One of the major changes in Google over the past few months is the increased implementation of customized search results. Publicized in July 2008 on the Official Google Blog, customized or personalized search results deliver website listings according to the searcher’s location, past & recent history. As Google states in some of their search results’ fine print,
When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you’re signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.
This means that, if you search for securities lawyers, it will likely return lawyers within what Google determines to be your location. Another example would be that if you have searched for Philadelphia car accident lawyer in the past, visited a site and quickly returned to Google, it’s likely your quick abandonment of that site in the past will result in its demotion within your Google results in the future.
“Ok,” you say, “but everyone pretty well already knows that Google is customizing search results.” You’re right. There’s been a lot of chatter (1, 2, 3) about the issue for some time now. The extent to which they harvest & connect information is still to be determined but one thing is for sure: the idea of a “universal” set of search results is quickly becoming antiquated. SEO professionals have been talking about the use and uselessness of ranking reports for some time now, but the increased customization of search engine ranking pages now forces clients (like lawyers) to recognize that rankings vary, so website traffic and conversion of that traffic into a phone call or contact form submission is a much better, more quantifiable marker of success. As Mark Jackson with Search Engine Watch says,
“The best thing you can do now is to start focusing on a different measurement of success. Don’t focus on search engine rankings. Focus on ROI, conversions, and overall traffic.”
Since a lot my day centers around what attorney is found for what keyword, this issue is extremely important to me and SEO agencies like the one I work in. Most law firms are still absolutely focused on rankings and what they show up for. The SEO Ranking Report is a standard, expected part of legal and almost any other type of SEO services. Most agencies are prepared to deliver the traffic and conversion metrics, but the client conversations to re-set ranking display expectations will be very difficult. Imagine trying to explain to a client that they’re not showing up when they search Google because they (themselves) have searched it too much without clicking on their own listing?
Anyone with any thoughts? Oh, and what am I, as a user of the Bruce Clay SEOToolSet, supposed to think about their dedication to the quality of their ranking report product when Bruce Clay himself is reporting the imminent demise of the ranking report?