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September 12, 2008


Next Generation Search: Search 4.0 (Personalized Search)

by Anthony Verre

Search 4.0: Personalized Search

If you’ve read Darrell Long’s post, then you probably have the some questions too? If you haven’t, here’s a quick synopsis:

With the emergence of personalized search on the horizon (and already being introduced), once again the search marketing and search engine optimization world may be turned on its head. Ranking at the top of the organic results in Google will not matter anymore, so SEOs need to pull themselves out of the mindset that #1 position for a given search query is valuable. SEOs should be focusing on optimization that drives on-site conversions and stimulates traffic.

(Which, if you were worth your salt in the SEO industry, you’ve already figured out and were using this a major measurement for clients)

Ranking in the top position isn’t going to mean a whole with the personalized search in Google, (and eventually all engines), so don’t waste your client’s time and yours targeting this as a goal.

Ok, that being said, this too must also be said: I couldn’t agree more about undertaking extraordinary effort to rank #1. It’s certainly not a “must-have”, but it’s a “nice-to-have”. The top five will do just fine.

But this does raise the questions for me about search and organic rankings. If we are to believe that personalized search will, in a sense, make search ranking obsolete based on an individual’s personal preference, then next step in SEO is to involve its twin sister: USABILITY. After all, what good is an entire world finding you if they can’t use your site to get what they need/want?

While many might say this is a “duh” response, you’d be surprised at how many “well-ranked” sites have atrocious usability. Usability is the fundamental backbone of websites, and in conjunction with goal presentation and funneling, determines, ultimately, if your site is going to “make it” or “break it”.

Content may be king, but usability and goal funneling are gravity. And, through Search 4.0, Google is once again going to evolutionize the web again. Google Darwinism is back and meaner than ever. Now, not only does your site have to have polished content, linking strategies, and good goal presentation, it has to be usable by a general populous.

Up until now, if you felt like these were siloed elements, that is, you could excel at one or two and abandon the others, and still make a dent in the engines organically, you were right. That’s all about to change. Now, sites are going to need all four elements working in conjunction, together. Because Grandma Smith in Miami, is going to want a site that easy to use, has the content, and presents her with specific actions to take once she gets there.

I’ve already begun to do this type of usability with my clients. And, I’m already seeing excellent increases in goal conversion. If you want a great starters guide for web usability and what to look for, check out Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think“. It’s a little pricey, but a great jump start for SEOs to start the usability journey. Another excellent resource is Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox.

  1. Sep 12 2008

    I have been reading about personalized search for over 10 years now. It may occur in our business lifetime with enough impact to change some ways, but they still need a base to start with and that will be the traditional ranking system.

    Personalized search is a double edged sword. Once you go down the wrong branch (someone else using another person’s computer or session) of a boolean tree in the logic stream you are now serving up irrelevant results and thus will loose your search user base over time.

    The traditional base will be returned to if the system determines that the click thrus are not as much as statistically they should be.

  2. Sep 10 2009

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  3. Michael
    Sep 17 2010

    “we shouldn’t assume that the general viewing public is an idiot. We should try to evolve the medium by making intuitive systems that educate the user – not design to what level we think they can handle. – Joshua Davis”

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