Does Google personalised listings affect your ranking?

Google has added a number of tools that allow users to personalise the search results they see. The question is – does this affect how you approach SEO?

I recently received the following from Peter Bennett:

In response to show 199, you said on some of your specific search results, headscape has been pushed to the top. However since show 199 I have since seen 4 new features at the end of each search result that appear when logged in.

I don’t know how long they have been there but i think they deserve a mention. These features are:

  • Where You can Promote listings – which will then place the selected website at the top of your personal google results.
  • You can also ‘demote‘ any websites which you previously Promoted – Which google call Restore
  • You can also add comments for each individual listings which other users can see.
  • Finally you can remove – this will totally remove the chosen listing from your future search results.

In my opinion (although I am not sure), if listings get promoted numerous times by different users, maybe this could affect each listings search position in the long term with Google being able to collate each users preferences.

What do you think?

Google personalised search results

These are exactly the features I was talking about in Show 199 and they have actually been around for a while.

As to whether Google will use these features to inform their rankings, who knows! Even if they do it will be in a minor way. Only the smallest fraction of people searching on Google will use these tools and so Google will not rely too heavily on them.

Bizarrely there has already been extensive debate about whether these features will impact SEO. From my perspective it is a pointless discussion.

Too many website owners spend too much time and money obsessing about Google listings. I am not denying that SEO works. It is possible to manipulate your rankings. However, I would argue that the return on investment is non existence.

SEO building blocks

I was recently talking to one website owner who ran an ecommerce site. He spent thousands of pounds on trying to improve his placement on Google. He succeeded, but he calculates it made him less than £1000 in extra revenue. In short he made a net loss.

I would argue that the only SEO needed, is work you would do anyway. That includes writing relevant, useful copy and ensuring your website is accessible to the broadest possible audience.

At the end of the day none of us will ever know how Google calculates its listings. However we do know that Google wants to connect its searchers with the best content out there. Lets work on making our content the best and making it accessible. Google will do the rest.

  • “I would argue that the only SEO needed, is work you would do anyway. That includes writing relevant, useful copy and ensuring your website is accessible to the broadest possible audience.”

    A lot of on page SEO can be done by a client with a bit of interest and knowledge but what of the other aspects of SEO.

    You telling me that link building is pointless and brings no gains. Clearly if you spend lots on it and your return is minimal then fair enough but done right by someone who knows what their doing will benefit the site.

    Just struck me as a bit of a sweeping statement and potentially damaging too for SEO’s out there who know their stuff…

    • Oh and personalised search can produce different rankings for different users. Think if you will about those who love typing their own name into Google and then click on their site link when they find it.

      Do that enough and they’ll get their listing pushed up because Google will decide it’s more relevant to them than the other links returned in the search.

      The importance of ranking as a metric could likely change in the future with such developments by Google. The fact remains that Personalised Search is turned on by default; not straight forward to disable. As for Google’s end game; who knows but my bettings on the ranking side of things becoming less and less important. Certainly wouldn’t hurt their PPC business model if the only way to guarantee a top listing is to pay would it?

  • I would say that the term SEO encompasses many aspects of what an online marketer does. For example, part of of the optimisation process should be to process that data collected through the likes of Google Analytics and use that to further enhance a companies/individuals online campaign. It’s ‘nearly’ always better to have an expert so this kind of work. From my own experience, I find that clients try to outsource this type of work so they can spend time doing what they do best. As Paul says, it’s all about ROI.

  • Sebastian Green

    copy is king.

    but at the same time amazing copy is useless if the site is not google search engine friendly.

    i think some thought, and maybe money should be put into SEO. The site does somewhere need to be on the first page.

  • chris

    I think Paul is right, Google has sold the design/IT industry on page rankings whereas they are a company that is dedicated to ad sales.
    One phrase that stuck with me from a disaffected designer was ‘Google has as much to do with search as sheep finding grass on a hillside.’

  • Niubi

    It’s not just about this, though. Just take a look at DubLi (search on Google) and you’ll see that it is being adversely affected by Google’s search parameters, for want of a better word. There’s still a long way to go.

  • Great content is really important but there are a lot of examples of sites on the web that have great content but don’t rank well.

    Unfortunately just having great content isn’t enough. You need to actively promote your content. That might mean you get links as a result of your promotion or you directly build links to your content.

  • Promoting is the main thing, anyone can get the good content but its not easy to get the good rankings.

  • I wondered about this when I saw the feature added as well, but then figured it must be very unlikely this would have any effect on search rankings at all.

    Google came out and flat out said it did not support META keywords because of how easy it could be cheated. If “promoting” links had any effect, cheaters would be able to create hundreds of thousands of Google accounts to promote their own sites, it would be to easy!

  • I agree with Clinton on this. I think that research and being aware of competition is an important and time consuming part of SEO, that doesn’t really happen naturally. SEO is like any other kind of promotion – it needs to be targeted and well grounded for it to have the greatest effect.