The Sky is Falling
For years I’ve been hearing about the death of SEO. So far, those predictions have never come true, but there are some changes on the search horizon that might actually contribute to the death of SEO as we know it. Those changes are called local and personalized search. Other search engines utilize local and personalized search but to keep things focused we’ll examine Google only.
Local search is nothing new and in many cases is already integrated into your regular Google search results. Go to Google.com and perform a search for ‘reno restaurants’ and you’ll see what’s called a ‘onebox’ for the local results above the general Google results. Click the link that reads “Local results for restaurants near Reno, NV” and it will take you to the same results page as if you had performed a similar search from Google Local.
Google utilizes many of these oneboxes for various reasons (try doing a search for ‘backpacks’ and you’ll see a onebox that takes you to Froogle, Google’s shopping search engine) however, it is possible, and in my view likely, that we’ll see more than a simple onebox for local results. If Google sees fit they can make the local results dominate the top 5 or top 10 search results.
It’s also possible that local results won’t be limited to regional type searches. Google can learn to determine your geographical location before you search and therefore produce search results accordingly. Let’s say you search for ‘improve search engine rankings’, Pole Position Web currently comes up in the #1 position. If a local filter were applied, someone in an entirely different geographical location would not see Pole Position Web in the results at all. Instead, local SEO companies would dominate the top spots.
If you perform the same search on Google Personalized, you’ll see Pole Position Web at the top again. However, (depending on how you set your profile) if you begin to drag the personalized bar toward max, you’ll see many of the top results replaced with results that are a better fit for your profile, according to Google. If I move my personalized bar all the way to the right Pole Position Web moves down to the #8 position.
I like Google’s implementation of personalized search. It’s nice being able to see the difference in search results in real time, depending on how you set the personalized level. Who’s to say, however, that this feature will always be available? I see this as a way for Google to test personalized search and allow users to get comfortable with it by seeing the difference without performing multiple searches. Google could easily implement a “max” personalized filter at any time if they believe it will produce the most relevant results to their users.
Both local and personalized search are usable in a way that does not conflict with the primary Google search results. Some feel it will always be this way, but I see the potential for Google to resist constant SEO manipulation by implementing these filters into their primary results. Such implementation would mean that every person in any geographic location would get considerably different search results based upon what Google knows about them.
Such an implementation would completely change the search engine optimization landscape. No longer could SEO manipulate rankings because no two searches for the same phrase (except those performed by the same person on the same computer) would produce similar results.
Implementation of personalized and local search results in search would not work in many circumstances. If someone is shopping for the cheapest price on a particular product or looking for information on a particular topic they really won’t care about geographic location or the “personalizing” results. I believe that local and personalized results dominating every set of search results would frustrate the searcher more than it would help. Google and other search engines, however, are always looking for ways to make results more relevant to the searcher and I believe that if they feel localization and personalization of the results will do just that, then this could be the future of search and the end of SEO as we know it.
The Sky is the Limit
For the sake of argument, let’s say definitively that personalization and localization of all search results is imminent. Does that kill the SEO industry? In part, yes. Much of the SEO industry revolves solely around getting keywords top rankings on the search engines. If that capability is eliminated due to results changing from person to person, top rankings can no longer be achieved uniformly by any SEO no matter how good they are at their craft.
The SEOs that will survive, however, are those that focus more on web site marketing than achieving top rankings. Personally, I think this is the case regardless of the implementation of localized and personalized search. Top rankings have such a narrow focus that in and of themselves they mean absolutely nothing at all. But many are still falling for that trap. While top rankings are a measure of success for a properly planned and strategized marketing campaign, they can also be a measure of failure for a campaign that does not target the audience properly.
I believe that the future of SEO relies on the broader aspects of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) to survive. SEO, I believe will always be a cornerstone of any SEM campaign, but monitoring of rankings themselves will be and are less important than tracking return on investment over the course of the campaign. To do so SEO/Ms must provide much more than ranking services. They’ll need to increasingly focus more on researching and developing a total search marketing campaign that will produce the highest quality results for every client.
With such a focus, local and personalized search will not hinder your online marketing campaign, only enhance it.