5 February 2010
5 February 2010,
How Google’s Personalized Search Affects Your Search Experience–And Your Customers’

Since last April, Google’s Personalized Search has been based largely on knowing the location of your computer’s IP address. That allowed Google to display local businesses near the top of search results –even when the search phrase used included no geographic locator. But as of December 5, it’s more than that.

Personalized search is something that Google has been working on for a while. To get real personalized search results in the past, though, you had to be “logged in” and have “web history” enabled in Google to enjoy its benefits. But, as of December 2009, Google began to offer “personalized” search results even when you are not logged in.

What does this mean? It means that Google is now using what it already knows about your internet usage to suggest websites that it thinks you are looking for.

Take this example: Two people search for “adobe.” One is working on building an adobe house, and has been visiting websites that describe this process. The other is a graphic artist who is looking for new photo editing software for her business. She has already visited sites for Paint.net and Gimp.

So both people search for “adobe” using Google. The adobe house builder is shown GreenHomeBuilding.com at or near the top of the list. The graphic designer gets the software company Adobe.com at the top.

This is one example, but it is not necessarily the most common one. Usually, the personalization is due to your location. For the average desktop connected to the Internet via a standard cable connection, Google uses your IP address to determine your location.

But, what if you are using a laptop away from home via a wireless connection? In that case, Google needs different information in order to determine your location.

You recently may have noticed the following at the top of your search page if you have the Google Toolbar enabled: “Google would like to have access to your location. The Google Toolbar will periodically use the network to keep your location up to date.” If you click on the “learn more” link, Google explains that if you provide permission in this way, they will use information transmitted by nearby WiFi access points to determine your approximate location. So, even if you are traveling with your computer, they can keep their personalized search results up to date with your location.

For some time, search engine optimization specialists like me have discussed, with a varying level of concern, the effect that personalization will have on our work. Personally, I think the greatest challenge that personalization causes is in client education. If a client asks 10 individuals to test the company’s website visibility on the search engines, the results are likely to be confusing.

That’s why my advice to businesses is always to focus not on search engine ranking, but on website traffic and performance.

While the search engines can often deliver excellent prospects to your site, they are not the only source of good customers.

An intelligent online marketing specialist will create a strategy that develops a traffic flow from a variety of sources, including industry sites, paid advertising, blogs and other social media. That helps protect the investment in Internet marketing from changes in search engine algorithms and the effects of personalization.

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