Will Personal Search Turn SEO On Its Ear?

    November 29, 2008
    Chris Crum

At PubCon, Bruce Clay, Inc. President Bruce Clay presented at a session entitled "Top-Shelf Organic SEO" in which he discussed the approaching future of SEO as search engines evolve into more modern ranking methods through more personalized search results. Bruce was good enough to take the time to speak with our own Michael McDonald in a one-on-one interview about personal search, which can be viewed in the video below.

In this interview, Bruce elaborated on the concepts mentioned above.

Behavior Based Search

Bruce says that everybody who does a search will end up with different search results based on their prior search history. Personalization is going to be "web-wide" using third party cookies and things.

He provided a specific example of a search for "java". Some are looking for programming, some are looking for the beverage, and some are looking for travel information. Theoretically, personal search will know that and provide results accordingly.

"We can’t search for any term and look at rankings because I can get different results than you for exactly the same query. So that’s going to change a lot," he says. It doesn’t matter if you’re logged into Google or not. Bruce believes that Google personalized results will be coming out within the first quarter of next year.

Intent-based Search

Google has been looking up your IP and revising results based on IP. They know where you’re located and can make assumptions about the intent of your search. As you get more into intent-based search, it’s going to change the way pages rank, Bruce explains. "The page that ranks for a shopping query is an entirely different architecture than the page that ranks for a research query."

Where Does this Leave the SEO Crowd?

"Ranking is dead," says Bruce, recalling his words from his presentation. Going forward, he says you’re going to have to look at analytics, measure traffic, bounce rates, action, etc. SEOs will have to ask themselves questions like:

– Did I get the conversion I was after?

– Did I really deliver on the promise of SEO?

Bruce thinks that in the first six months of 2009, we’re going to see a lot more implementation of behavior and intent-based search leading to a mindset of "ranking is dead, and traffic is all that matters."

Universal Search

Bruce ClayBruce says this will be the most significant factor of 2009. Google looks at soundtracks and convert them to text. They can jump into the middle of videos, scan sites to determine if you have video/images or not. There are a lot of variables in universal search, and some of these variables tell how engaging your site is.

If you don’t have video and your competition does, Bruce thinks we’re going to see a big shift in rankings. He thinks if the top ten sites don’t have video, they may lose their ranking over night.

Bruce notes that Google has been testing some of these variables, and will really start testing them a lot more in the first quarter, once the holidays are out of the way. He mentions the criticism Google took over the Florida Update, which took place in the month of November, and believes the company wants to avoid that again. He thinks we’re going to see a lot of "Google Dances" early in the year though.

The Impact on Spam

According to Bruce, this is all going to really help Google fight spammers. He says it will affect the way scrapers and spammers work, because if they are just scraping text, they wouldn’t be able to rank.

He also says that all of the variables that come into play may diminish the value of linking, which will certainly not help the spammers’ cause either. He says it will be a big win for Google, and big win for the searchers.

There’s no question that if everything Bruce talked about comes true, the SEO world will be turned on its ear. Bruce says, "If you’re not ready for it as an SEO, you’re gonna lose."