Today, it's no secret why people are shown personalized results when searching Google. Ever since the early days of Search, plus Your World, and the short-lived social experiment once known as Google+, there’s been a concerted push towards a more personalized search experience. And while Google+ did not survive the test of the time, many of those same user-centric search features still exist today.
Search any query like ice cream, bicycles, or yoga, and you'll see a dynamic display of local business listings, videos, images, questions/answers, blogs, and products - all filtered with you, the user, in mind. In many cases, it can feel downright eerie how accurately Google personalizes search results based on where you are, what you like, and who you’re connected to.
This is no accident. Any time an individual uses Bing or Google Search, they’re sharing information about their language, location, device, and web history — all the data that search algorithms use to provide personalized results. The only exception is when a user intentionally hides this information from Google, for example when using Chrome's incognito mode.
In turn, the organizations that can utilize ways to leverage personalization for SEO and surface their content among individualized search experiences can gain a significant competitive advantage.
Search personalization refers to Google’s ability to tailor search results to individual users based on unique characteristics, such as location, language, and previous search history either on the device in question OR via the Google account the user is logged into (regardless of device.) The extent of personalization largely hinges on prior search data, as well as how companies and content creators choose to use that data.
For marketing purposes, this means that businesses have the opportunity to utilize this search data and insight to create different variations of content for different audiences. If done properly, Google may elevate that content to appear more easily for users differentiated by the characteristics mentioned above.
What does this mean from a marketing perspective versus SEO strategy?
Personalization is a happy medium where these two strategies come together.
SEO brings users to your site, and on-page personalization will help guide users to your desired action. If you’ve designed your SEO strategy to target multiple audiences, consider how content variation could address each type of user (e.g., where they’re located, what language they speak, the intent behind their search query, etc).
For instance, will you have dynamic sections on each page that change based on customized factors, like country, language, or search intent? If so, you’ll need to make sure your personalization efforts do not actually hinder your SEO performance through common mistakes like duplicate content, competing URLs, or simply poor UX.
As users become more and more accustomed to seeing search results tailored to their unique preferences and location, the demand for accurate, personalized content grows. By crafting customized content, not only for your audience but also for Google’s algorithm, you can use personalization for SEO to maximize the potential of your website content to drive conversions.
For example, let’s say I live in Canada and I need to get an oil change. If I search “oil change service near me,” Google will display the closest oil change services based on which city or neighborhood I am closest to in Canada.
If you (hypothetically, of course) operate a large chain of oil change shops throughout Canada, there are steps you can take to better reach these location-specific users.
The first is ensuring your website is optimized with dynamic content that tells Google (and me, the user) that you have a location "near me". The second is ensuring you have a Google My Business listing dedicated to each location you operate, which you can link to from your website.
But let’s take this one step further. Let’s say Google has learned that I’m located in Edmonton, Canada based on prior searches I’ve made and locations I’ve visited. If I search just “oil change,” I may automatically see oil change services in Edmonton even though I didn’t specifically enter those keywords. Further, Google might show me search suggestions in its predictive autocomplete feature.
This example is used to communicate the weight that personalization carries in today’s digital world. If you aren’t considering the main factors that Google uses to customize search results to individual users, you may not appear for your ideal audience.
Google uses three main factors to create personalized search results, and you have the power to optimize your site for each one.
It may seem obvious, but users can only engage with your website if they can read (and understand!) what’s on it - and that starts with matching the right language content with the right users. If your business wants to connect with international audiences or a multilingual audience within one country, language and country targeting should be atop your list of ways to optimize for personalization.
Don’t rely on Google Translate to bridge the language barrier gap between international users and your website’s content. Here are a few key tips for personalizing according to language and country:
Another more common SEO best practice for personalization is to target local audiences and sub-audiences with localized content that’s optimized for hyper location-specific keywords. Google will always consider a user’s current location (assuming location sharing is enabled) as well as location history when displaying personalized search results, and will even get as specific as the spot on the sidewalk where the user is searching with a mobile device.
Use these local SEO tips to effectively target users by their location:
Here are some specific ideas for localization personalization (manual or dynamic!):
This is where understanding search data and knowing how to choose the right keywords for SEO takes center stage. In order to be included in a personal search result, your content's search terms need to line up with the searcher’s intent and Google’s perception of their interests. In-depth research into your audience, competitors, and industry trends can help you identify what will constitute valuable content for your ideal customer and which keywords will attract organic traffic.
If you’re new to SEO keyword research and content optimization, consider:
SEO is a multi-faceted, complex undertaking that can be affected by a multitude of factors. Keep these tools in mind when developing a personalized SEO strategy.
When implementing new copy and code to improve your SEO for personalization, you always want to avoid diminishing your existing rankings or - worse - damaging your SEO by making major errors along the way. To avoid making mistakes, make sure you pay attention to:
It’s no longer a matter of if search results are personalized, but to what extent they're personalized. And the extent to which largely depends on search data and how companies choose to use it.
As a savvy marketer, personalization presents an opportunity for you to enhance your SEO strategy, improve your Google search results, and outpace your search competition. By creating content that reflects diligent research into your target audience’s trends, searches, and location, you elevate your overarching digital marketing strategy to achieve a higher level of potential success.