Google’s announcement in December that it would be expanding personalized search to include users not signed in to Google certainly created some anxiety for companies and individuals that are dependent upon search results for income. What exactly does this change mean, and how does an ecommerce company modify its search engine optimization efforts to accommodate the change?
What Is Personalized Search?
Let’s take a closer look at what Google is talking about. For some time, Google has been personalizing the search results of people signed in to most Google accounts. So, if you were signed into a Gmail account while using Google search, those results were affected by your previous browser use. In other words, those search results were not “absolute” search results. Instead, search engine users signed into Google were delivered unique search engine results pages. Now, that function is being applied to all Google users, regardless of whether or not they are signed in.
Google creates these customized search results based on 180 days of search history. That history is recorded by a Google browser-cookie living somewhere deep in the browser’s files. The user can turn off the customized results, but at the moment the default is for them to be turned on. Google feels that this allows it to give even more relevant search results to each individual.
Search Engine Optimization Still Important
So, the days of fairly standard search results in Google look to be gone. What does this mean for search engine optimization, especially for ecommerce sites? Well, first off, remember that search results have already been personalized for many searchers (everyone signed into a Gmail account, for example) and so standard search results have really been minimized for some time. The primary thing to remember is that the basic tenets of search optimization remains important even with personalized search in place: crawlable site architecture, keyword research, quality textual content, and link building. Without them, a site is simply not going to compete in Google results at all. With attention to these SEO entities, quality placement in search results is still very attainable.
I’ve written about the importance of description tags before, and they, along with title tags, remain very influential in user’s click-through decisions. Well-written and accurate title tags help not only to improve search results, but also affect trust and interpretation in the end user. Description tags, while they do little to augment keywords in the eyes of Google, can have a tremendous affect on click-through. Again, well-written, accurate description tags (a call to action can help, too) will put you at an advantage over those that are confusing, poorly written, or nonexistent.
Broaden Marketing Efforts
But Google’s change does underline the need for ecommerce sites to broaden their marketing efforts beyond SEO. While natural search optimization should continue to be core to any ecommerce online marketing campaign, the shift to personalized search results only augments the need for a wider online marketing plan, driving traffic and reinforcing search results by way of paid search, social media marketing and email marketing. Traffic and conversion is the bottom line. SEO is still alive and well in the world of personalized search, but its supporting cast has taken on a more important role.