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Personalized Search, Beware!

You’re probably overestimating your organic search (SEO) performance thanks to Google’s personalized search. As a result, you may be losing thousands of visitors and potentially hundreds of applications. Personalized search shows different results to every searcher. So, if you’ve searched “MBA Program” to review how your business school is ranking, odds are you’ve seen results that don’t reflect the search results your prospects see.

Here are just a few of the many factors Google uses to personalize search results:

  • Device – Smartphones, tablets, and laptops will show different results. Sometimes the results are wildly different, sometimes just a bit.
  • Location – Where you are matters! Searches for “MBA Program” in downtown Chicago are a lot more likely to show Booth, while the same search performed on the north side closer to Northwestern will show Kellogg.
  • Search History – Google tracks your computer and smartphone usage, so, if you usually head to The Wall Street Journal for news instead of the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal will start to appear more frequently for news-related searches.

Don’t trust that your prospective students see the same thing you’re seeing. Realize that branded keywords (i.e., your school’s name) are not good indicators of organic search success. The most valuable prospective students use general terms (non-branded) to research business school programs, so appearing first for “MBA Program” is far more valuable than appearing first for your own name (which if you don’t, there’s really something seriously wrong!)

What to do?

Traffic from prospects is key when assessing the performance of your SEO strategy, not where you rank in a self-conducted search. This is a complex subject, so in our next post we’ll dig into specifics of this topic.

There are more prospects online every day. At a minimum, you should see total traffic increasing year over year. If traffic is only increasing slightly (<5% growth), stagnant, or declining, there’s something wrong.

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