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The year of search personalization

Every January, marketers swarm the digital space with predictions for the upcoming year. We try to predict what the platforms and consumers will do differently to evolve the marketing space, and how brands should plan to adapt accordingly. While the past few years have been idealized as the "Year of Mobile, Social and Local," we predict that 2015 will be named the "Year of Personalization."

Yes, this word isn't new, and no we will not be living in a marketing world adapted to the likes of Minority Report just yet. Instead, 2015 will be the tipping point where brands finally start realizing the need to throw away a blanketed approach to marketing and tap into their own potential to serve the right experience to consumers across a multitude of complex and interwoven scenarios.

We believe that search in particular will make a major leap in the direction of personalization this year. Historically, we've seen tests from the engines meant to drive the best experience for each individual searcher based on their geographic location, search history, social data, device, and other metrics. In addition, technology has been built to integrate more granular data into reporting and bidding from across a variety of analytics packages. However, in 2015 we predict the differences in a user's search history, combined with their physical location, may ultimately produce an aesthetically and literally different set of results than another searcher in another city. Brands that become early adopters of personalization will not only become the winners of 2015, but also likely those of the next five years. In this article, we will provide you with the tools necessary to build a strong foundation for remaining optimally visible in a world of personalized search.


To get started, marketers will need to divide and conquer -- and overlap and work together -- to develop what's necessary to maximize the number of conversions from their websites. The SEO team will need to work closely with IT and others while paid search teams manage expectations from multiple executives across marketing departments. 

Team restructure

Personalization requires a multitude of tests and initiatives to enhance many different types of consumer scenarios across audiences. Today's channel-driven team structure doesn't allow for nimble and aggressive testing plans. A new team must be created within organizations to manage and optimize the digital consumer experience. This team must then work with paid search to restructure their accounts, testing plans, offers, and experiences in order to build audience-level goals.

The team must also work with its organic team to ensure SEO is a key component of any site, technology, or content restructure that will become necessary to enable personalization. For example, personalization could require multiple URLs for one page, with multiple content variations. If these extra URLs aren't properly blocked, duplicate competing content will emerge.  

Device agnostic

Though mobile has been an industry focus for years, we still see many brands tailoring strategies to desktop, making mobile an afterthought. Brands need to make sure that they have an agnostic approach to devices, specifically around content creation. Designers, content writers, and C-levels all need to consider their mobile device users before their desktop users. It is much easier to add content to a page than it is to shrink, edit, and remove it. Make sure your responsive technology degrades content gracefully for users to enable really engaging, rich-media website capabilities across all devices. Many brands that did mobile right in 2014 saw a heavy increase in conversions on mobile. Building the right buy flow and making sure that call center data is tied to search is key for cross-device success in 2015.

Cross-funnel attribution

New technology and enhancements to online tracking have finally caused many search marketers to look beyond simple KPIs like conversion rate and cost per acquisition to inform strategies. Now marketers can connect both sophisticated online and basic offline data into their reporting and bidding platforms. This enables them to analyze strategies based on things like lifetime value and return on ad spend. It also allows brands to connect the dots between online and offline purchases to inform bidding based on online conversions, call center conversions and in-store engagement. These tactics become even more necessary as brands transition to audience-based search marketing through the tactics outlined in the following sections.


Once the processes are optimized and the teams are working seamlessly together on developing personalization, the personalization team will need to make sure the most optimized content is available for the searcher at all stages of the search funnel. Content may change by channel or medium, but the brand's core message, requirements, and limitations must be considered early on and dictated out to the entire team. This type of information is often overlooked when there isn't an integrated team or point person working on personalization for the website.


Remarketing will become an entirely new animal this year. Bing and Yahoo are launching their first enablement of remarketing, and audience data can now be passed back to Google platforms for search remarketing. This enables marketers to not only expand their traditional remarketing initiatives, but also start utilizing the same data as display for cross-media alignment.

A Merkle client utilized this new capability to increase purchases of its top value segment. By simply changing the ad message to serve the right offer to that consumer set, they increased average order value by 14 percent.

Once brands start targeting different audiences in paid search, they can also inform the organic team about the types of consumers engaging on particular keyword sets. This data can help inform the overall messaging for content strategies to help with overall engagement rate and decreased bounce rate.

Local search

Local search isn't just for the brick and mortars of the world anymore. Brands can now use this data to build more relevant imagery and language in ad copy and on landing pages to optimize toward local-specific search behavior. Many marketers miss out on key terms by not utilizing their keyword planning tools by market. Language, weather, and geo-specific terminology can differ greatly by region. For example, a hotel chain or clothing store could see completely different searches in Florida, a warm weather climate, than Colorado, which experiences every season every day. One Merkle client even utilizes a spider crawling technology to track the SERPS of related keyword sets within each state to better understand competition, overall market messaging, and seasonal search behavior.

Putting it all together

By the end of 2015, brands should have a well-oiled machine for personalization that is driven by a specific digital personalization team. Testing plans, customer journey paths, and the right technology must be in place to ensure that both paid and organic strategies are being built based on device, location, audience, true conversion data, and the right KPIs. Building a long-term vision and foundation for your own brand's personalization goal will keep you ahead of competition in the coming years.

Jennifer DeGiovanni is a senior manager at Merkle.

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Jennifer DeGiovanni is a senior manager in Merkle’s Digital Strategy Group. Merkle, a technology enabled, data driven customer relationship marketing (CRM) firm, is the nation’s largest privately-held agency. Jennifer has been with...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Mirlando Iquianicia

2015, March 05

Those 100 word paragraphs are tedious to read. If the writers does not have time to make the content more readable, what makes anybody think we readers will find it so compelling we will trudge through complex sentences in paragraphs 10 lines deep and 630px wide?