Last Friday afternoon, Google made a rather large change to its search engine results that went pretty much unnoticed (I didn’t find out about it until yesterday). Google is now personalizing everyone’s search results, regardless of whether you have opted into this or not. For more details behind how search personalization works, and how you can technically opt out of it (because by default you are now opted in) please see this article: Google Now Personalizes Everyone’s Search Results.
Google personalized search is not new. As a matter of fact, since 2007, personalized search results have been showing, but only for people logged into their Google account. For example, if you were logged into your Gmail account, and then did a search before having logged out of Gmail, then your personalized search results would display. Google, along with other search engines, has been tracking users search history (which Google calls “Web History”) for years. The only difference is that NOW, Google is using the data to refine each individual’s search results, whether the user has opted into this or not.
To be quite honest, as both a search marketer and a regular Internet user, I am not a fan of having my search results personalized based on what search results I have clicked on in the past.
As a search marketer, I am not a fan of this because it is going to make it unbelievably difficult to gauge the effectiveness of any Search Engine Optimization (SEO) effort. In addition, now that search is personalized, I think that the reach of my SEO efforts is limited. Why is it limited? Because everyone’s search query results will be different. Yes, the same theme will hold true with SEO – relevant content with targeted keywords, relevant back links…etc. will remain critical factors, but the reach will be limited because the branding element of SEO is now severed. It is not expected that every user is going to click on your search engine listing, which is fine. However, there is a branding element in SEO that people often neglect. Even though users may not click on your search engine listing, they still SEE your listing, thus they see your URL and your company name. This is a free branding element that appears within Google search results, in one of the largest web properties on the Internet and the largest search engine. Now with personalized search, the reach of this free branding is limited because everyone is going to have different search results, and those results may not include your site.
As a regular Internet user I don’t like personalized search not only because I’m opted into personalization by default, I will also now be shown search results that I am already familiar with, which in my opinion negates the point of search – to find new information. In other words, the diversity of web sites in my search results could be reduced. Why do I want to see stuff I already like? I want to discover new web sites and information that I had never known about. With the new personalized search, am I going to constantly see the same results that I clicked on in the past at the top? This would make using Google less useful and maybe a little bit more… boring. It would be nice to see some facts regarding what percentage of the queries will be personalized.
Director of Marketing