<< by on August 14th, 2008
Google came out publicly about using your individual search history to personalize its natural search results for your search queries over a year ago. But recent headlines about privacy of search data and Google’s new “transparency” about use of this data in the upper right hand corner of search results “Personalized based on your web history. More Details” have brought the idea of Personalized results to everyone.
One of the best analogies I’ve found about why Google uses personalization in search results is Eric Ward’s:
” We each search for the term “Beatles” and you get results about the car, I get results about the band, and someone else gets results about the insect.”
Google would use your search history to try and customize more relevant results to each searcher, hopefully giving the car results, band results and insect results to the correct individuals.
Anyone who signs up for a Google service using a Google Account (including Gmail, Google AdSense, Google Analytics, Google Reader, Google Personalized Homepage, etc.) is automatically opted into Personalized search, whether they know it or not. Personalized Search results that utilize your search history are only visible when you are logged into any of those Google products. So it’s not such a big deal, Right? Actually, a recent article about Gmail said that over 20 Million people visit Gmail each day and that there are 100 Million Gmail users.
Here’s what we know about Google Personalized Search, from previous interviews and blog posts.
- A # 1 ranking is constant, with personalization and without it. Google’s Marissa Mayer said last year that the number one spot was ‘a level of relevance that we (Google) feel comfortable with‘.
- Personalized Search Results are only in the top ten results. Interviews with Marissa Mayer claim that only up to 2 of the top ten results are Personalized results. (That doesn’t mean that the results aren’t shuffled – with the exception of the #1 spot). Note: Michael Gray, who I respect and have more tendency to believe that Google, claims that up to 3 results are Personalized.
- New search queries that logged in Google users execute are for the most part NOT Personalized results. Marissa Mayer says when searchers are “…exploring topics that are unknown to them and we can tell from their search history that they haven’t searched for anything in this sphere before. There’s no other search like it. They’ve never clicked on any results that are related to this topic, and, as a result, we actually don’t change their query set at all because we know that they need the basic Google results.“
- No one knows (Yet) how much weight personalization plays in the Google algorithm that produces search results. Again referencing Michael Gray: “we do know that your search history (and almost certainly click through data) makes up a big part. Other signals they may or may not be being using to some degree are GMail click throughs, Google reader (posts actually read, starred or shared) and Google bookmarks.“
- The days of everyone seeing the same search results are over. Even if you aren’t logged in, Google is personalizing results based on your IP address or location.
- If the Personalized search results really are more relevant to the searcher, they will have much higher Click Through Rates than non-Personalized results (According to Enquiro Eyetracking studies).
- “Rank” is a relative term and is harder to measure or assess, but is just as important as ever. Truthfully this has always been the case. Differences in results among the data center answering the search query have always been a factor, but search history, and geography are also factors in determining results. The fact that the “Genie is out of the Bottle” and more transparent in letting people know this is and has been going on for a while is beside the point.
- Targeting for SEO isn’t for a search engine result, it’s targeting for a search engine USER. Traffic for the sake of traffic hasn’t really been a focus for reputable SEOs. Most of us are smart enough to go after targeted quality traffic and this is accomplished with good keyword research.
So what’s a poor SEO to do if Google results are not as “static” as previously believed by some? Honestly, from a strategy stand point we keep doing the same things we have always done. The major weight in Google’s algorithm is still going to links and site content and emphasis on that isn’t changing anytime soon. We have to keep emphasizing that the ranking reports we deliver (search results with personalization shut off) are base line approximations and a slice in time of what the results looked like at the time the search query was performed. Personalized search results will obviously be different than the rank report.
The new trick that we need to start emphasizing more is the use of “Google Bookmarks” buttons on pages that are good targets for searcher bookmarking, and getting people to subscribe to your RSS Feed with the “+ Add to Google Button“. Doing this hopefully increases the chances that a Google Personalized search will favor sites that the searcher has bookmarked or subscribed to in the past.
Personalized Search is not the end of SEO. The ranking results are obviously skewed by it with each user. But hopefully it actually improves the delivery of relevant results and improves targeted traffic for the websites that put themselves in a position to be in the top ten results. A lot of SEO work usually has to be accomplished before a site can ever make it into the top ten for a selected keyword (Personalized results or not), and that’s not going to change.