Late last year, Google flipped the switch on personalized search.

Google’s personalized search functionality is simple: unless you opt out or delete your ‘Web History‘, Google monitors what you’re searching for and what you’re clicking for. It then uses the data collected to personalize your search results.

Following the Super Bowl, SEOmoz’s Rand Fishkin observed that personalized search offers a potentially “huge advertising opportunity” to brands:

Personalized search is now on by default. This means that every click, branded search, and expression of a “brand preference” or “brand affinity” in Google’s results is likely to result in preferential biasing towards that domain in future searches. A “Google” Pontiac message during this Superbowl wouldn’t just send users to their site, it would also mean that tens of millions of searchers would now be “personalized” towards that domain.

Fishkin is referring to a Super Bowl ad that Pontiac aired in 2007 which invited viewers to Google the word “Pontiac“. At the time, Google’s personalized search functionality didn’t exist. But if it did, Fishkin is suggesting that Pontiac may have benefited greatly.

While it’s not precisely clear how Google is incorporating individual Web Histories into personalized SERPs, a number of comments left on Fishkin’s provide anecdotal evidence that this may be an area SEOs should watch and experiment with further. If personalized search does indeed offer new SEO opportunities of the kind described, brands and multichannel marketers in general would seem to have the most to gain. After all, they are perfectly positioned to leverage offline mediums such as television and print to drive a large volume of brand-related search activity.

The question, of course, is whether directing consumers to Google instead of your website directly makes sense. As Fliqz CEO Benjamin Wayne noted in a recent conversation that touched on ‘video SEO‘, companies whose online video strategies rely on YouTube tend to generate traffic for YouTube. Here, marketers pushing consumers to Google instead of their own websites would also be doing Google a favor. Unless marketers can be certain that driving traffic to Google is resulting in a net gain in traffic from SERPs thanks to personalized search, the effort may be akin to spending an extra $25 on product to get free shipping valued at $10.

Beyond this, marketers and SEOs should to consider the following:

  • Google can change the algorithms related to personalized search at any time. For this reason, marketers and SEOs should probably take any strategies related to personalized search one step at a time.
  • Not all Web History data lasts forever. For non-logged in Google users, Web History data is stored for 180 days. That’s a decent amount of time, but it’s not forever either. Additionally, deleting cookies or changing browsers will clear the Web History, which means that personalized search may not have an impact on as a large number of users as one might wish for.

It’s worth pointing out that Google isn’t the only search engine that has implemented personalized search functionality so this is something marketers and SEOs will likely need to keep an eye on. Even if it turns out that personalized search is difficult to take advantage of, marketers and SEOs will need to adapt to a world in which SERPs are far more dynamic.

Photo credit: search-engine-land via Flickr.