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Personalized search: The elephant in the SEO living room

Gord Hotchkiss put into words what I have been feeling: search marketers are paying far too little attention to personalized search. If you’ve looked at the baby steps that search engines have taken towards personalization and told yourself, “Well, no need to worry about that yet,” think again. This may be your last chance to take action before the tidal wave.


Think about how much Google shook up the paid search world by adding clickthrough rates to the paid rankings. No more bid jamming and other tactics designed to secure a certain spot in the rankings or manipulate the bids to your advantage. It took a while, but now all the paid search engines use some variant of a hybrid ranking algorithm that is much harder to game.
That’s exactly what personalized search will do, too. It will make the system so complex that it is much harder to game. Search rankings are dead—it’s just that no one knows it yet. Any tricks designed to rank #1 are in jeopardy, because the ranking algorithm is about to undergo the biggest change ever.
This time, it’s personal.
If you thought that a Google algorithm update shakes up the search marketing world, you ain’t seen nothing yet. What will happen in a world where there’s no #1 result? There’s my #1 result and your #1 result and everyone else’s #1 result. In a personalized world, every searcher can get a different slate of results for the same query. Google is saying to each searcher, “You’re unique, just like everyone else.”
You, the search marketer, will be left asking, “For how many searches was my page #1 yesterday?” And only the search engines know. So after years of not knowing how to monetize organic search, here finally is the answer. You’ll need to pay the search engines to find out where you ranked. Maybe they’ll sell you more information about the searchers to help you segment them. How much would you pay to find out who your searchers are where each one saw your page, and which of them clicked on you?
If your search marketing is built around ranking #1, it’s time to go back to basics. It’s time to understand what your conversions are, how many people are converting, what search keywords they are using, and how you can tweak your keywords and your Web site to make those conversions go up. Because rankings are about to disappear, whenever the search engines want them to.
Start thinking about how your approach to search marketing must change, because you’ll be ready when it happens while everyone else is lamenting the change to the algorithm. This isn’t your ordinary algorithm change and you don’t want to be caught short.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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