SERPs And Personalized Search

I know what you did last summer. Scared yet? Before you call 911 and report me as a stalker, let me assure you I did no such thing. However, by 2008, your search engine might. It’s called Personalized Search.

I will leave it up to the lawyers to worry about privacy concerns, and will strictly concentrate on how Personalized Search will affect our industry in general.

Search marketers have long speculated that search engines were using “other” sources of data to provide the most relevant search results. Specifically, talks about Google PageRank collecting search patterns and Yahoo’s MyBlogLog collecting browsing patterns certainly raised some eyebrows in the search engine marketing community. (As if it’s not hard enough to deal with homogenous search results — end-users might actually see different results pages?)

With the launch of Google’s “Web History,” an emerging trend of personalized search has solidified from SEM possibility to SEM reality. Yes, that means your client will be looking at a different search engine results page (SERP) than you do, and so will millions of other people. But this raises a legitimate question: If I searched for Toyota reviews five times in a row, does that mean that I wouldn’t want anything about Nissan in the future?

Similarly, if the online community feels that Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee tastes better than Starbucks’, should that mean Starbucks would be penalized in SERPs? We already have some experience with community generated search results on Digg, but I haven’t really heard anybody being overly excited about that.

How do you optimize a site then if everybody’s looking at different search results? Here are some quick tips:

  1. If you’re not part of “social marketing” trend, I suggest jumping on that boat ASAP. As of October 2006, according to, 40 out of the Fortune 500 companies were blogging about their products/services. If Cisco does it, there is no reason why your smallest client shouldn’t.
  2. Find out who your existing customers are. Who really is your target demographic? And that doesn’t mean anybody who has a credit card. Once you have a “profile,” figure out what those people do online, and establish your presence in those communities. As an example, share advice, post unbiased reviews, etc.
  3. “Search Engine Marketing” will now be more “Marketing” than “Search Engine”. Talk to your HTML and copywriting people — make sure they understand building sites for search engines vs. building sites for busy human beings.

If SEs claim they are here to provide end-users with the most satisfactory user-experience, as marketing professionals we’ll have to figure out what that “most satisfactory experience” is and the best way to deliver it. Days of websites being stand-alone entities are over. We have to seriously consider what the online community feels and how that positively/adversely affects your site. If users feel your site is worth looking at, hopefully, you’ll be rewarded in search engine result pages.

Greg Laptevsky
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