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January 28, 2009

Personalized Search Advancements – SEM Synergy Extras

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If you’re interested in finding out how Google is customizing your search results, I have the perfect tutor for you. President and founder of Reliable-SEO, David Harry, aka the Gypsy, has been researching the subject of personalized search for years. And he doesn’t just have theories to share with you — he’s got research and numbers and statistics to back it up.

I talked to David this week on SEM Synergy as part of an episode devoted to the ways that Google is tailoring search results just for you. Last summer David conducted an experiment in personalized search which focused on the fluctuating rankings of results for informational queries. He published his findings (which are available for PDF download) and, in my opinion, the intriguing results are a necessary read for any serious SEO.

For instance, the data showed that re-ranking was occurring whether or not a user was signed into their Google account. Also, users browsing the Web on Safari saw very little ranking deviations from the baseline, suggesting that the browser technology plays a role in whether or not re-ranking occurs. And one more thing before I give it all away; when the exact same query was performed by users across the country, no two results set were the same! Have you signed up to download the report yet?!

Then there’s SearchWiki, a whole other can of worms in the personalized search realm. We close the show with a discussion about how the recently released feature is poised to shake up the way SEOs measure success. As usual, it’s impossible to touch upon the various concerns members of the industry have voiced about SearchWiki, so I’ve rounded up some of the views expressed here.

  • Shortly after SearchWiki’s release, Danny Sullivan interviewed Cedric Dupon, SearchWiki’s product manager, and others involved in the project, to ask all the questions on everyone’s minds. The word at the time was that there would be no opt-out feature added any time soon and that as far as manipulation was concerned, the issue was one that webmasters were already dealing with, so the point was deemed moot.
  • Later Michael Arrington interviewed Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search Product and User Experience. She said that an on-off button will be added to the feature. But more shocking to the SEO community was her revelation that SearchWiki could be used to adjust generic search results!
  • Andy Beal responded to Marissa’s point by saying that black hats could have a field day manipulating rankings through a system that depended on SearchWiki.
  • In a note of encouragement, Aaron Wall reminded the community that while SearchWiki might raise the bar of ranking calculations, the extra challenge would give a leg up to those who succeed in the system.

In the end it all comes down to the fact that the ranking algorithm is always going to be a moving target and that SEOs have to adjust their strategies as they go. Just be sure that you’re staying up on the evolving search technologies, play by the rules, and success will follow accordingly.

My thanks to David for taking the time to talk to me and our audience about custom ranking factors. David’s got another experiment in the queue, so if you’d like to be involved in the study just give him a holler. His first group was made up of about 16 volunteers and there are already 80 people signed up for the next round! People are obviously champing at the bit to discover all they can about how result re-ranking is determined. I know I can’t wait to see what David finds out.





3 responses to “Personalized Search Advancements – SEM Synergy Extras”

  1. Dave writes:

    Hi Virginia – thank YOU for asking me along for the ride.

    It seems when we look at some of the problems with implicit feedback, we may better understand projects such as Search Wiki and Preferred Pages (explicit feedback) – they certainly help the noise as far as intent/satisfaction, and add easier personalization signals. Interesting times ahead…

    As far as digging into re-rankings and other anomalies, I shall let you know what we come up with…

    Thanks again and I hope to talk again soon!

  2. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hey David :) Personalization is an endlessly fascinating subject. Thanks for keeping the industry updated — it’s an invaluable service you provide. There is certainly change in the air!

  3. Goran writes:

    Personalization allows SEM to be more about conversions as oppose to just those words that the clients want to see on the front page of Google. Did not know there was a Bruce Clay blog, will be back regularly.



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