The Elephant in the SEO Living Room

    June 8, 2007

Gord Hotchkiss put into words what I have been feeling: search marketers are paying far too little attention to personalized search. If you’ve looked at the baby steps that search engines have taken towards personalization and told yourself, "Well, no need to worry about that yet," think again. This may be your last chance to take action before the tidal wave.

Think about how much Google shook up the paid search world by adding clickthrough rates to the paid rankings. No more bid jamming and other tactics designed to secure a certain spot in the rankings or manipulate the bids to your advantage. It took a while, but now all the paid search engines use some variant of a hybrid ranking algorithm that is much harder to game.

That’s exactly what personalized search will do, too. It will make the system so complex that it is much harder to game. Search rankings are dead—it’s just that no one knows it yet. Any tricks designed to rank #1 are in jeopardy, because the ranking algorithm is about to undergo the biggest change ever.

This time, it’s personal.

If you thought that a Google algorithm update shakes up the search marketing world, you ain’t seen nothing yet. What will happen in a world where there’s no #1 result? There’s my #1 result and your #1 result and everyone else’s #1 result. In a personalized world, every searcher can get a different slate of results for the same query. Google is saying to each searcher, "You’re unique, just like everyone else."

You, the search marketer, will be left asking, "For how many searches was my page #1 yesterday?" And only the search engines know. So after years of not knowing how to monetize organic search, here finally is the answer. You’ll need to pay the search engines to find out where you ranked. Maybe they’ll sell you more information about the searchers to help you segment them. How much would you pay to find out who your searchers are where each one saw your page, and which of them clicked on you?

If your search marketing is built around ranking #1, it’s time to go back to basics. It’s time to understand what your conversions are, how many people are converting, what search keywords they are using, and how you can tweak your keywords and your Web site to make those conversions go up. Because rankings are about to disappear, whenever the search engines want them to.

Start thinking about how your approach to search marketing must change, because you’ll be ready when it happens while everyone else is lamenting the change to the algorithm. This isn’t your ordinary algorithm change and you don’t want to be caught short.