Making the Most of Google Personalised Search – Time to Review Your Meta Description

Tuesday, 08 December 2009

On Friday, Google rolled out personalised search for everyone; so even if you’re not signed in you’ll get results based on your search activity over the last 180 days.

Personalised search works by ranking results higher if a user has shown a tendency to click on them more often. So if I search for [news] every morning while I am drinking my coffee, and I choose the number-eight result each time then Google will assume that I probably want to see that site higher up the rankings and put it at the top for me in future.

Apart from during our daily checking-of-rankings routine, this might not be such a bad thing for SEOs: we just need to encourage users to click our results instead of our competitors and the next time we might be rewarded with a higher ranking. Frankly, that’s something we should be thinking about anyway, so how can we do it?

Optimise title tags for clicks

As SEOs we are judged on rankings not on clicks, so we tend to optimise title tags for keyword prominence to grab that extra place where we can. But if we write title tags for clicks we might get more traffic from a lower ranking and be rewarded with high rankings in subsequent searches. So in the new world of personalised search would the title tag:

Zeta Widgets > Click now to see the best deals on the web

Be more effective than its keyword-stuffed alternative? And unlike AdWords no-one can stop us from using unsubstantiated superlatives :-)

Meta Description

The long-neglected meta description tag could play a vital role in the world of personalised search. We can use it to display a custom snippet that is designed to drive clicks and boost our personalised rankings. Because the meta description is only ever displayed as a search snippet you can use language that you wouldn’t normally use on your site.

Google has been telling us for years that we should write better meta descriptions, but now they have given us an even better reason to do it.

When a website has strong rankings altering the Title tag is a scary proposition, but I know that the Zeta team is going to be busy looking at ways to maximise click through rates where possible over the next few weeks.

If personalised search only has the effect of making us think more about getting users to actually click on our results in the SERPs then I think it has done a good job. And even though, as an SEO, I will have to disable it in all my browsers I think the average user will find this change an improvement.