Google+, Social Search, Personalised Search & SEO
If you have a Google+ account and are signed in most of the time, you will see very different search results to anyone else. Even if you are not signed in to Google Plus but have an account for your Google Places or Analytics you will get ‘signed in’ results, that will be different from ‘signed out’ results.
We wrote about public Google+ Posts appearing in the Search results not long ago. Earlier this week Google started including public Google+ posts in personalised search results as well. So when you are signed into your Google Account, your search results will start including more posts shared publicly by people you’re connected to on Google+.
So if someone in your circles recommends or talks about something you specifically search for, their post, (if it is public) will appear in the search results.
That’s not all – even your signed out results can be personalised by Google using your Web History and cookies.
It’s a bit of a minefield trying to get results that are not personalised in any way. Not only do you need to change your settings and sign out, but you need to do it in a particular order. I’ll show you how to do this later.
First, however, if you are interested in SEO the fact that many of your potential clients results will be personalised should be of great interest.
How can you use personalised results to your SEO advantage?
It’s now more important than ever to have a strong grasp of your demographic and to engage with them. If you have potential customers who have friended you on Facebook, circled you in Google +, followed you on Twitter and connected with you on LinkedIn and even Flickr, then you have a much better chance of ranking higher in their search results than a competitor with less connections. If you have liked your own posts, shared links to your pages or visited your pages often then that may effect the results of those in your social circles. Likewise if your social circles regularly visit your pages and like, tweet and +1 your posts then that in turn will effect the searches of their social circles
In a post about Social Search, Google lists the type of content you are likely to see more of in your search results:
- Websites, blogs, content that’s shared by or created by your friends
- Images shared by your social connections
- Articles from your Google Reader subscriptions
- Profiles of people you know beneath results for social sites like Twitter and Flickr
- Content recommended or shared by others using the +1 button.
According to Google:
“Social Search can help you find pages your friends have created, and it can also help you find links your contacts have shared on Twitter and other sites. If someone you’re connected to has publicly shared a link, we may show that link in your results with a clear annotation. So, if you’re looking for information about modern cooking and your colleague Adam shared a link about Modernist Cuisine, you’ll see an annotation and picture of Adam under the result. That way when you see Adam in the office, you’ll know he might be a good person to ask about his favorite modern cooking techniques.”
So it follows that good Search Engine Optimisation will include a strategy for actively engaging with your customers, encouraging them to visit your site and to share your content. It also follows that you should be concentrating your efforts on creating content that they want, enjoy and are likely to share. (See writing content that Google will love)
The fact that most users searches will be different, effected by different facets of user behaviour and social connections, reminds me of the butterfly effect. In fact the wikipedia definition of the butterfly effect is to imagine that “a ball placed at the crest of a hill might roll into any of several valleys depending on slight differences in initial position”. That’s what search is like now, that’s why engaging in social networks is not just preferable but essential to SEO, we want all the balls to roll into our valley!
Tuning off Personalised Search
SEO is getting more complicated. We can no longer actually see what the majority of users are seeing as their results are different from one another. The best we can do now, to check where we rank for search terms is the following:
- Log out of your Google Account
Personalized search is effected by data stored in cookies. And Personalized Search is now employed whether you are signed in with a Google Account or not.
Signing out of your account is straight forward, however disabling customisations based on search activity is a little more tricky as sometimes you may find that the Web History button has a habit of disappearing!
Note that you will have to be signed in to change the settings so change tese settings first before signing out.
When you open your browser for the first time (before you have started searching) you have no history to inform your searches and clicking on the settings button (the cog symbol) will look like this.
This is where you will be looking for the Web History link so that you can turn off history!
However if you type something into the search field and hit return (ie search) – when you now click on the cog symbol you should see this.
Now click on the Web History link
Now click on the Disable customisations based on search activity link.
You are now ready to see search results that will match everyone else who is:
a) Not signed into Google
b) Has customisation based on Web History disabled
Which, if you think about it, isn’t really that many people!
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