Have you ever had someone try to guide you to something on the Internet and tell you to search for something and realized that the results you see compared to the results they said they were seeing are different? There’s even a web service called “Let Me Google That For You” that you can use if someone asks you a seemingly simple question they could have just Googled themselves and gotten the answer.
It may either be obvious or you may never have thought about it, but Google seriously customizes the search results they serve up to each user on a pretty individual basis unless the user has taken measures to block that customization. Google customizes the results in a few different ways. We’ll discuss three of them.
The first obvious customization adjustment is searches related to a location being searched for in the query. If you search for “great Thai places in Indianapolis” as opposed to “great Thai places in Louisville” you’ll get very different results. But, if someone located in Indianapolis just searches for “great Thai places” as opposed to someone in Louisville doing the same search, you’ll get different results. This is because Google is also using the location of the person searching (as best as it can deduce from IP addresses, server locations, etc… and it does pretty good!) to serve up different search results.
For those of us on Android devices for our phones, the combination of having your GPS turned on and allowing Google to try to identify this location even more accurately provides even different level of search results for you. Some may say this is a little too “big brother” for them, but I think the context and relevance of these searches is an improvement in the overall experience. Although I’ve not seen any specific articles written about it, I don’t think it would be much of a step for the location of my phone (if I’m signed into it) impacting the search results I see on my computer (if I’m also signed into Google with the same Google ID). Why wouldn’t Google correlate those two data points?
The other way Google easily adjust the search results for the user is based on activity from that individual user as well as the mass of users as a whole. Google will track your website traffic history and serve up results based on that traffic history. Even if you’re not signed in, Google will track search history from the browser being used for up to 180 days and adjust accordingly. So for example, if I’ve been planning a trip to Disney and visiting a variety of Disney websites about their parks, resorts and services, then later go back and perform a search for “pirates”. The likelihood of my search results including information about “The Pirates of the Caribbean” is much higher than it is for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
Also related to this customization is the individual user’s previous search history. In the example above, I’ve probably also done a few different search queries to find all of that information about Disney, so Google will more than likely serve up Disney related results based on the fact that I’ve searched for Disney related information in the recent history as well.
The newest flavor of customizing search results based on a user is the impact of social on search. If you’re active only and regularly share information and links on your Twitter account, and Facebook, and Pinterest and [insert your preferred social network here] then the results you see display after a Google search will probably also be impacted by those items. The logic behind that is that Google may slightly favor items you’ve shared in the past with search results display. The key again becomes how connected you’ve made your profiles on these networks and how easily it is for Google to profile “you” on the Internet.
It’s not just you that Google wants to create a profile for though, it’s also your network of friends. The results you see on a search can be greatly impacted by your network of friends and what they’ve searched for and shared as well. The most direct correlation to this information is who you’re connected to on Google+. What? You say you’re not on Google+? If you use any of Google’s products, yes you are. You just don’t have a completed or accurate profile built yet. Once (if?) you’re active on Google+ and start building and sharing your circles, results will start to be impacted.
This is important for business to know and a reason for them to ensure their Google Places (now part of Google+) is accurate and that they should probably have a Google+ page setup for their organization as well. If you create your business page, and then make sure all of your employees and potentially vendors connect with your page on Google+, now when the networks of those individuals search for items, the fact they are connected to you through a couple of degrees of separation will still potentially influence the results for search of the searching individual.
So Now What?
What does this mean for the average business trying to get on the first page of Google search results? I’ll answer the question with another question. “Who’s first page of results are you planning on being found?” There’s more to rankings now than there used to be. And the algorithms are changing regularly and how search is displayed is changing. The key now is really what it’s been all along. Create good content. Make it easy for the search engines to know about that content. Connect with your audience, customers, employees. In the end, it will all pay off on you being found for what you want to be found for in search results.