Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Google Personalized SERPs: Convenient or Creepy?

As of December 4th, Google has begun giving you personalized results on your searches.  they've been doing that for a long time, for those that chose to "opt in" to the service, but now all SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will be personalized automatically.

What that means is that when you do a search at Google, and click on a result at that SERP, Google will keep track of that click for 180 days, along with all of the other clicks you do after a google search.  From that data, it will get an idea of the kids of sites you like, and those sites will get preferential ranking in your results.  Over time, the kinds of sites you look for often will drift to the top of your results. 

If you happen to run the Google toolbar, or are logged into google docs or gmail or something else Google, they're actually able to track all your web-goings.

The convenient part of that is that you're more likely to find what you're most interested in when you do searches.  The searching part of your internet experiences is more likely to become less "search-y" and more "find-y".  The 'net becomes more useful and friendly.

The creepy part is thinking that Google is going all "Big Brother" on you, watching your every move.  What about privacy?  What about freedom?  Who's watching my SERPs?

I don't mean to stir up conspiracy theories or frighten the already-alarmed alarmists, but really, this kind of thing has been going on for a long time.  A lot of the websites we use keep track of our activity.  That's good business for them.  That way they can know what their customers want, and can better deliver it to them.  In my own personal case:

  • Amazon knows that I like cookbooks, games, and religious commentary
  • Facebook knows who my friends are
  • Pandora knows that I like hard rock and classical music
  • Netflix knows that I like comedies, but am willing to watch a chick flick with my wife
  • Those that follow my blog know I love to cook outdoors
  • YouTube knows that I like music videos and parodies

So, this is really nothing terribly new, and certainly not anything to get too alarmed about.  It does, however, raise the question, "If search results and SERPs are going to be tailored to the preferences of the user, how do I make sure that my site ranks high?"

It does mean that getting a #1 slot, or even a page 1 slot is no longer going to be a constant.  It does, however, mean that if you all of the things that made you rank well before, you're still going to rank well, and you're going to rank even higher if someone is clearly interested in what you've got.

Keep in mind that personalization is only one aspect of a very complicated ranking algorithm that includes many other factors, like keyword matching, keyword placement, number of inbound links, the age of the site, and other elements.  There are all kinds of factors that all add up to the SERP you see.

It also means that "niche-ing" is going to be even more important.  That means that you'll want to make sure that your website is focused, and that you're well interlinked among other sites and blogs within that niche.  Showing that you're clearly "about" something will help you to rank when someone wants to know about that thing.  Trying to sell everything to everyone will end up with your site ranking for no-one.

Mark is currently in the curriculum Department of an internet and SEO training company. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including Mark's Black Pot - Dutch Oven Recipes, MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

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