There is no standard Google and no standard Google results. Understanding how Google serves its results is key to understanding your digital marketing successes. Ranking number one for ‘key cutters’ in Nottingham if you are based in Yorkshire is not necessarily something to celebrate, after all who travels that far to spend £3? Context is key.
In 2009 personalised results was introduced to all searchers in Google, whether logged into a Google account or not. From this point, there is no such thing as ‘unpersonalised Google results’.
How are results personalised?
Google results are personalised based on a number of factors, in fact according to Eli Pariser there are up to 57 different personalisation factors. These include your obvious factors such as your location and language to your search history, time of search, social activity and interests. Google will personalise everyone’s results, so the same search term can serve different results for different people.
This personalisation is obvious when it comes to location if you change your location via the Google search settings, you will immediately see a dramatic change in your results. I’ve written a previous post about finding your online competitors, including a guide to changing your search location and why you would do this, if you would like more information on this, give it a read.
Location is the most basic of personalisation factors that you must consider when finding your online competitors, measuring your search rankings and understanding how your audience sees your website. The location of a searcher is beyond your control, as is the search history, interests and social activity of the searcher. The same can be said for the device that the searcher is using, but this is where you may begin in realise that although these factors may be out of your control, there are things you can do to improve your visibility in these circumstances.
For example, the Google search results will serve mobile friendly sites higher than non-mobile friendly sites if the searcher is on a mobile device. Although you cannot control what device your audience uses, you can control how mobile friendly your website is.
The same can be said for location. If someone is searching in York for a key cutting service and you own a number of key cutter businesses nation-wide but have nothing on your website that says you have a shop in York, then you cannot expect Google to serve your results to searches in York. If you do not pinpoint where you operate, you cannot expect Google just to guess.
How do personalised results affect my rankings?
Your Google rankings will change based on a large number of factors, which is why we would always recommend that you look at the performance of your website on a whole; including your traffic, conversions, landing pages and search engine referrals. We do understand, however that rankings can give an easy indication to many business owners of how well their website is performing and that a number of our clients like to see their average rankings for specific phrases.
It must be said, however that one simple number is never going to be enough to explain the extremely complicated process behind the Google algorithm and personalisation of results. It also must be said that factors that you may see as out of your control, can be worked upon to improve your search engine visibility – such as mobile integration and your location and service locations, not to mention social presence, high quality content, site speed, user experience and a huge range of factors that will affect how Google judges your website and how users respond to your website (which will be reflected in personalised results).
As Google becomes more sophisticated, rankings will begin to lose the meaning they once had – as there will be no meaningful way to report, track or even understand them. There are no ‘unpersonalised results’ and as personalisation is becoming more detailed, we can only estimate a ranking based on a small number of factors as opposed to the large number Google is able to use. This extreme personalisation means that focus should be on creating engaging, useful and purposeful content while making your website as user-focused as possible. You need to include the information your searchers want while making sure the website is clear, easy to use, fast and self-explanatory.
Some people think of personalisation as a negative, because it takes away consistency from search engine results – making it harder to understand how you are perceived by your audience. But, if you target your website and your content right then personalisation will give smaller businesses more chance of reaching their target audiences. Yes, the bigger companies may have more visibility across different locations because they tend to be more authoritative, but personalisation craves detail and the bigger companies may be authoritative but they are usually also general. Smaller businesses, however have the opportunity to be more specific and have more time to develop the local connections and recognition which will appeal to this personalisation factor. Personalisation allows smaller businesses to climb the search results and gain visibility, as long as they know how to use their strengths.