Who has more data about Internet users than Google? The stores these folks do business with, columnist Daniel Cristo notes. And those companies may be about to share it with the search giant.
Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google is in talks with advertisers on a new way to target customers in AdWords.
The way the new service reportedly works is that companies voluntarily share their first-party data about their customers — their email addresses — with Google, so that they can better target and tailor the AdWords ads served to those individuals.
Though Google isn’t talking about this, much less sharing details, I expect that Google will retain that information to build enhanced user profiles to personalize search results. When and if that happens, don’t expect your existing SEO strategy to work.
What’s Behind All This?
In 2012, Facebook rolled out an advertising service called “Custom Audiences” that worked by allowing advertisers to upload an email list of their customers to Facebook. Facebook would then find those people in its massive member database, and would group them together so the advertiser could run Facebook advertisements to just those customers.
With Custom Audiences helping Facebook grow its advertising businesses 65% in 2014, it’s no wonder Google is interested in trying something similar. According to the Wall Street Journal article, that new service is expected to roll out later this year.
What Does This Mean for Organic Search?
Google is a lot of things, but one thing that it’s not is a retailer. Sure, it sometimes sells its own products and services directly, but for the most part Google lacks insights into a consumer’s general buying behavior — both online and offline.
That buying behavior is a treasure trove of personal information that Google would certainly love to add to its search profiles. The more it knows about you, your interests, and preferences, the more it can tailor a personalized search experience for you — both for paid ads and organic results.
If I search for “Apple,” does Google show me results for a delicious red fruit or a computer company? Currently, Google looks for signals like my previous search history, or content I’ve engaged with on those topics. But wouldn’t it be a strong indicator that I’m looking for a technology product if Google knows I have a history of buying Apple products?
Assuming Google rolls out Custom Audiences by the end of the year, I expect it could begin using the buying behavior data offered up by advertisers to better personalize organic results by next year.
How Would This Affect My Organic Strategy?
Conventional SEO tactics such as building links and creating relevant content for a search is based on ranking for non-personalized search results, but things get more complicated when everyone sees a different website in the #1 listing.
The key to optimizing for personalized search results is understanding what signals Google uses to personalize results for a given keyword.
For example, a search like, “Best Italian Restaurant” has a strong local and social intention, meaning the most relevant results are based on what’s physically close to you, and what’s recommended by people you trust. Conversely, a search like, “HP Print Ink Refill” has a strong purchase intent, and relevant results would be based on price, availability, ratings and past purchase history.
Once we know what signals certain types of searches are based on, we can begin to optimize for those signals. For local searches, creating content tailored to the towns and cities around you is a great idea. Let’s say you’re a lawyer who wants clients from three nearby cities; in that case, create pages on your site devoted to those cities or areas. You could talk about the history, link to local government sites, embed maps of the courthouses and police stations, etc. Your goal is to let Google know that you’re local to those specific areas.
Google is smart enough to put together the fact that you’re a lawyer and that you’re local to those areas without buying shady links that all say “Personal Injury Lawyer Chicago.” All Google needs to know is that you’re a lawyer, you are relevant to the Chicago area, and that a user searching for “Local Lawyer” is physically located near Chicago. Users don’t need to explicitly search for “Personal Injury Lawyer Chicago,” and you won’t need to explicitly build links saying as much.
If you sell physical products, start to include information about who your target customer is, and what their interests are on your product details pages. Let’s say you sell sunglasses. Well, who are these sunglasses for: hipsters, teens, old ladies? Interview a few customers and put their stories on your product details page. Scour Instagram and Facebook selfies of folks wearing your glasses, and post them on your site. The more you can describe who the customer of your product is, the easier you make Google’s job when it wants to match your product with the exact consumer who is looking for it.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: Google isn’t matching keywords with words on a page anymore; it’s matching people with products, services and information designed for specifically for them. This applies even if Google doesn’t begin using the data from its expected new ad product.
Just To Recap
The only way search engines can match people with products without using exact keywords, is if they know a lot about who the searcher is … who you are. Google has a lot of this information already, but even more of this data is held privately by companies you’ve done business with.
Those same companies are getting ready to turn that data over to Google, and when they do, I believe search results will get more personalized. That means SEOs will move further away from optimizing for keywords, and closer toward optimizing for searcher profiles.
The big winners from this shift will be the authentic companies that know what their product or service is and who it’s for. The big losers will be the generalists that are building troves of content around broad key phrases. Now is a good time to narrow the focus of your content, and position your SEO campaign for a more personalized future.
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