Personalised search is Google’s latest tactic of boosting rankings for domains that users have shown they are more likely to visit based upon their search history. It can be disabled, but when it’s on by default, search (and click-through) history is stored in a 180 day cookie meaning personalised search comes into play only on that browser and machine you are using; the information in the cookie cannot be passed between multiple browsers/machines.
There really is only one way to react to personalised search [besides encouraging people to jump through hoops and volunteer to search for you in Google rather than simply typing in your web address] and that is by improving the quality of search listings to maximise click through rates. This should be part of your SEO task list already, but it is now more vital than ever to ensure that your search listing is as enticing as possible to ensure you get that first click. Therefore, should users go back and perform subsequent searches, your website is now more likely to get a boost in rankings due to the history stored in Google’s cookie.
How do you do that? Here are some optimisation techniques that are vital for improving search listings. Make sure you’ve got them on your SEO check list:
1. Page titles
As you probably know, you should be optimising your website’s page <titles> to include keywords, probably in a format similar to this:
Primary keyword | Secondary keyword | Tertiary keyword | Site name
Of course this is entirely subjective to the type of website and the individual web page in question. Keywords are highlighted in bold in search results and so it is vital that you include keywords, perhaps in a phrase that will capture the eye of a user searching for the information on that page. Think about how to make the page appear as relevant and useful as possible to the searcher. Think also about trustworthiness – if you have a strong, well established brand name that sets you apart from competitors in search results, then you should use that to your advantage in page titles. Experiment with the order of page titles as Amazon have done below (brand or product name first) and the format (keyword list vs. an article heading vs. a forum post heading, with/without a date, etc).
2/ Meta description
It has never been more important to make sure that you write a succinct (think up to 160 characters) description of the page in question. A call to action is ideal as is a mention of your primary keyword(s), along with any other USPs (unique selling points) appropriate for the contents of that web page.
3. Webpage copy
Search engines either take the snippet of text in search results from the Meta Description tag in the HTML, or from the web page copy itself. Often this means they’ll find the first instance of the keyword in the text and extract that along with a snippet surrounding it. Therefore, be aware of where the keyword first occurs on the page and experiment with this first section of copy. Keep it relevant, but as catchy as possible, while ensuring it serves its primary duty well on the web page.
Google sometimes includes a breadcrumb trail in search results as shown below:
On its own it may not improve click through rates, but if the page that has appeared in search results is not the best match for what the user was hoping to find, the breadcrumb trail can add more web page options and help them get to the content they’re searching for quickly.
5. Rich snippets
Make use of formatting in coding to ensure that snippets can be extracted easily. Think about ratings and reviews, dates on news/blog entries, forum posts or named anchors. This information adds value to your web page entry in search results, plus it’s eye-catching, setting your web page apart from the rest on the page.
Improve your organic search listings using ad copy performance data from PPC campaigns
Running a paid search campaign? You’d be wise to take a look at the ad copy you are currently using and match it against:
- The actual search keyword: if using broad/phrase match, the keyword can be different to the one used to find your site.
- Entry page: otherwise known as the destination URL in paid search. PPC gives you the chance to find out which pages perform best for landing pages and gauge which designs work best. Don’t forget there may be different expectations from landing pages with PPC, especially if you’re advertising a special offer in the ad.
- KPIs: CTR, conversion rate, bounce rate, page views on site, time on site and so on and so on.
Beware however: there are key differences between paid and organic search results that mean different ad copy/search snippets work best in each. First, paid ads can be changed instantly to allow you to display short-term, time sensitive offers, while organic search snippets are unlikely to change that fast. Also, there are different levels of trust associated with each type of search result, and of course different competitors. Make sure you know your target customers well enough to know which formats matter to them in each context.
I’m currently rolling some of these tactics out across some sites and experimenting myself, but I’d love to hear feedback from you if you’ve tried them. Naturally due to the nature of personalised search it’s very difficult to monitor the success of them, but there are some great articles going round about tracking organic search tracking, for example, by Yoast here, here and here.
Joanna Butler is an SEO and online marketing consultant, currently working for Latitude in London, UK. She has been in search marketing for around 4 years, and a digital marketer for more than a decade and enjoys sharing her passion for the field at conferences such as A4U Expo, Think Visibility and also Chartered Institute of Marketing seminars. Read more of her posts on her blog, Search Engine Chocolate, connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.