In theory, you would expect user search history to be a major Google ranking factor. Google is engineered to personalise its recommendations to users, in accordance with their unique preferences and browsing habits. In which case, individual search history as a ranking factor would be a no-brainer.
Each time you conduct a web search, the results you see are heavily influenced by your activities over recent days, weeks, months and even years. Your past will always come back to haunt you on Google, which tracks and takes note of pretty much everything you do.
Google collects huge volumes of information about its users automatically. It is possible to opt out of this data collection, but most don’t, it is switched on by default and therefore does its thing with most people.
What this means is that with each Google search you perform, you receive a list of results and recommendations that differ from those of other people entering the same query. Different websites will have different rankings in the SERPs for you than for someone else.
All of which could cause quite the headache for SEOs, who may already be struggling to get to grips with Google’s constantly shifting goalposts. But what does Google have to say about what, on paper at least, would seem to be a seriously important ranking factor?
A Ranking Factor, But with Modest Significance
It was back in 2007 that Google affirmed its commitment to providing users with a more personalised experience based on their own unique tastes and preferences:
“We’re constantly trying to improve the quality of your search results. One of the ways we’re tackling this is by personalizing your search experience,” read the announcement at the time.
“After all, you’re the only one who actually knows what you’re really looking for.”
The whole thing has continued ever since, with Google continuously refining its efforts to personalise the search experience for its users.
But while this would suggest massive differences in SERP listings from one person to the next, this apparently is not the case. At least, according to Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, who suggested the whole thing has fairly modest significance.
“Personalization doesn’t happen often & generally doesn’t dramatically change search results from one person to another,” he said.
“It is usually so lightly applied that the results are very similar to what someone would see without personalization.”
To some extent, it all adds up to a somewhat contradictory picture. On one hand, Google continues to wax lyrical about its dedication to personalisation. On the other, you have Google stating outright that most people entering the same search terms would be presented with near-identical results.
In any case, it at least puts to bed the debate as to whether or not user search history is a ranking factor. The answer is yes, but perhaps not on the level most would have assumed.