Years ago everyone saw exactly the same search results. Today no-one sees exactly the same search results. Everyone gets a personalised experience to some degree, even in private browsing windows. The reason behind this is that Google wants to give the user the most relevant results.
Personalised search results are the results a user sees in a search engine that aren’t just based on the traditional ranking factors, but also on the information that the search engine has about the user at the given time, such as their location, social media activity, demographics, or interests.
Even using different browsers and browser history can result in varying search engine results, and pages are ranked differently on mobile and desktop devices.
To determine the context of a person’s query (what they entered in the search box), Google will also look at things like the user’s immediate past searches and, if necessary, their entire search history.
For example, if I were to search for a query like “Clydesdale horses” and I’d previously been browsing the Clydesdale website, Google may tailor the rankings of the search results to show Clydesdale near the top.
This wouldn’t be the case for someone that hasn’t previously visited Clydesdale’s website, which makes it very tough to determine which website actually ranks #1 (because it can be different from one person to the next).
With personalisation, when considering SEO, you now need to take into account that your own ranking data and that of your potential customer’s is skewed.
Negative Affects on Your Business's Results
Someone who clicked on the competitor’s search result in the past (including you) will likely see them as a top result in the future, even if your website’s rankings improve.
And for searchers who haven’t visited your site in the past but have been to a competitor’s, their results will likely get personalised in favour of your competitor.
Real-world Scenario for Search Personalisation
The president of a small business pulls his marketing manager into his office and tells her their SEO efforts are not working. He tells her he is constantly seeing his competitor on page one and he feels her efforts on SEO are wasted. He questions their activity and states he isn’t sure she should work on SEO any more.
What is really happening is the president follows the competitor’s company, and not that of his own company. This Google connection is pushing the competitor up since Google assumes it must be of interest to him. Because the president visits his competitor’s website a lot it distorts the results.
His own website may have a higher rank for many terms but he isn’t seeing this due to personalisation.
How Personalisation Works
Country – One of the easiest personalisation ranking factors to understand is that people are shown results relevant to the country they’re in. Someone in America searching for “football” will get results about American football; someone in England will get results about soccer, and in Australia and New Zealand the top results will be related to rugby.
Local Area – Search engines also tailor results to match the city or area based on the user’s location. Common searches like plumber or divorce lawyer will display results located near the searcher, even without someone using the location in their search phrase. Google is now able to see which device you’ve searched from, where you’re located whilst you’re searching, even if you’re currently on the move.
Personal Search History – What has someone been searching for and clicking on from their search results? What sites do they regularly visit? Answers to both questions will alter a person’s search results. Google creates a personalised profile for every searcher using their browsing and search history, and subsequently alters the search results they see, based on their interests.
Google is rapidly getting cleverer at figuring out the meaning behind keywords, rephrasing those keywords, and producing better search results in response. The search results users see are not just a combination of the query and the ranking factors. In-between, Google may modify the query so that it can answer it better, and this modification process may be very different for various queries — and even for the same query made at different points in time.
Google’s getting much smarter at understanding what we need and what we want.
Hundreds of pages optimized for a specific keyword each make little sense if you think about your visitors – that’s just not a convenient way to get the information on the internet. Keyword research and on-page optimisation can play a big part in your SEO success, but these processes have to be different from what they used to be. Keyword research is a great way to discover the topics your audience is interested in, and the questions and problems they have. Then, if you address those in your content in a helpful way, remembering about your keywords but without obsessing over using all of them religiously, rankings will follow.
You need to be aware that the data that you’re looking at related to keywords is not 100% accurate. As a result, this should never be your primary performance metric.