Let's talk about personalization and Google's big problem.
We're used to thinking of online personalization as a good thing in marketing – it helps engage the customer and sell products! But when it comes to search engines, personalization clashes directly with SEO: Using the exact same search terms, two different people can have very different top SERPs. That's a significant issue for teams that are trying to improve their page ranking (TechCrunch has a good piece on the other problems personalization presents). If you get different results every time you open a browser and check on the website, it may have nothing to do with your own SEO efforts!
Google's search engine personalization also impacts prospects that are using organic searches to inspect your brand and your competitors, which adds another layer of complication. To look at how personalized search works let's examine the five big factors that affect Google's SERP tweaking.
1. The Location
More and more frequently, location data is influencing results just about everywhere, and that includes the first things that show up in search results. This location data is based on where the user is currently searching from, and it gets particularly complicated in cities as Google tries to adjust for the closest and highest-rated places of business or attractions. Someone can pull out their phone and do a search on one street, but will get many different results if they simply move a few miles in any direction. When possible, you should track results from specific, target locations around your city to make sure you are doing as well as you should be.
2. The Type of Device
Because Google uses different algorithms for mobile devices, it's almost like you are using a different type of search engine for smartphones and tablets. You will simply get different results when switching back and forth from desktop: That's not traditional SEO, it’s the result of mobile optimization both on the search engine and on your site. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest factors to deal with: Have a fully optimized mobile site. We can help you with that!
3. The Browser History
Yep, Google will look at the available browser history and will use it to push certain results higher than others based on what it thinks you want. This is one of the trickiest parts of personalization, and it's frankly problematic from any angle. But until Google decides to ditch it, we're stuck with our browser histories influencing page ranking: This is particularly problematic if a prospect searches for your competitor first, because that makes competitor pages more likely to show up in organic searches. There's not much you can do about that, but you can get unclouded page ranking results by going to a non-tracking, incognito mode. This is also a good reason to depend more on tools like Google Analytics or Rank Tracker for honest results.
4. The Google Activity
Here it gets even more complex. If you are signed up for a Google service with a Google account (originally made for Google+), that account is linked across all Google services. That includes YouTube, Gmail, Calendar, Maps, and much more. Yep – all the activity on those services, including your email content, can potentially impact page results. It's a good reason to not get too bothered over the page rankings shown on your own personal devices when you are logged into your Google account.
5. The Current Content Being Accessed
Now it starts to get a little creepy. Google has also filed patents to track(as much as possible), the other content the user is consuming. For example, Google wants to know if you are watching TV, and if you are, what channel you are watching. It will then update your search results with this information so you have links that are more related to that particular show. In other words, what users are currently doing in the real world is starting to impact their searches. There aren't many controls for that!