Personalized Search at SXM Toronto 2010

With the major search engines working to personalize search results as much as possible, marketers will have to adapt their strategy to evolving algorithms. In this session, two panelists went over the basic of universal search, and what it might mean for marketers. However, although this presentation was marked as an “intermediary” level presentation, I found it rather basic. While one panelist mostly focused on explaining what personalization is, the other panelist took a more opinionated angled and stressed why marketers should be embracing personalized search.

Moderator: David Dalka, Dalka Strategy Consulting

  • Rob Garner, iCrossing
  • Shari Thurow, Omni Marketing Interactive

Rob Garner on Personalized Search

Most of Rob’s presentation was technical in that he mostly explained what personalized search is. As Rob explained, personlization represents a shift from objective results to subjective results. But in reality, the current state of SERP changes have been subtle, and Google likes it that way. Personalization also impacts paid, natural and feed submission, so it bears on all search kinds of search marketers. Some other facts include:

  • Personalization encompasses mobile, geography/local, theme, user behavior, and web search history.
  • 180 days of history are considered for non-logged-in users.
  • If you are logged-in, your results are personalized.
  • Google personalized 20% of all web searches.

Of course, personalization can be turned off, but it’s not easy. While signed-in users need to wipe out their entire web history, signed-out searchers can click on “disable” or remove their cookies. You can also add “&pws=0″ to the end of their search query URL. Also, if you click on “View Customizations” at top-right of the page, you can also see what’s been filtered out.

A result of this is that ranking reports are no longer stable. They are biased toward IP address, web history, etc. But ranking reports aren’t going to die just yet because they’re still useful to gage general visibility.

Optimizing for Personalized Results , then, is about sticking to the basic. First, you should continue to optimize as though personalization is off. Second, focus on high level content themes. Third, continue to try and rank for medium- and long-tail keywords. Finally, invest in your onsite SEO.

Most importantly, however, brands need to embody the mindset of their target market. Brand need to become publishers, because as long as they are producing content that’s going to engage their target market, it will make it all that much more likely that targeted users will find them through personalized search.

Shari Thurow on Personalized Search

This part of the session was the more opinionated one. In a nutshell, Shari’s point was that search engines are trying to figure out searchers, so marketers should too.

Shari started by pointing out that the real reason search engines want to personalize results is because it will let them deliver more targeted ads. She then stressed that personalization forces marketers to focus on optimizing for users instead of search engines. And for this reason, the onsite SEO basics are just as important as ever. Marketers must now focus building site experience that offer content and a user-experience that will really resonate with their target market.

Essentially, there are thee kinds of searches a user can be performing:

  • Navigational: when the user is trying to get to a site or to some content they already know about.
  • Informational: users are looking something specific; and even though bounce rates are high on quick fact pages, that doesn’t mean the user didn’t find what they were looking for.
  • Transactional: users are looking to purchase or download something.

So ambiguous and broad searches will benefit most from personalization because it’ll allow search engines to determine what a user actually meant by a vague search query. And there might actually be an opportunity for marketers to reach a potential customer that might have otherwise never been precise enough in their query to find a brand’s product page.

So rather than focusing on ranking for keywords, marketers should be looking more at ranking for “targeted searches.” After all, you don’t just want a user because they searched a generic keyword that could pertain to your products/services, you want a user who is actively looking for your products/services.

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