Will Personalization of Search Engines Kill the Need For SEO?

It has been a worry of many SEOs for the last couple of years. Will the fact that search engines are adding more “personalization” to the search results eventually kill the business of performing search engine optimization for web sites? SEO has become a very lucrative business and has seen many new companies as well as individuals come into the space for the last several years. SEOs fear that their livelihood may be in jeopardy as engines like Google, Yahoo and others cater to the personal searching habits of their users.

Gord Hotchkiss of Enquiro recently sat down with one of Google’s most prominent software engineers, Matt Cutts, to discuss the topic of personalization and the future of SEO. Gord also provides an overview and some additional commentary at Search Engine Land. Following are a few excerpts and observations.

Gord: With Google moving towards more personalization of the search results page, there’s some negative feedback that seems to be coming primarily from the SEO community.

Matt: I think that it’s natural that some people would be worried about change, but some of the best SEO’s are those that are able to adapt, that are able to look down the road 4 or 5 years and say, “What are the big trends going to be?” and adjust for those trends in advance, so that when a search engine does make a change which you think is inevitable or will eventually happen, they’ll be in a good position.

Gord: You can’t look at a page of search results any more and say “that’s going to be the same page of test results that everyone’s seeing.” Given that, we’re going to be seeing less of universal search results. Is this the nail in the coffin for shady SEO tactics?

Matt: I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily the nail in the coffin, but it’s clearly a call to action, where there’s a fork in the road and people can think hard about whether they’re optimizing for users or whether they’re optimizing primarily for search engines.

Gord: A lot of SEOs are almost more engineers right now, where they’re looking at the algorithm and trying to figure out how to best it. You’re asking them to become a lot of things, more marketing, PR, content developers, and know more about the user, more about user behavior online. These are very different skill sets and often don’t reside in the same body. What is this going to do to the SEO industry?

Matt: I think the SEO’s that adapt well to change and optimize for users are going to be in relatively good shape, because they’re trying to produce sites that are really pleasing and helpful to users. It’s definitely the case that if all you care about is an algorithm than the situation grows more complicated for you with personalization. But it’s also an opportunity for people to take a fresh look at how they do SEO.

Gord: Is there still a place for the pure SEO consultant out there?

Matt: I think there still is a place for you for a pure SEO consultant but it’s also true that over time those consultants have to keep adding to their skill set. A few years ago no one would have even thought about the word Ajax and now people have to think about Ajax or Flash and how do I handle some of these new interfaces to still make sites crawlable? So I definitely think there will still be places for consulting and improving crawlability of sites and advice on keywords and personalization will add some wrinkles to that, but I have faith that, over time we’ll see the benefit to users and if you make good site for your users, you will naturally benefit as a result.

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What I really get out of this interview is confirmation that if you focus on building a quality site that rivals others in your niche, you will be rewarded. That has always been my philosophy of which I have seen positive results of time and time again. It is also confirmation that we should be looking more towards analytics as opposed to static ranking reports. Sure it is nice to “own” a particular phrase but what is really interesting to me is to see the multitude of search queries that a site can draw traffic from that is a direct result of simply having good and concise content. Furthermore discovering which search terms convert visitors into paying customers. This is the beauty of good web analytics which are indeed the evolution from static ranking reports.

Am I worried? To be honest with you, no. That is mostly because we have always focused on making the sites we have the privilege to work on the very best in their niches. Yes that may require a lot of hard work that goes beyond tricks, reverse engineering search results and the like. However, in my almost ten years of doing this, I have continued to see the rewards for such a practice.

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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