Years ago everyone saw exactly the same search results. Today no-one sees exactly the same search results. Everyone gets a personalised experience to some degree, even in private browsing windows. The reason behind this is that Google wants to give the user the most relevant results.
Personalised search results are the results a user sees in a search engine that aren’t just based on the traditional ranking factors, but also on the information that the search engine has about the user at the given time, such as their location, search history, browser history, social media activity, demographics, or interests.
Even using different browsers can result in varying search engine results, and pages are ranked differently on mobile and desktop devices.
With personalisation, when considering SEO, you now need to take into account that your own ranking data and that of your potential customer’s is skewed.
Negative Affects on Your Business’s Results
Someone who clicked on the competitor’s search result in the past (including you) will likely see them as a top result in the future, even if your website’s rankings improve.
And for searchers who haven’t visited your site in the past but have been to a competitor’s, their results will likely get personalised in favour of your competitor.
Real-world Scenario for Search Personalisation
The president of a small business pulls his marketing manager into his office and tells her their SEO efforts are not working. He tells her he is constantly seeing his competitor on page one and he feels her efforts on SEO are wasted. He questions their activity and states he isn’t sure she should work on SEO any more.
What is really happening is the president follows the competitor’s company, and not that of his own company. This Google connection is pushing the competitor up since Google assumes it must be of interest to him. Because the president visits his competitor’s website a lot it distorts the results.
His own website may have a higher rank for many terms but he isn’t seeing this due to personalisation.
How Personalisation Works
Country – One of the easiest personalisation ranking factors to understand is that people are shown results relevant to the country they’re in. Someone in the US searching for “football” will get results about American football; someone in the UK will get results about the type of football that Americans would call soccer.
Local Area – Search engines also tailor results to match the city or metropolitan area based on the user’s location. Common searches like plumber or divorce lawyer will display results located near the searcher, even without someone using the location in their search phrase.
Personal Search History – What has someone been searching for and clicking on from their search results? What sites do they regularly visit? Answers to both questions will alter a person’s search results. Google creates a personalised profile for every searcher using their browsing and search history, and subsequently alters the search results they see, based on their interests.