Friday, December 11, 2009

Will the middle be harder to find?...

As tenor and temperature of various debates escalate, I find myself wondering how much my opinions are affected by my habitual use of Google as my search engine.  In case you hadn't noticed (and few of us did) your results are different from others for the saem search parameters.  Google has quietly personalized your searches.

Here's a good explanation from the nerds themselves. (C,mon, look at 'em!)

Opinions in the search engine microcosm are variable.
Imagine you’re in a library — the classic metaphor for a search engine and how it interacts with a searcher, from when WebCrawler’s Brian Pinkerton used to explain how they worked back in the 1990s. Someone walks in and says “travel.” In a library, the librarian would ask more questions, to try and understand what they want. Early search engines didn’t do this. They couldn’t do this!
Over time, search engines tried to do the library-style conversation by offering related searches, as a way to get searchers to refine their queries. Then Google took a huge leap last year by making use of your previous query to refine your results. That makes sense and doesn’t seem to require any particular reason to ask for user opt-in. Again, imagine the librarian. It would be unreasonable to expect them to forget the last thing you said in a conversation you were having, as they tried to help you. Unreasonable and unhelpful.
But would you expect the librarian to help you by remembering everything you’d asked over a half-year period? That might be helpful, sure, but it might also be eerie. But this is what Google is doing now. It remembers everything you’ve searched for over 180 days, and it uses that information to customize your results. To alert you about this huge change, it made a blog post on Friday afternoon. That’s it. [More]

So on any given topic my results will be influenced by whatever I have read and searched before. Does this mean I will see fewer results that show alternate/divergent perspectives?

I'm not sure.  I will likely be pointed to more websites that favor my current position, I think.

But what it does mean is search result rankings are now questionable - a real headache for website managers selling ad space.
So, for those of you who may not have received this message before: search engine ranking is dead. In the very near future, you will no longer be able to reliably check your rankings in the Google search engine.
How to Measure Success
Track your traffic, conversions, and ROI. These are the important metrics for any form of marketing or business. That's the way it should be.
Like it or not, personalization of the Google search results is here. Many are seeing it right now for several search queries.
Google has just been awarded a patent for language personalization of search results. They are (or will be) changing the search results based on the language you use in your search query and based on the language of the Web pages that show up on the search results.
I recently searched for a keyword phrase to do some research on other SEO companies. After performing one search and then entering another search query, Google added a phrase onto the top right of the search results: "Customized based on recent search activity." If you see this phrase on a search results page, then your search results have been personalized just for you.
To get more information about it, click on "More Details." Let's take a look at what Google says:
"Search customization details: search engine marketing company
When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you're signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.
The following information was used to improve your search results for search engine marketing company:
Recent Searches
You or someone else recently searched for search engine marketing using this browser."
Google is personalizing the search results based on your recent search engine queries. They say specifically that based on your location and/or your recent search activity the search results have been altered.
This is happening even if you aren't logged into your Google account. If you are logged into your Google account, you'll likely see even more different search results.
We're going to see more customization and personalization because Google believes this will bring us more relevant, useful search results. As Google moves more toward personalization, it will be even closer to the end of the search engine rankings: no more top rankings or number one ranking for a certain keyword phrase.
What This Means for Company Web Sites
When someone visits a Web site, they will potentially be more "qualified," and the ratio between traffic and conversions might improve. Traffic may go down, but in the long run, the visitors that do visit our sites via a Google search will be more qualified because the search results were personalized to what that they were really looking for.
There are several things that we'll see in the future as a result of Google's personalization of search results:
  • Personalized search will change our perception of search engine "rankings."
  • Google will focus on a user's intent, showing us search results based on our search history and the query we use. There will be different search results based on whether we're doing research, looking to buy something, or looking for something locally in our area.
  • There will be a local impact on the search results. Search results will change depending on the content and keywords on our Web sites and the geolocation of the user. Search results will change based on your IP address.

One wildcard will be if users opt-out (how-to on the video above) of personalized search and in what numbers. This subtle change in a tool most of us have become used to thinking of as unbiased and stable may be shaping communications more than even Google imagined.

But is it evil?

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