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Shifting goalposts – search innovation and the quest for relevance

Search engines by their very nature are always innovating in their quest to deliver that optimum search experience to each and every user who types in a query. The pace of search innovation can be frustrating for search marketers, as it keeps ‘shifting the goal posts’. Just when you think you’ve got this search thing ‘sussed’ along come the leading search engines with a development that changes things again.

Here’s the thing… the search engines don’t care a hoot about upsetting your finely honed SEO campaign. Remember the prime directive we discussed right at the start of this chapter? Search engines are striving to deliver the most relevant, valuable content to their users, improving their user experience and retaining or increasing their market share. To that end, the leading search engines constantly ‘tweak’ their ranking algorithms, refining the way they assess relevance and authority based on content, links and other factors.

Let’s say, for example, that you searched for ‘Mustang’ while signed in to your Google account, and you had recently been searching and clicking on results for car-related stuff. The search engine might reasonably assume you want information relating to the Ford Mustang car rather than, say, the Wikipedia page for the mustang horse.

Lastly

Then, in late 2009, Google really shook things up by extending similar search personalization to all users, whether they had a Google account or not (again, users could opt out, but by default the feature was turned on). The move sent the SEO world into turmoil, and instantly rendered as pretty much meaningless the coveted SEO goal of ‘being number one in Google’ for any given keyword phrase. Now, my number one search result could be different to your number one search result, which could be different to everybody else’s number one search result.

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