It’s no secret search engines use algorithms to track our online behavior to personalize our internet experience. This practice is known as search personalization, and it’s been in use since 2012. If you search Google for ‘birdhouses’ right now, your search engine results page (SERP) would look different than if your neighbor made the same search. If this information is new to you, you’re not alone— 64% of users don’t know their search results differ from others.

Why does this happen?

Simply put, search engines like Google use search personalization to tailor search results to individual users based on their characteristics like language, location, device, and previous search history. The scope of personalization depends on prior search data as well as how marketers and content creators use that data.

You may be asking how this differs from SEO. An SEO content strategy is intentionally organizing your content in a way to rank on SERPs. But if each user has a different results page based on their unique internet journey, how can you be sure your content is ranking for the right audience?

Think of it this way: you create a digital marketing strategy to communicate information to your audience and drive them to the desired action. You create an SEO strategy to translate your communication for use by Google to rank content on SERPs. Since SERPs rely more and more on search personalization, marketers can marry these two strategies to surface content among a target audience’s individualized search experiences.

Understanding the Venice Update

In 2012, the Inside Search Blog published a list of more than 40 changes made to Google’s SERP algorithm. Out of all the changes, two had a serious impact on the SEO and Inbound world:

Improvements to ranking for local search results—This improvement improves the triggering of Local Universal results by relying more on the ranking of our main search results as a signal.

Improved local results—We launched a new system to find results for a user’s city more reliability. Now we’re better able to detect when both queries and documents are local to the user.”

To put it simply, the Venice Update localized organic results on broad search queries. For example, if a user searches for “oil change,” their results will show up based on their location without having to add “near me” as a qualifier. This gave a competitive advantage to local companies—who may not have sway in a national space—as they can now rank highly in a local search. This update meant location became—and continues to be, over ten years later—an impactful metric for how SEO SERPs are shaped.

With the Venice Update in mind, let’s take a look at ways marketers can optimize content for search personalization.

3 Ways to Incorporate Personalization Into Your SEO Strategies

1. Language

Obviously, users can only engage with your content if they can read and understand it. Less obviously, search personalization will prioritize content in a user’s native language. If you’re targeting an international or multilingual audience, language targeting is an effective way to optimize personalization. If you want your content to perform well for an international or multilingual audience, it’s important not to rely on Google Translate to bridge the language barrier.

  • Localize your website
    • Take the time to translate and localize your content into the language of your target audience. Then, use the HREFLANG tag to guide international SEO and localization. This dynamic HTML tag tells Google about variations of your content so it can understand these pages are variations of the same content.

 2. Past Searches

This strategy requires a two-fold approach: first, it’s important to understand keyword research and how to choose the right keywords for SEO. Second, you need to understand your target audience’s values intuitively. If you want your content in your target audience’s search result, your content’s search terms need to overlap with your searcher’s intent. Research your audience intensively so you can identify what content will be valuable to them and what keywords will attract organic search traffic.

3. Location

As previously mentioned, the Venice Update made location an important factor in ranking for SERP. If you want your content to surface in your target audience’s search personalization, consider optimizing your content with location-specific keywords.

  • Update your Google My Business listing.
    • Google obviously prioritizes GMB listings, so make sure yours is up to date with accurate hours, descriptions, and addresses.
  • Get dynamic with your website.
    • A dynamic site will change based on user characteristics. Including this feature helps you target users based on location, as well as the metrics mentioned above. Be sure to utilize sitemaps and canonical tags so Google doesn’t flag your content as duplicate.
  • Localize everything!
    • URLs, titles, images, headers, descriptions, page copy—anything you can think of, localize it! Be wary of keyword stuffing.

As technology advances and user expectation grows, expect to see search personalization become more finely tuned. Stay on top of your marketing strategy and leverage these tips to create highly personalized content for your target audience.


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