If you go to Google or Yahoo! or MSN right now and type in a search, you’ll see certain listings. But if you’re logged into your Gmail or Yahoo! mail or MSN mail account and type in that very same search, you’re going to get different, “personalized” results.

Did you realize that?

Many regular, everyday searchers have no idea this is happening. But you better believe folks in the SEO industry are taking notice. We’ll get to what this all means in a moment, but first let’s look at why this is happening:

The engines are keeping track of your search history when logged into their portal (in any fashion). As you build a history with that engine, it will start to serve up the results it thinks you want.

Let’s say you frequently run searches about fishing. But you always click on the results for fly-fishing and never the results for bait fishing. You also run searches related to boats, but you never click on listings related to large horsepower speedboats because you’re a fisherman and they’re of no use to you.

Over time, Google will learn all this and try to bring up only relevant results. That fisherman will stop seeing speedboats and bait fishing results and will see more small boats and fly fishing listings. The search engine will provide you with “better” information than the generic, one-size-fits-all listings.

It’s similar to the impact of a purchase history at Amazon.com. Most of us have gone to Amazon and had “suggestions” shoved in our faces. These recommendations are based on what you’ve bought in the past. The search engines, in a sense, are doing the same thing: They’re trying to present search results that will be relevant to you based on your past behavior.

Personalization of Search is a Two-Sided Coin

There are some people who say personalization is “Big Brother” looking over your shoulder-that this practice is evil and the search engines shouldn’t keep track of anyone’s habits. The reality is there doesn’t appear to be any malicious intent. Personalization really seems to be intended to provide the user with better results and save the searcher the trouble of looking through irrelevant listings. So, from a user’s perspective, personalization is potentially an improvement.

From an SEO expert’s standpoint, it’s an entirely different story: Personalization is going to make experts’ jobs more difficult because they’re going to have to work harder to get their clients (or themselves) into prominent search engine positions. Furthermore, the average person implementing the most basic SEO techniques may soon be left by the wayside entirely. And that person might not even realize their site is becoming obsolete.

In next week’s post, we’ll be looking at the ways to overcome search engine personalization to ensure your content gets the prominence it deserves. But if you’re now in a panic and can’t wait until then, you can always feel free to contact us at the Bay Area Search Engine Academy. Our advanced classes do cover this topic quite extensively.

For now, I’ll just say that search engine personalization isn’t anything to fear. There are ways to thoroughly use personalization to your advantage-whether you’re running a search or want to show up prominently in one.