How Personalisation Affects Mobile Search

March 2016

How Personalisation Affects Mobile Search

Once upon a time, anyone who ran a Google search saw the same results. That held true for a long time, but no longer. Personalisation has radically changed the game. With the same search term, two users will now see very different results on their screen. No one sees the same results anymore. Moreover, this even applies if you’re browsing privately or not signed into your account. Obviously, this has ramifications for desktop users, but it’s mobile searchers that it impacts the most.


One of the most important factors affecting mobile search is the searcher’s location. For instance, if you’re surfing from the sunny coast of Italy, you’re going to get very different results than someone from Finland. Someone from York will have very different search results than someone from Cardiff. Location plays a role in almost all aspects of mobile search today, particularly given Google’s increasing focus on promoting local businesses first.

Let’s say that someone in Cardiff is looking for a new winter coat. He fires up his smartphone’s browser and types in his query. The first results are going to be sponsored ads, as normal, but they’re most likely to be from nearby retailers and big chains with a presence in the area. Even the results below the ads will be from local providers. Most general results (international retailers for instance) will show up below the fold, or even on the next page (or pages back).

Search History

Google tailors your search results to your search history. Even the ads you see online are based on your search and web visiting history. For example, log into Facebook and you’ll see ads based on what you’ve searched for online. If you do a lot of shopping for kitchen equipment, you’re more likely to see ads for cookware, recipes, food websites and the like. This applies across the board, and there’s really no way to opt out of it.

Search Behaviour

Connected to but different from search history is your search behaviour. Google (and Bing) can tailor results to your previous searches, as well as the websites that you spend the most time on. For instance, if you’re a craft beer lover and spend a lot of time on Beer Advocate, a query for a review on an untried beer style might give you sites similar to Beer Advocate, or even apps that match the intent of your query and your past behaviour online.


Interestingly, Google also segments search results by the type of device being used. For instance, you might have different results if you’re using an iPad Pro to surf the web than you would if you were using an iPhone 5 with a small screen. This is because screen size often dictates the type of information a searcher is looking for. Someone with a very small screen might be looking for actionable information like a phone number or an address, while someone with a larger device might be looking for more abstract content (articles, blog posts and the like).

It’s clear that personalisation has not stopped, and will continue to evolve in order to give each searcher a unique experience.

How Personalisation Affects Mobile Search by Chris Tomlinosn




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