Posted by randfish

From information about your location and device to searches you’ve performed in the past, Google now has a great deal of information it can use to personalize your search results. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains to what extent they’re likely using that information and offers five ways in which you can improve your performance in personalized search.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.

Elements of Personalization Whiteboard

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Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat personalization, talking about the elements that can influence personalization as well as some of the tactical things that web marketers and SEOs specifically can do to help make their sites and their content more personalized friendly.

How personalization works

So, what are we talking about when we’re talking about personalization? Well, Google is actually personalizing by a large number of things and probably even a few things I have not listed here that they have not been totally transparent or forthcoming about.

Logged-in visitors

The things that we know about include things like:

  • Location. Where is the searcher?
  • Device. What type of device and operating system is the searcher using?
  • Browser. We have seen some browser specific and operating specific forms of searches. Search history, things that you have searched for before and potentially what you’ve clicked on in the results.
  • Your email calendar. So if you’re using Gmail and you’re using Google Calendar, Google will pull in things that they find on your calendar and data from your email and potentially show that to you inside of search results when you search for very particular things. For example, if you have an upcoming plane flight and you search for that flight number or search around that airline, they may show you, you have an upcoming flight tomorrow at 2:07 p.m. with Delta airlines.
  • Google+. A lot of folks are thinking of it as dead, but it’s not particularly dead, in fact no more so than the last year and a half or so. Google+ results will still appear at the bottom of your search results very frequently if you’re logged in and anyone in your Google+ stream that you follow has shared any link or any post in Google+ with the keywords that you’ve searched for. That’s a very broad matching still. Those results can appear higher if Google determines that there’s more relevancy behind that. You’ll also see Google+ data for people you’re connected to when you search for them, that kind of thing.
  • Visit history. If you have visited a domain while logged into an account many times in the past, I’m not exactly sure how many times or what sort of engagement they look at precisely, but they may bias those results higher. So they might say, “Gosh, you know, you really seem to like eBay when you do shopping. We’re going to show eBay’s results for you higher than we would normally show them in an incognito window or for someone who’s not logged in or someone who isn’t as big an eBay fan as you are.”
  • Bookmarks. It’s unclear whether they’re using just the bookmarks from Google Chrome or the personalization that carries over from Chrome instances or the fact that bookmarks are also things that people visit frequency. There’s some discussion about what the overlap is there. Not too important for our purposes.

Logged-out visitors

If you are logged out, they still have a number of ways of personalizing, and you can still observe plenty of personalization. Your results may be very different from what you see in a totally new browser with no location applied to it, on a different device with different search and visit history.

Now, remember when I say “Logged out,” I’m not talking about an incognito window. An incognito window would bias against showing anything based on search history or visit history. However, location and device appear to still remain intact. So a mobile device is going to get sometimes different results than a desktop device. Different locations will get different results than other locations. All that kind of stuff.

Now you might ask, “Quantify this for me, Rand.” Like let’s say we took a sample set of 500 keywords and we ran them through personalized versus non-personalized kinds of searches. What’s the real delta in the results ordering and the difference of the results that we see?

Well, we actually did this. It’s almost 18 months old at this point, but Doctor Pete did this in late 2013. Using the MozCast data set, he checked crawlers, Google Webmaster Tools, personalized logged in and incognito. You know what? The delta was very small for personalized versus incognito. I suspect that number’s probably gone up, which means this correlation number — 1.0 would be perfect correlation — 0.977 very, very high correlation. So we’re seeing really similar results for personalized versus incognito at least 18 months ago.

I suspect that’s probably changed. It’ll probably continue to change a little bit. However, I would also say that it probably won’t drop that low. I would not expect that you would ever find that it’ll be lower than 0.8, maybe even 0.9, just because so much of search is intentional navigation and so much of it is also not fully capable to be personalized in truly intelligent ways. The results are the best results already. There’s not a whole lot of personalization that might be added in besides potentially showing your Google+ follows or something at the bottom and things based on your visit history.

Performing better in personalized search

So let’s say you want to perform better in personalized search. You have a belief that, hey, a lot of people are getting personalized bias in my particular SERP sets. We’re very local focused, or we’re very biased by social kinds of data, or we’re seeing a lot of people are getting biased in their results to our competitors because of their search history and visit history. What are things that I need to think about?

Get potential searchers to know and love your brand before the query

The answer is you can perform better in personalized search in general, overall by thinking about things like getting potential searchers to know and love your brand and your domain before they ever make the query. It turns out that if you’ve gotten people to your site previously through other forms of navigation and through searches, you may very well find yourself higher up in people’s personalized results as a consequence of the fact that they visited you in the past. We don’t know all the metrics that go into that or what precisely Google uses, but we could surmise that there are probably some bars around engagement, visit history, how many times, how frequently in a certain time frame, all that kind of stuff that goes into that search and visit history.

Likewise, if you can bias people here and rank higher, you may be getting more and more benefit. It can be a snowball effect. So if you keep showing up higher in their rankings, they keep clicking you, they keep finding information that’s useful, they don’t need to go back to the search results and click somebody else. You’re just going to keep ranking in more and more of their queries as they investigate things. For those of you who are full funnel types of content servers, you’re thinking about people as they’re doing research and educating themselves all the way down to the transaction level with their searches, this is a very exciting opportunity.

Be visible in all the relevant locations for your business

For location bias, you want to make sure that you are relevant in all the locations for your business or your service. A lot of times that means getting registered with Google Maps and Google+ local business for maps — I can’t remember what it’s called exactly. I think it’s Google+ Local for Business — and making sure that you are not only registered with those places but then also that your content is helping to serve the areas that you serve. Sometimes that can even mean a larger radius than what Google Maps might give you. You can rank well outside of your specific geographies with content that serves those regions, even if Google is not perfectly location connecting you via your address or your Maps registration, those kinds of things.

Get those keyword targets dialed in

Getting keyword targeting dialed in, this is important all the time. Where a lot of people fall down in this is they think, “Hey, I only need to worry about keyword targeting on the pages that are specifically intended to be search landing pages. I’m trying to get search traffic to these pages.” But personalization bias means that if you can get keyword targeting dialed in even on pages that are not necessarily search landing pages, Google might say, “Hey, this wouldn’t normally rank for someone, but because you’ve already earned that traffic, because that person is already biased to your brand, your domain, we’re going to surface that higher than we ordinarily would.” That is a powerful potential tool in your arsenal, hence it’s useful to think about keyword targeting on a page specific level even for pages that you might not think would earn search traffic normally.

Share content on Google+ and connect with your potential customers

Google+ still, in my opinion, a very valuable place to earn personalized traffic for two reasons. One, of course you can get people actually over to your site. You may be able to get potential traffic through Google+. You can appear in those search results right at the bottom for anyone who follows you or anyone who’s connected to you via email and other kinds of Google apps. You may have also noticed that when you email with someone, if they’re using Gmail and their Google+ account is connected, you see in the little right-hand corner there that they’ll show their last post or their last few posts sometimes on Google+. Again, also a powerful way to connect with folks and to share the content as you’re emailing back and forth with them.

For brands, that also shows up in search results sometimes. There’s the brand box on the right-hand side, kind of like Knowledge Graph, and it’ll show your last few posts from Google+. So again, more and more opportunities to be visible if you’re doing Google+.

I am also going to surmise that, in the future, Google might do stuff with this around Twitter. They just finished re-inking that deal where Twitter gives their full fire hose access to Google and Google starts displaying more and more of that stuff in search results. So I think probably still valuable to think about how that connection might form. Definitely still valuable directly to do it in Google+ even if you’re not getting any traffic from Google+.

Be multi-device friendly and usable

Then the last one, of course, being multi-device friendly and usable. This is something where Moz has historically fallen down, and obviously we’re going to be fixing that in the months ahead. I actually hope we fix it after April 21st so we can see whether we really take a hit when they do that mobile thing. I think that would be a noble sacrifice, and then we can see how we perform thereafter and then fix it and see if we can get back in Google’s good graces after that.

So given these tactics and some of this knowledge about how personalized search works, hopefully you can take advantage of personalized search and help inform your teams, your bosses, your clients about personalization and the potential impacts. Hopefully we’ll be redoing some of those studies, too, to be able to tell you, hey, how much more is personalization affecting SEO over the last 18 months and in the years ahead.

All right, everyone. Thanks again for joining us, and we’ll see you again next time for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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