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How Personalization of Search Is Affecting Traditional Advertising

April 12, 2010
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Personalized Search Results

In the light of Google's recent moves toward personalization in the search results, an increasing amount of advertising campaigns are ditching the traditional "visit us at www.url.com" and replacing it with "search for: keyword/brand". At first glance this may just seem like a quirky attempt to reach a tech-savvy audience, but it actually has further implications for future search results. 

To briefly cover the personalization issue for those that aren't aware, Google, in an attempt to bring users more relevant search results, is using individual search history when ranking websites. This means that if you've visited a website previously through the search results, say www.play.com, and are searching for a relevant term, say "xbox games", www.play.com is going to get a boost in your search results, as the search engines consider your previous click through as a positive sign. This means you are more likely to end up at a website you have previously clicked on than one you have never visited. 

Understanding this, businesses know how important it is to get users searching for their brand and clicking through on the search results. By having customers visit your website, there's more of a chance they will end up back there in the future. The traditional method of displaying the URL meant that users were visiting directly, bypassing the search engines and avoiding the opportunity to click through. This method, although seemingly very rewarding, clashes with the idea behind conversion optimization of getting users to their destination/end goal as quickly as possible. 

Putting this extra step between users and the website not only decreases the conversion rate but also means the customer may end up visiting a competitor from the results page! This in turn gives the competitor the advantage on future searches. 

There are pros and cons to this new method of "branding" and I guess time (and analytics) will tell whether the personalization advantage can beat the negative effects the extra steps will have on conversion rate.

Photo credit: dannysullivan

Ben Hook is a search marketer and owner of Navaro.

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