The Personalized Search Revolution

Day two brings us a revolution. It won’t be televised but it will be liveblogged. Moderator Chris Sherman (Search Engine Land) will be keeping revolutionaries Steven Marder (Eurekster) and Phil McDonnell (Google, Inc.) on track. (Yahoo’s representative had to bow out for a family emergency.) Viva la revolution!

Chris begins with a reflection that personalized search has been talked about year after year and it’s kind of amazing that things that are finally coming to light.

Phil McDonnell leads off. He’s a software engineer working primarily on search quality.

Personalized Search Overview:

  • Primarily based on Web History data
  • Great at disambiguating search meaning
  • Finds results most relevant for a user
  • Provides subtle ranking changes.

Users often under-specify what they want. They’ll say ‘jaguar’ without car or cat. Personalized search helps bring up things that are more relevant for you that wouldn’t normally show up for most people. Argon is mostly taken to mean an element, but it’s also a high end bike company in France. So if you’re a big fan of bikes, it’ll get moved up. But not to one, that’s ridiculous.

Not using data from Gmail right now.

1. Transparency — Allows users to view the data stored
2. Security — Enables user privacy through secure log in
3. Control — Empowers users to selectively include and exclude stat
4. Portabililty — Allows users to take it with them

Marketing to Personalized Search

  • Create compelling and interesting content
  • Appeal to users instead of search engines
    • Find your niche
    • Bring the right result to the right user
  • Simplifies the search experience
    • [Tacoma] – City or Truck
  • Simplifies marketing needs
    • [delirium] – state of mind or bar (Or Neil Gaiman character!)
  • Changes are subtle
    • SEOs do not need to rethink marketing plans (Hmm, don’t know if I agree.)

They’re not going to promote a ton of results they’re just going to bump up a couple. You might still want the other meaning, they can’t be certain.

Comparing with un-personalized results
Option 1: Sign out of Google account
Option 2: Append &pws=0 to your URL

Steven Marder steps up.

What we do: Swicki platform

Who we do it for: Small to medium Web publishers

Value Propisition: Publisher control

They’ve been looking at social search, trying to determine through the community. It’s search oriented but also a discovery tool. You can allow people to put the widget on their page and search your information.

He talks really fast.

Search 3.0 got really interesting from their perspective. It got into discovery elements. When they look at 4.0 they’re looking at groups and communities. Their approach to social is not just building from scratch with the users but drawing on the work the major engines have already done. It learns from community refinement. [The slides are all very detailed, FYI]

The challenges: Trusted relationship or expert source/guide. Learning to effectively apply the social graph, how do you create and find high quality user generated contact. How to take in feedback.

They’re rolling out their new search page and trying to work in some new discovery and refinement elements. They allow commenting on the results. Time to visit the Web site. The pages are nice and clean, actually.

Chris Sherman takes the mike back to talk about what Yahoo’s been doing.

They’ve been sort of lagging but there are a couple of interesting. MyWeb was interesting but limited. They’ve got Delicious and Yahoo! Search Builder. Yahoo! Shopping has a cool thing called Pinpoint shopping, but you really need to know it’s there. There are sliders that dynamically change the search results. It’s similar but taken a little further than the Yahoo Mindset too. The trouble with Yahoo is that nearly everything they have so far is limited (and as we know, size matters.)

The newest thing that they’re doing it Search Monkey. It’s connected to LinkedIn. So you’re able to get more information about a topic or person right away. It’s open source so you can add applications and tell them to make various things prominent in their results. They deliberately avoid calling it personalization. They want to focus on the user experience. Chris isn’t sure if that’s wise or not.

You have the potential to dramatically change Yahoo’s results for yourself with their tools in a way that you’re not able to do with Google’s more subtle approach.


How do those not logged into a Google account contribute to a change in positions?

Phil: If you’re not signed in we’re not personalizing it. It’ll contribute in the general sense that anything would. [Does he mean click tracking?] If there is anything we can infer from a general level, then you might be able to do something there. Certainly that’s already done on a country level. [Chris: Click popularity?] Yeah, we do that on a global level.

Steven: We do it on a community level. It’s really hard to do it globally but we find focusing it is easier.

Is history actually deleted when it’s deleted?

Phil: I believe it’s more or less deleted. It’s not accessible and we can’t find it. It might be on the drive. It’s not going to be distinguishable from all the rest of the data. If there was a court order, they’d probably try to find it.

Chris: I think it’s a 30 day process. As I understand it the encryption is such that unless you have the keys, it’s not possible. If you’re really interested, go look at what Matt Cutts filed during the DOJ hearing. It’s about a 30 page document on how they protect data.

What percent of Google users are using personalized search?

Phil: We don’t disclose that but it’s a large percentage. I was surprised

What sort of things should you be concerned about as an SEO?

Steven: from our perspective it comes back to the quality of the content. It’ll be harder to game the system. But long-term, it’ll be great for marketers.

Phil: At this point, I’d really concentrate on really quality content. I’ve seen a lot of restaurants that put their address in an image and that’s not useful to us.

Chris: Louis mentioned a research assistant in the keynote. Do you see that coming up and happening in the next 10 years?

Phil: I think it’s about exposing the content, whether there’s a research assistant or not.

Can you tell us more about how users will be able to export their data? (from a Microsoft person, hee!)

Phil: Yeah, we enable RSS feeds currently. I think that’s the only implementation so far and I don’t know if they’re looking for more.

How do you decide what happens for a person doing a lot of specific searches and has been looking for domestic cars and selecting for Ford but now wants Chevy?

Phil: That’s why it’s subtle, why we only promote a couple result and not wipe out every top ten.

[Basically if you’re in the top 5, you’re not going to be knocked out by personalization (you might be by blended ones though.)]

How do you address spam in personalized results?

Phil: We haven’t really seen a lot of it but it’s pretty easy to deal with. We take it seriously and we’re watching for it.

As vendors, how do we begin quantifying results with personalized search?

Phil: The reality is it’s going to bring you up when you’re relevant and push you down when you’re not.

How does geographical location affect?

Phil: It definitely does. I think in the future it’s going to play a larger and larger role.

Does your product overlay enterprise search?

Steven: For the most part, we’ve stayed away from it but we can take it as a feed. We’ve been more focused on the consumer side and small-medium.

How much time does it take for personalized results to kick in?

Phil: Right now it’s on a day to day basis. You might seen small, incremental changes. If you’re using it for three months, you’ll see more because we have more information.

From Steven: How are you applying the social graph into Google?

Phil: I think everyone in the industry wants to do something here. Sometimes it is really hard to say what your Facebook friends say about you. Your friends are into wakeboarding, does that mean you are?

Steven: It was fun but in terms of improving relevancy, it didn’t really seems to help. However when you’re dealing with multiple overlays then it really starts to get interesting.

Chris: It’s trust but it’s also that you don’t have an exact overlay on interests with the people you trust. [Tells a cute story about how it can go wrong. Who knew Gary Price was a disco fan?]

More SEO questions

Fionn (I think?): SEO isn’t going to go away, it’s going to change, we’re going to need to be more creative. We’re getting our clients to optimize for the blended search so you’re increasing your chances. The opportunity for SEO is that you’re going to need to broaden your range of services.

Will there be a way of identifying traffic from search as opposed to personalized search? Will there be a variable?

Phil: No, I don’t think so.

Chris: [to the audience] Create a tool.

Are there any stats on conversion rate for personalized search?

Phil: I don’t have any.

Steven: We don’t either but it’s more just intuitive at this point. We think it’s working.

Phil: I think that the overall point is very good. If you’re a bar called delirium, you’re never going to rank naturally. Personalized search is the only way you’re going to rank for that term because it’s just not that popular.

Are you intending to apply personalized search to paid search?

Phil: It’s not being done and I don’t think that it’s as compelling to say that we’re going to give them more personalized ads.

Open social [Eric Lander has asked, like, six of these questions.]

Steven: We think it’s got great potential.

How will personalized search affect Yahoo’s paid inclusion?

Chris: My suspicion is that Yahoo will enhance their paid inclusion program to give you more flexibility on that.

How do you teach people that these technologies are out there?

Steven: That’s one of the reasons we’re here. We’re trying to spread the word. The proof’s in the pudding and hopefully it’ll convert once people see it.

Are you using any of your distribution partners like AOL or is AOL personalized?

Phil: We’re not. We thought about it but we’re not doing it and we don’t have the agreement for it.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
Filed under: SEO
Still on the hunt for actionable tips and insights? Each of these recent SEO posts is better than the last!
Bruce Clay on May 8, 2024
The Always Up-to-Date SEO Checklist
Bruce Clay on April 4, 2024
What Makes an SEO Program Successful?
Bruce Clay on April 3, 2024
How Can I Improve My Website Rankings Through SEO?

One Reply to “The Personalized Search Revolution”

Keep on dancing and searching! :-)

or another way to get a smiley. emoticon Smart Answers!



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Serving North America based in the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area
Bruce Clay, Inc. | PO Box 1338 | Moorpark CA, 93020
Voice: 1-805-517-1900 | Toll Free: 1-866-517-1900 | Fax: 1-805-517-1919