So as retailers begin to serve personalised experiences to their visitors and test their websites, what will this mean in the future for SEO? This post is part two of two.
SEO & Personalisation Part 2: Can Personalised Content Damage your SEO
According to the Econsultancy Quarterly Intelligence Report, the top 3 digital trends that are most likely to be prioritised in 2015 are Targeting and personalisation (30%), content optimisation (29%) and social media engagement (27%).
These numbers aren’t surprising with the rise of big data and tools such as Monetate and Qubit providing great platforms for agile personalisation.
One example is how Helly Hansen take advantage of geotargeting to deliver customised experiences based on local weather reports. During a rainy period, the retailer understood the likely demand for sailing and water sport clothing, which prompted the replacement of their winter ski-wear banner and messaging for content that promoted rainwear, winning them a 170% overall conversion uplift and 52% uplift for new visitors.
So as retailers begin to serve personalised experiences to their visitors, what will this mean in the future for SEO? How will Google know what’s being served and how will it affect your rankings?
We asked SEO expert Simon Fryer – Head of Marketing at CandidSky – some questions around how SEO will evolve with the rise of personalised content.
How do search engines read personalised content?
Personalised Content is another form of dynamic content; a Web page that provides custom content for the user based on a set of parameters.
It’s not much different from Ecommerce categories that use a path parameter in the URL to generate user-friendly breadcrumbs, such as widgets.com/small-blue-widgets/?path=widgets&small-widgets&blue-widgets
In this instance, the breadcrumb is being personalised according to the specific path the user took. The user navigated to the Widgets category, then to Small Widgets and Blue Widgets to finally arrive at Small Blue Widgets. It helps this specific user understand the path they took and navigate back through the site. This is managed by setting widgets.com/small-blue-widgets as the canonical URL.
Content personalisation, on the other hand, typically occurs on a single URL. For example, a personalised banner on the homepage that says “Hi Nicole” would still exist at the homepage’s URL. This prevents us from being able to set a different canonical URL.
One solution is to create a static, unpersonalised page specifically for search engines, and establishing it as a canonical version using the canonical tag. This has been used in the past to help crawlers access content which they would normally struggle with, such as a Flash or AJAX based site. However this contradicts Google’s principles of ensuring that search engines are able to access the same content as users. It’s an “acceptable” solution, but it’s hardly elegant, and I believe that both search engines and webmasters will arrive at a better solution over time. I believe that going down this route would be setting a bad habit.
So what good habits can we form now ahead of increased personalised content?
A better habit to form, in my opinion, would be to avoid producing a static page for search engines, and instead set the (partly) personalised page the canonical version. Although this does present some challenges.
Given that some of the content of the page will change based on user data, we need to ensure that there is enough static content for a search engine to be able to understand what a page is all about.
If you intend to use this solution (which I believe we should) I would recommend that the use of personalised content is limited to priority areas on the page and that core, unchanging content is provided in clean, static HTML, in addition to the standard meta titles and descriptions. For example, if a section of content needs to include a personalised message, such as the user’s name, ensure that only the name is rendered dynamically as opposed to the entire content section. This would be a good habit and no doubt will be the approach taken in the future.
This enables the use of personalised content to improve user experience whilst using a single page for both search engines and users, and helping search engines to continue to connect searcher intent with website content.
Google constantly evolves its algorithms and as testing/personalisation changes, so does that mean the rules change too?
Whilst Google has a habit of changing rules, it’s almost always for the best, despite what a penalised webmaster might think. I’d expect Google to provide greater technical SEO support for testing and personalisation in the future, or make enhancements to their crawlers’ ability to determine dynamic content. As an example, the canonical link element was introduced in 2009 to make duplicate content management more feasible. This adjustment gave Webmasters more control, flexibility and creative freedom and improved the browsing experience for Google’s customers.
Google, like any company, will act in their own interests. Websites which retain visitors, render faster, support visitors on mobile devices and deliver persuasive, personalised experiences will improve the online journey for customers, building their trust (and emptying wallets faster). A company whose website converts well, and who generate significant profit online are more likely to invest in advertising such as Google Adwords. Everyone wins.
What do we expect the future of SEO for personalisation?
As Personalisation becomes more prevalent, I expect that either a “rule of thumb” for dynamic vs. static on-page content will arise, crawlers’ abilities to read dynamic content will improve, or a technical SEO solution will be provided by search engines. Perhaps all three.
So, what should you take away from this?
The top 3 words or advice are –
- Ensure the search intent matches the content served
- Retain static content where possible
- Limit personalised content to priority areas of the page
Once again, thank you Simon for letting us pick your brain.