Personalised search: how will SEO fare?

February 6, 2007

Personalised search is going to be big! That’s my prediction since I started using the feature on Google recently. It’s made a huge difference to the quality and relevance of results I receive and made finding the information that appeals to me a lot easier. The idea of personalised search is that it learns from your searching and clicking habits so it can return results that are more likely to appeal to you. I’ve found that after a few weeks of use the amount of search engine spam that appears in the top 20 results has dwindled significantly for the majority of searches I perform, that alone is worth switching the feature on for!

So, from a user perspective, personalised search definitely looks like it is a good thing and the more intelligent Google etc can make it the more value it will add to the user experience. But the question I have is how will this impact on companies SEO (search engine optimisation) strategies going forwards?

The idea of a personalised search is that it learns from your queries and the results that you click on so it can return more relevant results to you. Initially, when you switch on personalised search you will get the usual results, ranked according to whatever search engines algorithm you happen to be using at the time. After a short amount of time you’ll notice it begin to learn from your habits and present slightly different results. This means that you are overriding the search engine algorithm, but more importantly you are overriding a lot of the SEO efforts made by the site owners. SEO will still be key in bringing you to the top of the results in the initial searches, but as the personalisation kicks in the SEO efforts are going to matter less and less.

So, maybe site owners would be better investing in ensuring their websites are created in well formed code which adhere’s to standards rather than link exchanges and copy writing specifically for SEO (as we know, search engines love well formed code)? Possibly… but SEO will still be an important method of ensuring you get good visibility in search engines. The factors that will probably (possibly, this is my supposition) become more important are things like well formed code, quality inbound (and outbound) links, pagerank (of course) and other factors that a good SEO can influence. Keyword density etc may be less important as personalisation takes hold of the web.

Personalised search is only going to get more pervasive as we move to a more intelligent and semantic web so this issue is only going to get more relevant to SEO’s. I’d expect to see some new SEO theory emerging in line with the move to more intelligent search. A full-on semantic web however is another article entirely and could throw the whole SEO world upside down very suddenly…


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