Search is facing yet another revolution, and this one has everything to do with the individual. When Google first launched, every user in the world viewed the same results. Today, its capacity for personalization has evolved to such a sophisticated degree, most of us don’t even realize what’s happening in the background. Individual attention and customization are the next big barriers for technological development, and search engines are working quickly to bring more personalization to the users who are craving it. If you want your business to be prepared, you need to be aware of these changes, and how your SEO strategy needs to adapt.
First, it’s important to realize the mechanisms behind these personalization changes. There are several major technologies all advancing in different lines, in some cases working together to integrate these changes:
On one hand, search algorithms themselves are getting more and more complex. As an example, when Hummingbird broke onto the scene in 2013, it completely changed how Google “understood” search queries, shifting its focus on keywords to a semantic deciphering of user intent. As search engines evolve, even incorporating AI and machine learning, they’ll “get to know” users even better.
Technology is growing capable of gathering and better understanding deeper, more complex information like user behavior and demographic information. Search engines can use this data to inform their algorithm updates or direct their future plans.
Tech companies are attempting to reduce logins by spreading one account over several platforms and products. This allows companies to use information from multiple apps in a single, cohesive understanding of a user.
Personal digital assistants, like Siri and Cortana, are blurring the line between offline and online search, tapping into existing files, apps, and information hard-stored on devices for other forms of digital search.
Through these vehicles of advancement, we can identify five main modes of personalization, each present in modern search but increasing in sophistication:
Geographic location has been an influential factor in search results for some time now, especially with the onset of mobile devices. Google is adept at delivering a list of results based on what companies or facilities are around your “current” location. Over time, this location has grown more specific, ranging from regions, to cities, and now getting down to a neighborhood level. Other geographic factors include national differences, such as how “football” might mean something different to a Briton than it does to an American.
Your personal browsing history is another mode of personalization; Google may favor sites or domains that you’ve frequented in the past, or take a look at how you’ve responded to various search entries in separate instances in the past. It uses this information to get a better understanding of your personal needs, and as long as you’re logged into your account, it can pull this information to personalize your search results. In time, this degree of personalization may increase in intensity, as search engines have more information to work with and more options for display.
Currently underdeveloped compared to the other items on this list, Google can tap into your social Google+ account to highlight articles or websites that your connections have shared or found helpful in the past. The sky’s the limit for how this may develop, especially as Google works on more potential partnerships with other social media apps.
Thanks mostly to personal digital assistants, the apps and bookmarks you have stored on your device and browser can influence the types of results you receive in search. A perfect example of this is app deep linking; under the right conditions, you may encounter a link in your search results that leads to the interior page of an app that you have downloaded on your device. This link would not appear if you didn’t have the app (though app streaming may soon change that).
Though currently on the back burner, digital assistants are starting to tap into this customization potential. By getting to know your habits, how you use your device, and what your personal preferences are, digital assistants may soon start categorizing us into archetypes, or making bold assumptions about our behavioral and display preferences—but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
This is a search change that doesn’t offer any straightforward route to adaptation. Unlike previous Google updates, like ones that refine content standards, there’s no single reaction your strategy can have. Instead, you have to work around this personalization trend by making your company (and website) more appropriate and specific to your audience:
Make your local presence known, to a hyper-specific degree.
User retention can translate to positive ranking signals, and you’ll appear in more searches among your frequenters.
This is a good strategy anyway, but it doesn’t hurt to give it an extra boost.
Zoom in your laser-focus and optimize your site for your target demographics only.
These strategies are somewhat general, but these personalization trends are hard to pinpoint with the precision of older strategies like keyword-based optimization. Keep giving your users what they want, be straightforward and accurate with your onsite company descriptions, and you should have a higher chance of showing up in more searches.