Can You “Rank” in Google if Everyone Has Different Search Results?

    December 27, 2009
    Chris Crum

Google has extended its personalized search functionality to users who are not even signed in. This goes for Google users around the world, in over 40 languages. What this means is that when you search with Google, it will provide results that are aimed at higher relevancy to the individual user, as opposed to relevancy for the average person.

"For example, since I always search for [recipes] and often click on results from, Google might rank higher on the results page the next time I look for recipes," Google explains in a blog post on the subject. "Other times, when I’m looking for news about Cornell University’s sports teams, I search for [big red]. Because I frequently click on, Google might show me this result first, instead of the Big Red soda company or others."

Can you "rank" in Google if everyone has different results? Share your thoughts on this.

What Does This Mean for SEO? 

Naturally, when Google announces any significant changes to the way users get their search results, the search engine optimization community must take notice, and must consider what said changes mean for them. If people start getting more results that are specifically tailored to their own tastes, it could be harder for businsses to reach those people through traditional SEO tactics. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is this: Google always makes changes, but there are always ways to adapt.

"Honestly, if this makes Google more relevant for their searchers – all power to them," says Barry Schwartz of RustyBrick, which offers SEO services. "I am not going to say I know what is better for the average searcher. They can quickly figure this out after days and decide to keep it, turn it down, or off completely. SEOs will adapt, like they always do – we are a strong and smart bunch – I am not worried."

My guess is that all of the same best practices for search engine optimization will apply. What you may have to pay greater focus to is your target audience.

Are you worried? Do you think this is a change that could have a negative impact on your search engine traffic? Tell us what you think.

On the other hand, personalized search could play to the strengths of the horizontal content approach. Rich Ord, CEO of iEntry Network and Publisher of WebProNews has an interesting take on the matter. "There is going to be the same number of searches and the same number of clicks to content," he says. "So basically, personalization in search will just be dividing up the traffic pie more."

"This could make people think more about the long tail instead of just focusing on their top key words that they would like to rank for," he adds. "It could also make people less reliant on organic search results for their traffic and in turn increase their use of Adwords."

Could personalized search directly contribute to an increase in revenue for Google itself? Interesting.

The feature has been available to Google users who have accounts, are signed in, and have their web history enabled (on Google) for a while. Now it appears to just be the standard way of delivering search results to everybody.

"This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser," Google says. "It’s completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users). You’ll know when we customize results because a ‘View customizations’ link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we’ve customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization."

If you’re worried about privacy, settle down, because Google lets you turn personalized search off altogether. For signed-in users, all you have to do is remove web history from your Google account. For signed out users, click "web history" in the top right corner of a search results page, then click "disable customizations." You can also just clear your browser’s cookies.

As a user, do you like the idea of Google personalizing your search results? Discuss here.

On a related note, Google is also rolling out the inclusion of real-time search results on regular search results pages for some queries. These results draw from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and numerous other sources. This means you have yet another opportunity for visibility, but it also presents a new challenge, as with any other universal search element, it may push organic listings down on the page.  Are you glad to finally see some real-time search make its way to Google?
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