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The changing game of Search Engine Optimisation

By Rob Drummond on Tue 27 July 2010 in Marketing

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is big business, and a whole industry has sprung up around getting your website to the top of the search engine rankings. Today, I want to share an SEO insight that very few people are talking about… one that might turn your current idea of SEO on its head.

The Personalisation of Search

Google has, for a while, provided customised search results for users logged into their Google account. Effectively, if you have been logged into Google Mail or a similar Google program then gone and performed a search, Google stores a list of your previous search history. Customised results are then presented, reflecting what Google thinks you are interested in based on your past searches. This means that logged in to your account, a search on your computer for “CRM” will present an entirely different list of results to a search on my computer for the term “CRM”.

However, all this  is no longer confined to your Google account.

You may not be aware of this, but Google now presents you with customised search results based on your search history – whether you are logged in to your Google account or not. Google presents customised results based on 180 days of past search information linked to an anonymous cookie on your browser. You can opt out of personalised results at any time whether you are logged in to your Google account or not, by clicking on the Web History link at the top of the results page. By default however, Google is presenting you with customised results based on your past searches.

The Web History link allows you to toggle personalisation.

This has some big, fundamental implications for the SEO industry:

  • You cannot get to the top of Google for your targeted search terms for everybody – people are seeing different search results depending on their search habits.
  • Any tools that monitors your position in the search results are now out of date, and cannot be relied on.
  • Any search agencies that guarantee you top rankings are still working on the old model.

So, as a website owner, what are you going to do?

I see this as yet another step in Google’s quest to help users find the information they want, quickly. Once again this makes it harder to trick Google with so-called “black hat” optimisation techniques. The number of backlinks to your site is now less important, as are meta and title tags. (You should still use these tags – they just aren’t as important in terms of how highly you rank anymore). The answer lies in providing relevant content on your site, that your target market are interested in and searching for. You should still look to encourage links coming in to your site, but an artificially high number of back-links from unrelated sites can get you in trouble.

Besides providing relevant content, make sure you are using Google Analytics (or a similar analytics program) and Google Webmaster Tools to monitor which keywords people are coming in to your site from, and which keywords Google thinks are most relevant to your site based on its existing content.