Personalised search is Google’s way of trying to give you the best results possible. While this is great for the average user, it does create a lot of confusion for people working on SEO.
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.
Personalisation is the term given to search query results relative to certain information obtained from the user. This can be an IP address, geographic location, and previous searches. When a user logs in to Google, Google takes much of the user’s previous activity into consideration when displaying results. Even using different browsers can result in varying search engine results.
In 2016 Google announced its latest algorithm named RankBrain. RankBrain is an AI change that attempts to understand the context of the content on any given site. It essentially eliminates the idea of keyword density, because the challenge is to understand the content and its value to search engine users.
Paid ads (Adwords) have their own algorithm. It’s rumored that Google’s ad algorithm AI has enough data and intelligence to project what a user will search for before they type a query into search based on their browsing history.
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 anymore.
What is really happening is the president is signed into his Google account and he follows the competitor’s company not that of his own company. This Google connection is pushing the competitor content up since Google assumes it must be of interest to him. Because the president visits his competitor website a lot it is distorting results.
In actuality, his own website has a higher rank for many terms but he isn’t seeing it due to the personalisation of his results.
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.