Google Pushes Out Personalized Search

Google issued a press release last Friday evening – a time that PR professionals usually reserve for stories they hope will get buried in the weekend rush. But Google’s announcement – that they will now personalize ALL search results – is groundbreaking news in the search engine marketing universe.

Google has been moving towards personalized search for some time in an effort to deliver the most relevant results possible to users. By watching and recording what types of searches you do and the sites that you visit, Google attempts to deliver relevant results based on your past searching history. If you’re a loyal zappos.com customer that visits the site frequently, Google may rank zappos.com higher than, say, shoes.com when you search online. Over time, you’ll see more zappos.com results, and fewer shoes.com listings.

What’s significantly different is that Google has now made this an opt-out decision for users to make, not an opt-in as it was previously. From Google:

“Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. It’s completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users). You’ll know when we customize results because a “View customizations” link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we’ve customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization.”

Although an opt-out option exists, it’s fairly complicated and Google is doing nothing to highlight that fact and guide users through the process. More on the opt-out process in a separate post to follow.

It will be interesting to see if there is any public backlash due to potential privacy issues. Most people probably have a limited understanding of the amount of data that search engines capture when they search. This is one of the biggest developments in search engine marketing in a decade… the fact that Google released the news in the dead zone of a Friday afternoon may point to their concern about a public backlash on privacy. A blinding introduction of new products today (Real Time Search, Google Goggles, Voice Search, Hot Topics) only adds to the suspicion that they’re trying to bury the news on personalized search. The new products were announced at Google’s Search Evolution conference, held at their Palo Alto Headquarters. No mention of personalized search.

From an SEO perspective, this could render ranking reporting obsolete. Although there have been minor variations on rankings from one user to the next in the past, this move will wreak havoc in the marketplace as there will be significant variations in rankings from user to user. Most SEO professionals know better than to focus obsessively on rankings, and most SEO professionals have worked with otherwise intelligent clients who insist on focusing obsessively on rankings. As much as we counsel clients to focus on lead volume, conversion, and revenue generation, we’ve all felt the heat when a client drops a spot or two on a key phrase. This latest move by Google may ultimately force clients to turn their focus from rankings to revenue, which may actually be a good development for the SEO industry.

Watch the Google Video Announcement

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