably have to work on your international SEO.

The articles below offer some international and multi-lingual tips:

Be sure to also visst our Multinational Search column.

pl - Personalized Search results by Locality, Metro or RegionPl: Locality

Search engines don’t stop personalizing at the country level. They’ll tailor results to match the city or metropolitan area based on the user’s location.

As with country personalization, if you want to appear when someone gets city-specific results, you need to ensure your site is relevant to that city.

This is increasingly important as search becomes more prevalent on mobile devices and geolocation becomes a primary way of delivering more relevant results. In addition, Google’s Venice Update placed far more emphasis on sites who were physically located in that user’s area.

Today, if you’re looking for a dentist, you’ll find more individual dental practice sites in your area populating your search results rather than national directory sites.

The articles below provide some advice here:

Also be sure to see our Locals Only column.

Beyond that, there are dedicated local search engines that people use when they “overtly” want local results (rather than the search engine guessing they may want these, even if they issue a query that might not seem local in nature).

Those interested in this should check out the Local Search Ranking Factors survey that’s done on a regular basis.

Local & Mobile Search Factors

Local search results may vary depending on whether searches are made on a desktop or mobile device.

For this reason, Mobile SEO was added as an element in the Periodic Table of SEO in July 2013, after Google announced that mobile site optimization would be a factor in rankings. For more information about improving mobile search rankings, see our related article:

Ph: Personal HistoryPersonal History (Ph) SEO Element

What has someone been searching for and clicking on from their search results? What sites do they regularly visit? Have they “Liked” a site using Facebook, shared it via Twitter or perhaps +1’d it?

This type of personal history is used by both Google and Bing to influence search results. Unlike country or city personalization, there’s no easy way to try and make yourself more relevant.

Instead, it places more importance on first impressions and brand loyalty. When a user clicks on a “regular” search result, you want to ensure you’re presenting a great experience so they’ll come again. Over time, they may seek out your brand in search results, clicking on it despite it being below other listings.

This behavior reinforces your site as one that they should be shown more frequently to that user. Even better if they initiate a social gesture, such as a Like, +1 or Tweet that indicates a greater affinity for your site or brand.

History is even more important in new search interfaces such as Google Now, which will proactively present “cards” to users based on explicit preferences (i.e. – which sports teams or stocks do you track) and search history.

For more on this type of personalization, see the stories below:

Ps: Social ConnectionsPersonal Social (Ps) SEO Element

What do someone’s friends think about a web site? This is one of the newer ranking factors to impact search results. Someone’s social connections can influence what they see on Google and Bing.

Those connections are what truly matter because search engines view those connections as a user’s personal set of advisors. Offline, you might trust and ask your friends to give you advice on a restaurant or gardening.

Increasingly, when you search today search engines are trying to emulate that offline scenario. So if a user is connected to a friend and that friend has reviewed a restaurant or shared an article on growing tomatoes then that restaurant and article may rank higher for that user.

If someone can follow you, or easily share your content, that helps get your site into their circle of trust and increases the odds that others they know will find you. Nowhere is this more transformative than Google+, where circling a site’s Google+ Page will change the personalized search results for that user.

And if the rising percentage of (not provided) keyword data is any indication, the number of people getting personalized search results on Google is growing fast.

For more on the importance of people in search, see our articles below:

Chapters: Home – 1: Factors – 2: Content – 3: HTML – 4: Architecture – 5: Links – 6: Social – 7: Trust – 8: Personalization – 9: Violations