Content and online experience personalization are at the forefront of website innovations, providing users with customer journeys that react to their specific interests and actions. But the drive to create more personalized experiences in public-facing websites can sometimes have unintended side effects, such as negatively impacting search engine optimization (SEO) when implemented improperly. The side effects caused by mistakes including generating multiple URLs for a single page, drastically shifting a page’s content to meet individual users and altering webpage layout from user to user can all prevent search engine bots from properly crawling your site’s pages and ranking them well in results.
Thankfully, personalized websites can still maintain healthy SEO efforts while providing visitors with dynamic, engaging experiences. The following guidelines will help you better understand the technical approaches to avoiding common mistakes that hurt your search rankings while creating a personalized website.
Clear communication is the key to a successful website and takes two forms: gathering an audience and guiding an audience. SEO helps to gather people looking for something a company offers and bring them to a website, while website personalization strategies help to guide them to what they want while on the site.
The Benefits of Website Personalization
Optimizely defines personalization as “the process of creating customized experiences for visitors to a website … (providing) unique experiences tailored to their needs and desires.” Personalization utilizes demographics, such as age and gender, to present products and services that could be right for a targeted customer, as well as context, which includes location, to match visitors with information related to their region. In doing so, a generic site quickly begins to match the unique interests of each individual audience member. Past behavior on a site can also inform personalization, as seen in the way Amazon presents items on its homepage based on expressed interests.
Through localization, a website’s personalization strategies go beyond translating content and targeting a specific language, culture or region. This includes changing the examples used in content to match the interests and needs of target audiences, such as swapping out case studies to fit the region being targeted. In doing so, a personalized website can most effectively communicate its message to the unique demands of each type of audience.
Gathering Your Audience
Every company with an online presence must face the challenge of getting as much of the correct audience to their website as possible. The following two sets of actions can improve the SEO of a brand’s personalized online experiences.
Ensure Site Indexing
- Beware of Crawling Errors - Look out for unindexed pages, which will prevent search engines from crawling parts of a website and ranking them in search results. Multiple URLs can cause search engine penalizations for what seems like duplicate content as well as splitting resources, causing users to go to different URLs for the same page and hurting search results for the correct landing page.
- Utilize Your Sitemap - Check your sitemap and make sure it is accessible by Google and correctly populated with the right pages for effective crawling for accurate search results. A well-structured sitemap plays an important role in proper page ranking.
- Leverage Fetch as Google - Manually submit your page to Google Indexing, ensuring that the pages you want to be ranked in search engine results are properly crawled and preventing incorrect dynamically generated instances from becoming the results seen for your pages.
Optimize Your Metadata
- Canonical URLs - Using canonical URLs within your coding will help Google crawl the correct page in the event that multiple URLs are generated for the same page, which can result from dynamic content or custom resources. Doing so will have a positive effect on rankings and direct visitors toward the correct version of your landing page while still providing needed personalization.
- Use Localization in Programming - The use of HREFLANG link attributes will help enable localization by automatically providing the correct version of a page based on region and language. This can prevent incorrect personalization that leads to visitor frustrations and high bounce rates. These efforts are all part of effectively gathering a target audience and ensuring that the right eyes are getting on a website, which is where personalization efforts will help provide successful experiences for each visitor.
Guiding Your Visitors
Once visitors have arrived on your website, it is important to leverage on-page personalization in a way that provides targeted experiences while not negatively impacting your SEO efforts. Content targeting helps guide and direct users through a site by matching the content on a page to user interest, however, companies should beware of certain pitfalls to better guide website visitors.
- Avoid Overtargeting - Websites should switch out content based on users, but be careful to not change the content too much. Doing so will prevent Google from knowing what is trying to be communicated on the page. In the event that Google crawls the page and is given content personalized to one specific user, the content generated when targeting a different user persona will become unindexable.
- Define Functional Page Areas - Break down web pages into sections that cover the concept of the page, why the topic matters to the reader and where the service can be found. While this can somewhat change from page to page, keeping the design and structure fairly consistent can help make personalization easy but still fall in line with other pages on the site. In doing so, visitors will be less likely to be confused when navigating from page to page, hopefully decreasing your website’s bounce rate and having a positive impact on your site’s search engine rankings.
- Plan Out Dynamic Content - Determine which aspects of your page will be made dynamic in order to suit the reader and what will determine changes in content. For example, one section of a page can be based on localization to correctly match language and references to the region of the reader while another can be based on user profile and page history to match up products, calls to action or links to related content with their unique interests.
With an effective search engine optimization strategy that works in tandem with personalized website experiences, a company’s online presence can both find and retain its target audience members.