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Surviving Personalized Search: A Guide for SEO’s

There is a great deal of talk within the search marketing world concerning the future introduction of personalization factors into search as a way to improve SERPS relevancy. Many regard this as the death of SEO. It is reasoned that if each user is getting a unique and personalized search experience; the SEO cannot deduce the unique personalized signals used by search engines to help sort the search results. Furthermore, that any SEO techniques employed to optimize a web page would probably boost rankings for only a handful of searchers.

I strongly disagree. In fact I see personalization as ushering in a new era of SEO, in which search optimizers are able to target specific audiences with great precision. This will be, as Stoney has so eloquently defined, the era of Destination Marketing.

The First Key: Understand Web Information Retrieval

Knowledge is Power
First and foremost, SEO’s need to cultivate a greater understanding of web information retrieval techniques as used by modern search engines. There are certain basic IR elements that form the foundation of web search, these vital components are effective and will not be abandoned. Step 1 is therefore to become familiar with modern search technology and web IR and sorting algorithms.

Web IR Resources:
Survey on Web IR Technologies
Google Directory: Information Retrieval

The Second Key: Innovative and Intuitive Research Methodology.

Technique is Everything
As personalization signals are introduced by the search engines, they will be used to improve the relevancy of search results for individual users. They will improve upon the base algorithmic results by applying additional sorting algorithms that use data collected about the individual user. Some search engines will use classification schemes that will categorize users into pre-defined categorical “buckets”. Others will apply dynamic and/or linear algorithms which factor in any personal data that is available to the engine. By studying diversity and commonality amongst search results, taking into account many possible factors such as geography, search history, season, temporal information, demographics, gender, etc. and combining this data with intuitive analysis methods and innovative research techniques, an understanding of the way search engines incorporate personalization will emerge. Regardless of the diversity of search results between each user, there still exists concrete algorithms that interpret that data.

Research Resources:
[link no longer available] Audience Dialogue’s Techniques
Google Scholar

The Third Key: Create Without the Compromise

Hello Destination Marketing
The ultimate goal of the search engine is to furnish perfect search results for each user. This is accomplished by building search systems that mimic human evaluation behavior. The introduction of personalization factors into search results will be a big step towards this goal. Accordingly as the search engines evolve methods of site evaluation that more closely resemble that of actual users, there will be less and less compromise between optimizing for the search engines vs. optimizing for users. Start building exceptional websites that offer unique and engaging experiences. This will be favored by your human as well as your machine audience.

Web Design Resources:
Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab
Web Style Guide

The Fourth Key: Community Over Monopoly

Goodbye Trophy Rankings
As personalization progresses we will see the death of the keyword monopoly. As many more opportunities to achieve a pole position will become available however in very segmented markets. For example:
Lets say that the ABC Corporation, a hardware supplier based in Reno Nevada, is the top result for “Hardware Store”, when someone in the greater Reno-Tahoe area searches for that keyword. If someone in New York City performs the same search, ABC Corporation of Reno will be nowhere in sight on those SERPS.
The lesson here is to stop aggressively pursuing general strongholds and monopolies, because they simply will not exist. A more appropriate focus would be to define your target audiences and then learn absolutely everything you can about them. You can then leverage this data much in the same way the search engines will.

Market Research Resources:
Market Research Wiki
Market Research Guides

The Fifth Key: Search is a Community

Search engines are no longer stop-and-go sites; they are full-fledged Internet destinations. Offering a wide range of valuable and unique services, each of which represents an audience and an opportunity. Therefore it will be increasingly important to find innovative ways to become salient to these other streams of search-related traffic.

Search Engine Vertical Offerings Resources:
List of Google Services
All Yahoo! Services

Surviving Personalization – Quick Recap:

  • The First Key: Understand Web Information Retrieval
  • The Second Key: Strong Research Methodology.
  • The Third Key: Create Without the Compromise
  • The Fourth Key: Community Over Monopoly
  • The Fifth Key: Search is a Community
Max Speed

If the Pole Position Marketing team had a muse—and it does—it would be Max Speed. We love Max’s occasionally off-color, usually amusing and always pointed “Maxisms.” (Maybe “Maxims” would be a better word.) Max gives voice to some of the things we think but, bound by professional decorum, aren’t permitted to say. At least, not out loud.

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