In the search engine optimization business there are several recurrent discussions with new client prospects. The most common one by far is around why conversion reports should be used for search metrics rather than traditional ranking reports. Jaws drop when people hear that two different Google users may see different search results for the same query made at the same moment in time. The reasons vary – searches made at google.com vs. google.it, data centers may not be synchronized, etc.
Two years ago, Google introduced Google Personalized Results. Google provides special results, just for me, based on my search history, as long as I am logged into a Google service. In November, Google added SearchWiki, a facility for a user to annotate and customize their search results.
In this SMX West 2009 session, two Google Engineers discuss Google Search personalization. Questions from the audience show a desire among SEO practitioners to arrive at a ranking baseline before personalization and localization is applied.
Moderator: Danny Sullivan, Editor-in-Chief, Search Engine Land
- Corey Anderson, Manager SearchWiki, Google Inc.
- Bryan Horling, Software Engineer, Personalized Search, Google, Inc.
What is the best search result for SMX?
Corey Anderson begins with a question: what is the best search result for SMX? (Audience immediately thinks, Search Marketing Expo, of course – Sean). The answer depends on the user. SMX may indicate the conference series. For other users, SMX is the Santa Maria Public Airport.
Why did Google create SearchWiki? Google talks to users. Google will observe users in their environment, such as their homes. Google also uses unsolicited feedback. Through this feedback, Google saw that lots of people want to annotate their search results. Some people are using SearchWiki for bookmarking. Others to filter out the “wrong” Danny Sullivan.
While logged in, there is an option to disable SearchWiki in the Google Search Preferences panel. (added 2009-06-12.
Personalized search ingredients
Bryan Horling begins to describe personalized search and the difference from SearchWiki. A user’s context, location, recency, long term, are important in personalized search. Google allows users to modify personalization settings, including deleting their entire search history; Google considers itself a good steward of data.
Regional Localization is a common need. “metro” means something different in Washington DC and San Francisco. Google needs to manage disambiguation. A person’s search history can help disambiguate similar results, such as “Jordans“. Personalization can also aid Google in giving us our preferences, as in the physical world. A preferred sites experiment launched this week as part of SearchWiki.
Personalization and SearchWiki present two sides for the SEM profession. Life is more difficult as there are different results for different users (your ranking reports are probably not what you think they are – Sean). On the positive side, it becomes easier to retain people who prefer your business. (They have passively or actively specified a preference – Sean)
Google’s message remains the same: make a good website and the rest will follow.
Personalization can be disabled in multiple ways, including appending &pws=0 to the query string or logging out of Google services (It is actually a bit more complicated than this, but you need to have attended the conference to understand why – Sean). SearchWiki data does not currently influence organic search results.
Michael Gray, President, Atlas Web Service, is the Q&A Moderator behind the Oz curtain.
If you’ve ever seen a Google employee answer questions from an informed audience at a public event, you’ll know that many (most?) questions result in an evasive “I can’t go into specifics” type answer. There were a lot of those here which I’ve filtered to avoid tedium.
- Q: (mine) What percentage of searches are personalized? Does this vary from one geography to another?
- A bunch. It does vary a bit from one geography to another
- Q: How do you see SearchWiki comments?
- Sign in. Do a search for Danny Sullivan. At the bottom of the page, there is a link to view all notes. Currently you can only see 10 SearchWiki comments – this is a bug we are working to resolve. We’re not sure if SearchWiki comments will add to regular search results or not. Not all comments are insightful. Corey Anderson: give SearchWiki a try. It was done for average searcher.
- Q: How strong do personalized results need to be to override standard results?
- If there is just an iota of info, Google isn’t trigger happy. Everything has a baseline – new pages/sites will stand a chance in personalized search.
- Location based search results use the location you provide in your Google profile.
- Google has multiple signals as to “where” a website is. The address specified on a contact page can be misleading for a global company.
- Q: Is there more engagement with SearchWiki for long tail terms?
- Not sure of exact answer; SearchWiki is used for general and specific queries.
- Q: How does Google deal with malicious comments in SearchWiki?
- Start with a thumbs up / thumbs down; user can file an inappropriate content report.
- Q: Does deleting your search history really delete it?
- Google does keep logs for Ad quality but the tie to personal data is deleted.
- Q: Will there be a day that no two users will see same results?
- Unlikely. Many search answers will have commonality.
- If the “these results were personalized” message doesn’t appear in top right it doesn’t mean results haven’t been altered. It just means they haven’t been sufficiently altered to warn us, e.g. inverting results 8 and 9. (Twitter subsequently displayed the overcapacity whale after this interesting tidbit emerged – Sean)
- Q: Where did the SearchWiki name come from?
- It was the code name and it stuck.
- Q: Danny Sullivan wants a SearchWiki table of contents
- Corey says they have one for internal debugging; he would like to expose it (Has Danny already seen it? – Sean)
- Q: How did Google arrive at SearchWiki interface?
- SearchWiki has touched search and how Google makes great products. Many iterations were involved. The process is “Discuss, discard, repeat”.
- Google involves users. SearchWiki wants users to manipulate their results.
- Google thinks giving users easy way to turn off personalized search would lead to cognitive overload.
- @sugarrae asks how Google will scale the management of malicious comments in SearchWiki
- Google doesn’t yet see malicious comments as significant problem for SearchWiki. Google has internal expertise to work on the issue.
Disclaimer: this post aims to capture the essence of this session. It is based on the live twitter blogging I did while at SMX West 2009. It is not a word-for-word transcription nor necessarily complete. Use accordingly . If you found this interesting, I strongly suggest you attend a future SMX conference in person for a full 3-D experience!
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- SEO Session: Up Close With Google Blog Search
- The human dimension of Search Marketing
- SMX, The Search & Social Marketing Conference, is coming to Milan!