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Personal search for all presents confusion for many

This week the other shoe dropped when Google announced that personalization of search was being given to everyone using the search engine and not just those who are logged in with a Google account. The time between the announcement and now has created a lot of reactions that range from “ho-hum” to “this is a game changer.” I am still undecided as to where I am, but I know for sure that I will fall much closer to the side of this being a game changer for a specific group: SEO practitioners.

If you do SEO for a living your job has been getting more and more difficult over the years. It used to be about rankings. This mentality is now seen as moving the way of the dinosaur. Now the concentration is on conversions, as it probably should be. Rankings are great and traffic is great, but if all of that doesn’t result in increased sales, then you are actually worse off than when you started. Why? Well, there is that pesky ROI (return on investment) metric. If the revenue doesn’t go up, then the execs signing the checks for SEO services don’t care about all the hard work. They just care about the bottom line.
SEO’s suffer from a tarnished image anyway. Go over to Marketing Pilgrim and take a look at the peel back ad to get a feeling for where the market is at. The ad asks “Does Your SEO Firm Suck?” Can’t get any more direct than that, can ya?
Now, Google is saying that they are going to serve up different results for each person unless they have opted out (this is an auto setting for any search, so if you don’t like this you need to opt out). The vast majority of people who use search engines wouldn’t know where to begin to opt-out and probably don’t even know they are “opted” at all. Google is banking on that and will now collect data on people like never before.
What’s an SEO to do? Are you going to show a ranking report for each visitor to a site? No. Are you going to try to figure out the “middle ground” for SEO that will reach as many people as possible? Not likely. Are you going to “reverse engineer” the algorithm? If you even thought that, you are stuck in the year 2000, which is the Internet’s equivalent to the Paleozoic Age.
So what’s an SEO to do? Branch out. Understand what people like Coke are thinking when they say that is no longer their home page but Google, Digg, Facebook and others are instead. Understand that driving traffic to a Web site is not just about search. Search is still incredibly important and will remain so. It is just going to become very hard to lasso and contain. Heck, what’s the best way to generate links these days? Social media. You can send out blind e-mails asking for links all day, but you can put out tweets as bait and get links 24 hours a day.
So I ask you: What’s an SEO to do? When all of these changes in the industry are commonplace and fully integrated (let’s not forget the real time search result integration announced by both Google and Yahoo this week), what is the strategy? How do you go about providing a service to a company that is becoming the online equivalent of finding the needle in the Internet haystack?
Well, have a great weekend anyway. I hope you are automatically opted-in for a good weekend, at least.

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