by Juste Semetaite
on April 21, 2017

Although personalisation in search marketing is not something new, many brands still struggle to understand and utilise its potential to create a better user experience. However, 94% of those companies that commit to improving their customer experience through personalisation see “higher engagement and conversion rates”. The evidence of the effectiveness of personalisation is overwhelming.

Consumer feedback over the past few years has been very clear and consistent: use our data in a transparent and responsible way to give us what we want – relevant and personalised content. Marketers who are experimenting with personalised web experiences, on average see a 19% uplift in sales (source: econsultancy/monetate). And a whopping 88% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with retailers that deliver personalized and connected cross-channel experiences (source: Swirl Networks, 2015).

So why are some brands still wary of embracing dynamic content? The hesitation is mostly fueled by fear of getting penalised by Google.

Google’s stance on dynamic content

As recently as 2013, Google was actively discouraging brands from pursuing the personalisation trend. Back then, the search engine’s spiders were unable to crawl dynamic pages properly (or as well as static pages), significantly increasing the risk of missing big chunks of content and hiding pages from search results or marking them as duplicate content, which would lead to huge penalties and damaged search rankings. In short, the personalisation guidelines were simple: don’t do it.

That made a lot of brands nervous.

However, in light of personalisation becoming a crucial element of a great user experience, many decided to take the risk and move forward with dynamic content pages. There’s been a major shift in how brands, including Google, understand and use the rich web behavioural data ever since.

Personalisation has taken the web experiences to a completely new level, allowing marketers to tailor content based on visitors’ geographical location, past behaviours, demographics, interests, and past purchases. In fact, the widespread adoption of personalisation techniques has led to consumers starting to expect and showing high preference for fresh, dynamic content that meets their needs.

Google has since changed their position on the matter, stating that they now index URLs with dynamic parameters and doesn’t require them to be rewritten. However, since the search engine’s guidelines for dynamic content are still a little vague, webmasters prefer to adhere to several best practices to ensure their websites are SEO friendly.

  • Ensure you submit an accurate sitemap linking to all content to help Google’s spiders understand and crawl your website better;
  • Use a mix of static and dynamic content on every page to allow Google bots to see and index the entire page;
  • Although there’s no clear limit on the number of URLs parameters, the recommendation for both static and dynamic URLs is to keep them short (one or two parameters);
  • To help bots crawl and index your website successfully, include hard-coded text links behind dynamic content;
  • Make sure you notify Googlebots about static pages that are copies of your dynamic pages to avoid penalties;
  • Ensure you have static URLs linking to the same content as each dynamic URL.

Personalisation is heavily present in search and has greatly influenced the evolution of online marketing, completely changing user expectations. Nowadays, search engines are incredibly sophisticated and are able to crawl and index dynamic pages. The only reason why some marketers are still hesitant about jumping on board with this trend is that dynamic pages take longer for search spiders to understand and index. For this reason, it’s essential to stick to best practices and make it easier for Googlebots to crawl personalised content.

Thanks to personalisation, brands report higher user engagement, better clickthrough rates, lower bounce rates and significantly increased conversion rates. The benefits of dynamic content by far outweigh the diminishing SEO risks. So if you decide to go ahead with dynamic content, all you need to worry about is doing it properly (like with everything else online marketing).

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