If the Internet were a mall, Google would be the biggest department store and Yahoo and Bing would be the smaller ones in between. But a mall is more than just its department stores: You can also shop in dozens of specialty stores, food venues, merchant carts, and so on. In this chapter, you meet the specialty stores of searching, the vertical engines, and find out how to make sure your product (your site) displays on those stores’ shelves.
Seeking Traffic, Not Ranking
First, a couple of reminders are in order. Your search engine optimization efforts, if done well, can earn your site a higher ranking in search results pages. However, do not confuse the means with the end. Keep in mind your real goal — getting lots and lots of interested people to visit your site.
\What you really want to do is drive more web traffic your way, and ranking represents just one means for achieving that end. In this chapter, you discover another reason to set your sights on traffic rather than ranking — technological advances (namely personalization and semantic search) are causing ranking to become less important.
Here’s the second important reminder: Be sure that you are earning that traffic, not attempting to cheat to get it. In the search engine world, cheating is known as spam. Spam involves deliberately building web pages, links, or signals that try to trick a search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant, or poor‐quality search results. Spam is not only unethical but also can cause your site to be penalized or even removed from an index entirely. So you definitely want to know how to avoid it.
Understanding Personalized Search’s Impact on Ranking
Have you ever noticed that your search results usually differ from another person’s search results — even when you both type the same query into the same search engine? This is a scenario that is becoming more and more common. Before you think this means that search engine optimization is completely futile and throw your hands up in exasperation, read on. Here’s what’s really going on.
To make each searcher’s results as relevant as possible, it makes sense that search engines would want to continually improve their capability to understand the intent, context, and all the other clues related to each search. That involves getting to know the searcher, the query, and the results better.
Personalizing results by location
Thanks to some fairly simple (and occasionally inaccurate) technology, search engines can tell where you are! Your computer’s IP address identifies your approximate city location to a search engine, which can then personalize your search results to include local listings for your search terms. This technique, often called retargeting, comes into play the most when you search for items that involve brick‐and‐mortar businesses or services that need to be provided locally.
Personalizing results by web history
Search engines can further understand searchers’ intentions by looking at their personal web history, or the records of their previous searches and the websites they’ve visited or bookmarked. How far back the records go is unclear, although Google once stated that it anonymizes the data after 18 months. It’s important to note that Google can only track your web history between sessions while you’re signed in to your Google account. Because the extra services like free email and customizable home pages are truly wonderful, many people have these accounts and may not realize their surfing behavior is being recorded.
Google does give you ways to delete your web history or block the data collection; however, there is no way to prevent Google from personalizing your results within a session. A session is any time you perform multiple searches from within the same browser window without closing it entirely and clearing cookies. Google will always tailor your results based on the searches you have already done in a single session.