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March 2, 2010

Google’s Personalized Search Revolution

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The revolution will be liveblogged. Bryan Horling, a software engineer for Google Personalized Search, is in the house, as is the man, Danny Sullivan. Danny says that personalized search was a revolution because it happened whether people were logged in or not. It changed search at a fundamental level. That scared some SEOs who didn’t know how their clients were ranking.

Bryan’s the only speaker at this session because he’s the only one who volunteers to speak on the topic. To some degree there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to influence them as a marketer — other than have really good content. A lot of people can’t get their head around it. Hopefully this session helps.

Bryan Horling

What should Google show for the query [SMX]? Most in the room would agree it’s searchmarketingexpo.com. But SMX means different things depending on the location. In the UK, SMX is a motorcross club. In Santa Maria, CA, SMX is the airport code.

Or if a user’s previous search was [xb], the result Honda.co.jp/s-mx, a similar car, might show up.

Search queries are frequently imprecise. Personalization can help fill in the gaps:

  • Geography
  • Topicality
  • Preference
  • Pattern
  • Social

This must be done in a privacy-sensitive way:

  • Transparency: notice of how and where info is being used
  • Control: give users ways to manage their info

Country Localization

A search for [taxes] will bring up different results for the UK than the US, based on the organization in charge of taxes in the country.

Regional Localization

A search for [bus schedule] will focus on the city a searcher is in, such as the MBTA for Boston, but it will also include results that are broader, like Greyhound, that services more than one area.

More Search Details

When results are personalized for a logged-in user, they can customize the search preferences. You can change your location when a location specific result is served. This can also be specified in Google Maps.

Search Nearby Tool

There are additional search options for search today. You can specify results nearby as well as a custom location.

Signed-In Web History

In the top right corner of search results, signed-in users will see a link to Web History. From the Web History page, a user can remove or pause items on the list, or wipe out the entire history. Data is retained forever, or until removed.

Signed-Out Personalized Search

Non-signed in users, tracked by browser cookies, will see personalization of search results. Under the hood it works a lot the same way as a signed-in user. However, a user can’t manage their Web history and can’t see the items being used. A user can turn the signed-out Web history on or off. Data is retained for 180 days.

Long-Term History Disambiguation

For most people, the search [vector] is for vector graphics or to find a company named Vector. But for programmers with a long-term history of programming related searches, the query [vector] is a navigational query to a C++ resource.

The Web History Tool exposes information about Web history. For instance, you can see only visited pages or not-yet-visited pages.

Social Search

These results surface content from your social circle. This is another way search results are being personalized for the individual. The intuition behind this is that if you were to see two results on the same topic by someone you know and someone you don’t know, the result from someone you know may have more meaning in the context of knowing the author. Results served in social search will have a link to your social circle as well as your social content. You can search from a single social contact.

  • Your social circle come from:
    • Google contacts (chat, friends, family, coworkers, followees)
    • Your Google profile
    • All contacts extended with Social Graph API
  • Content that your contacts see about you comes from:
    • Your Google profile extended with Social Graph API
  • Content that you see about your contacts comes from:
    • Extended Google profiles of your contacts
    • Your Google reader subscriptions
  • Only public content is shown

How much has changed?

  • Affects all users, but in different ways
  • Changes made to about 1 in 5 queries
  • Changes tend to be restricted to a few results

What’s an SEO to do?

  • It isn’t just about ranking well. It’s about ranking well for the likely users of your service.
  • You will be less likely to compete with the whole world, and more likely to compete with sites in your area. You’re also less likely to get visitors from search that aren’t looking for what you offer
    • [taxi]: just the taxi services in your geographic area
    • [boost]: just the energy drink, not the C++ library
  • Create compelling and interesting content
  • Appeal to users, not search engines
  • You can control personalization for your searches
    • Use search details
    • Disable it by appending &pws=0 to searchers
    • Firefox extension, greasemonkey script
    • Edit or disable web history
    • Edit or clear location
    • Edit your contacts and profile
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3 responses to “Google’s Personalized Search Revolution”

  1. Brian writes:

    Thank you for keeping those of us that couldn’t make it updated on what’s going on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who appreciates your effort :)

  2. Sammy Nams writes:

    Seems a lot like re-targeted search marketing in my observations thus far. Those ranked for the highest traffic keywords in your niche will have a distinct advantage that prevails across the board.

  3. Maciej (ma-chi) writes:

    I think SEO’s need to take a much stronger marketing approach in helping a business build their brand online through good quality content and not manipulation. I think we are starting to see the beginning stages of this in the search engines.



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