Hyperlocal Search

On Internet Explorer on my desktop computer, Google thinks I live in North Carolina. Google is wrong. On the browser I use most, my search results reflect my actual location, but if I use IE, my  search results are filled with East Coast stuff.

I like the temperature there better than the one where I really am, so I accept Google’s cheerful announcements about the weather in my imaginary location and move on. I also accepted the unending mascara ads everywhere I went in the week after I researched make up gurus for a post. But it shows how useful it is for searchers to be offered things on the basis of real information.

As searchers, we’d miss it.

As marketers, we may have mixed feelings. Certainly, it’s in our best interests to be offered to people who actually want what we have to offer rather than the whole community of internet searchers. But it can confuse our SEO efforts, since you have no real way of knowing what your audience sees when they search.

Allow me to offer you some reassurance.

Personalized search doesn’t affect rankings.

When I search for “Greek restaurant” with Internet Explorer, Google will think I need a Greek restaurant in North Carolina, and will (figuratively speaking) comb through the Greek restaurants it has indexed and which it thinks are in North Carolina. Among all those choices, it will first show me those with good content, good design, quick loading times, and more high-quality links. It’s not going to show me Greek restaurants in my actual neighborhood, but among the things it thinks I want, it will show them in the same order. If I ask for restaurants in my town, it will show the new grouping — with the good sites first.

That is, a better optimized site will still show before a less well optimized site.

During the time when Google thought I was really into make up, I did see lots of mascara ads. However, it didn’t affect my search results because I wasn’t searching for make up. Google didn’t pop in Sephora when I looked for data on HIPAA compliance rates. If it had — if, let us say, some creative but misguided  SEO had specially optimized a site for people who were interested in make up and HIPAA, I wouldn’t have clicked through anyway. I never even clicked on a mascara ad.

Personalized search is intended to improve the search experience for searchers. It doesn’t change the criteria for ranking sites, the way we need to optimize our sites, or anything else about SEO — except that you can no longer really say you’re #1 for something with complete confidence.

Go local.

If you have a physical world business, you can make your results better with local searchers by making it clear where you are:

  • Include your physical address, just the way you would write it on an envelope, on your website.
  • Get listed in local directories. If you’re snobbish about directories, get educated.
  • Work on citations — mentions of your business at the websites of local companies and publications, with or without links.
  • Use keywords associated with your physical location.
  • Write about local events and subjects. Give others citations (see above) at your website.

Gaming the system never works well when it comes to SEO — it just sets you up for a smackdown when the search engines catch on to the trick you’ve put so much time into perfecting. Trying to game the system when it comes to personalized search is pointless. The clearer you are about what you have to offer, the better search engines will do at sending you well targeted traffic. Don’t get in their way.

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