If you’ve had a website for any length of time, and you’ve been working on attracting new visitors to it, you’ve probably been engaging in search engine optimization (SEO) to some degree. Most SEO efforts have been oriented to a goal of achieving high search engine rankings for certain terms, say “kitchen remodeling bakersfield ca.” Yet the web continually changes, and you need to change with it. One essential change that you need to grasp quickly is that targeting high rankings as a result of your SEO efforts may actually leave your website last on the list.
Wait…but sites are still ranked…aren’t they?!
Yes and no. If you search Google or Bing for “kitchen remodeling bakersfield ca,” you’re going to see a list of results for you to consider. These listings are ordered; after all, there is one (and only one) website that tops the list. That top ranking is the holy grail that so many website owners and managers have yearned for. It’s been a never-ending quest to show up as number one for specific search terms. We’ve all wanted it.
However, it is crucial to know that Google (for years) and Bing (since 2011) tailor the listings you see just for you. It’s called personalized web search. (Google and Bing, by the way, still control a lion’s share of all search traffic, especially since Bing supplies Yahoo! with its results.)
Personalized web search
How does personalized web search work? Well, let’s say that you own a crafting supply store, and you want to see how well your website performs for “jewelry making supplies” with your town name. The results you see will most likely be different than what your friend might see…even if she uses the same search terms. On your list, your site might be ranked #4, but on hers, it might be #11.
This is because of personalized web search. Search engines remember what you’ve searched for in the past and what results you’ve previously clicked on to help them determine what results you most likely want to see. And if you’re logged in to Google, for example, your Google profiles, which include your YouTube, Google+, Gmail, and Picasa accounts, are also helping to inform the kinds of results you see.
All this helps make one simple but profound point: Gone are the days of doing one thing (your SEO) and expecting uniform results (a definitive rank). The web is becoming more and more about a personalized experience.
Interaction, sharing, and social media
Personalized web search also goes beyond just your past searches and online activity. Your connections on various social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, also play a role in what you may see in your search results versus what someone else sees in theirs.
Quite honestly, this embraces a unique feature of the internet over other kinds of media: the ability to share and communicate with others in real time. People can see something they like and post about it on Facebook, leave a comment on the website, or send a link to friends. When people who run websites embrace that concept, then they realize that the web can be a responsive—as well as a different—experience for everyone.
Google and Bing have already demonstrated their desire to pull information from social media networks to integrate into their search results. Things your Facebook friends have shared or Twitter followers have tweeted may show up in your search results if they are germane to the search you’ve just made. Google actually takes this a step further in their Search Plus Your World concept. (I’ll talk more about Search Plus Your World in a later article, but for now, in simple terms, this is a way that Google is determining what websites to list in their search results to you based on what your social media connections like. For example, if you and your friends are on Google+, material that your friends have liked, or in Google’s case, “+1ed,” may rank more highly than other results.)
Putting it all together
Giving up the ever-tempting quest of ranking number one in search engine results can be a big paradigm shift for many folks who run websites. Knowing that it is an impossible goal because there is no definitive ranking anymore can help you embrace the change.
But more than that, this now means that more than ever there are no magic formulas or secret tricks to improving your website’s search engine ranking. If anything, it reinforces the main principles of any good business plan and marketing program—and certainly good SEO. Success comes from offering a quality and valuable product or service consistently. The same applies to your website: If your website offers something unique and valuable to your customers, they will come back to your site…and recommend it to friends.