How Online Behavior Affects Search Results

Search engines use a technique called behavioral search to customize a results page based on the user’s previous search behavior. Behavioral search basically tracks the searches you’ve run and adjusts new search results to include listings the search engine assumes will interest you based on your recent and past searches. It doesn’t replace all of the results you’d normally get with a regular search, but it may throw in a few extra ones it thinks would be useful to you.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes your search results 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 is what’s really going on.

Search engines can individually customize search results based on the user’s:

The major search engines use more than just keyword ranking to determine the order of results. Remember, they’re trying to deliver the most relevant listings possible for every search. As a result, they’ve recently started taking this down to the individual-user level. With behavioral search and personalization, results revolve around users, not a single boilerplate algorithm.

Behavioral targeting particularly affects the paid results you see. For instance, if you run a search for coffee mugs followed by a search for java, the search engine throws a few extra paid results for coffee-related products at the top or sides of the page. (Note that this kind of advanced targeting costs advertisers a pretty penny; the coffee sites might get charged double when a user clicks their behavioral-targeting-enhanced listing, compared to their standard pay-per-click rate.)

The organic results also may show slightly different listings or listings in an altered order. Even if you're not logged in, the data from your search history may influence your search engine results, compared to the search results you would see if you were a new searcher for java. Your previous search for coffee mugs influenced the search engine to assume you meant java as in coffee, rather than the computer language.

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