Live from SMX West: How Google & Bing Personalize With Search History & Geography

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Feb 28, 2012
More Articles by Janet


After getting a late start this morning, I’m up and running with the live blogging at SMX West! This morning’s session features Rangan Majumder, Principal Group Program Manager, of Bing and Jack Menzel, Product Management Director, Search at Google, who focused on how search history and geography affect personalized search results in their respective search engines.

Jack Mendel, Google

Jack continued his discussion from the first session today on personalized results in Google. He emphasized that personalized results demonstrate Google’s attempt to know who you are and give you the most relevant results to you.

He started with geography, language and context from previous queries, which he indicated are actually NOT classified as personalization. He defined personalization as things that are really unique to you and who you are.

Country, for instance, will change your results, based on the country-specific version of Google you use. If you search for [taxes], you will get country-specific results for that country. At the metro level this is true as well. If you search for [bus schedule] in Boston, you’ll have a different result than you would in Washington, DC.

Google also examines your recent searches to determine your intent and to serve appropriate results to your query. For instance, if you search for [amazon] first, and then you search for [electric lawn mowers], they may very well serve the Amazon.com result higher in your search result, knowing your interest in Amazon.

He also showed an example of how interests can impact results. If you search for [dominion] it’s a power company in Virginia, but it’s also a card game. If you live in California and you have expressed a search history with Dominion the card game, that site may be served higher than the power company.

How can webmasters help? First, do you have a business that people visit in person? Make sure you claim your Google Places page and that the information is correct and complete, including your address, hours, and phone number. Also be sure to make your website mobile-friendly for those searching on mobile devices. Some other best practices for geotargeting content (especially if you have multiple languages on your site), visit Google Webmaster Tools Help for some tips.

Rangan Majumder, Bing

Rangan from Bing was up next. He started by sharing how Bing works at a high level. Bing receives a query, and the “ranker magic” tries to determine which page best satisfies the query intent. One thing that has changed over time was matching query text to document text. But now, there’s much more context involved — what is the user’s intent?

What is context? Bing believes that some of the things that help determine context include: social (who are your friends and what are their interests), personal long term (who are you as a user), short term personalization (what are you trying to do now), location, and privacy, transparency and control.

Rangan said that the new SEO formula is rank = authority + quality of keyword match + personal preference + social preference. Bing looks at how much they think you will like the content based on past behavior and your likes.

Bing also personalizes nav queries. For instance, if someone usually goes to Yahoo Mail a lot, that person may see Yahoo Mail instead of Yahoo in the nav.

Personalization trades complexity for relevance. The new SEO formula means that authority is no longer just link authority but social authority as well. As a webmaster, use social media such as likes and follows. Help Bing understand who your page is for by using your standard best SEO practices, including things like location if you’re a locally-based business.

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