Google Personalised Search

Is This The BIGGEST Change To Google Ever?

I came across this yesterday.  It’s a quiet little change to Google that seems to have slipped under almost everybody’s radar.  But to me, this could be the biggest change that Google have ever made, especially as it has the potential to render your optimisation efforts useless.

Since 2005, Google has been storing your web browsing history when signed in.  Did you know that?

The fact is, Google store EVERYTHING about you they can.  It all goes in their database.  Many people aren’t concerned about this, but they should be – I certainly am.  For instance, spend a lot of time visiting one of your own small niche sites and doing searches on it to check its position, and it wouldn’t take a genius to write an algorithm to detect that and mark it and you (by cookie, IP address, geo-location, OS, and web browser version) as a potential manipulator of search results.

(I actually think that’s the least of your worries, but we’ll save that for another day…)

Also see my last post about why you shouldn’t use Gmail.

Well it seems that from the 4th December 2009, Google will now store your searches even if you’re signed out, and use a cookie to tag you.  They’ll then PERSONALISE your search results based on what sites you’ve already visited which they already know from you clicking on previous search results.

This actually works then to put an extra layer of obfuscation between you and what results your potential visitors will find when they do the search.  You with me?

Put more clearly, because you keep visiting your own sites by clicking on them within Google, you’ll start to see them higher and higher in the results pages.  You would falsely think that your sites are doing better and better, but everyone else may not see your site showing in the results at all.

So while you see your site going up and going up, to everyone else it may be dropping a page every day.

Then you’d get the puzzle of seeing your site appearing to rank well, but getting less or no traffic.

Ohhhh dear…

Now this is only my first take on this change, I’m certain there’s other aspects of it which I’ve not cottoned on to, but I’ll keep thinking about it.

According to Google, you can opt out, and not be cookied (which I’ve done), but I get the feeling you’ll only be opting out of the bit you can see.  I believe your click activity will still be compiled by Google, simply because they can’t help themselves.

You’ll still be cookied remember, unless you block their cookie or destroy it after closing your browser.  And even then they have your IP address and geo-location, and also know what OS and browser version you’re using, so it wouldn’t be that difficult to be 95%+ accurate.

Remember, Google don’t care about your privacy.  What they care about is compiling as much data on you as possible, and making as much money as possible.

And because this is such a quiet announcement, most people are going to be totally oblivious to it, and not opt out – it’s not obvious this change has been made, and it’s not obvious how to opt out.  Watch the video carefully on the announcement page to see how to do it.

-Frank Haywood

Posted by Frank Haywood

9 comments

Adam Arnold

Logged in, paused… logged out, turned off filtering.

Thanks for the tip Frank!

Stan Craigie

Thanks Frank, I hadn’t been aware of this. Seems like the Google chief is ripe for politics with his attitude! If privacy isn’t valued why all the privacy laws, which in some cases go too far and why do Google want to see privacy policies on all sites?
Most people have Google mail accounts so they can hide…. but not from Google!
This seems like a good time to send Google a message and just stop using them. There are alternatives. Maybe we’ve all become a little ‘deer in the headlights’ where they’re concerned.

Ernie Hodge

Frank,

Wow, thanks for the heads up on this thing with Google. I have been so busy lately I missed this new change. I guess they’re trying to make their search engine work like Bing. Won’t that be great. 🙂

Ernie Hodge

CJ from Article Writing News

How is it that everyone is just now catching on to this? I noticed this a long time ago (last Spring) and paused my web history forthwith. I mean, as Internet Marketers, we should be paying attention to search engine results. When I noticed I was getting a lot of LOCAL results, I realized Google was actually paying attention to me and my geo and my searches. As a marketer, that’s not helpful, so I looked into it.

I thought everyone knew about this. Dang!

Frank Haywood

@CJ from Article Writing News:

The problem is there’s just too much going on, and too many changes taking place all the time. Remember the storm in a teacup a few weeks ago about the FTC? Everybody got into a panic over that – I just read up on it and even though I’m not in the US, I put a disclosure page here on my blog. As far as I’m concerned I’m done with that topic (it’s unworkable anyway, but don’t get me started).

But this little anouncement has just quietly come in almost unnoticed, and couched in words as if they’re actually doing us all a favour by customising our search results.

Take into consideration that we all wander around in our own little worlds, and we all have filters on that allow us to see the stuff we expect to see and which blocks out the stuff we don’t expect or want to see. (Not a good thing in my opinion.) This change is like that – it will put filters on our searches and we’ll start to see things we expect to see, not what’s really happening.

It’s almost like Google have said “We’re not really that bothered about providing consistent good results any more as it’s just too damn hard to keep track. So instead we’ll address everybody’s individual world view instead, and then they’ll just think we’re giving them good results and they’ll continue to use us, and we’ll continue to make pots of money.”

The fact is people don’t like to see what they don’t expect to see, and as Seth Godin said it’s important (as a marketer) to address a market’s world view, and couch your story in terms of that world view. To me, all Google are trying to do is adopt that policy by giving people what they *expect* to see, not what they *should* see, with the theory being that as a result, people will like the results they get back.

This is ultimately a bad idea, and if they’re not careful Google will over time earn themselves a bad name for it, and earn themselves LESS users, not more.

Let me give you an example. Imagine you’re researching something. You want the story as it would appear to the rest of the world – but if you have personalised results turned on, you won’t be getting back what other people see, you’ll instead be seeing only what you would expect to see depending on your world view governed by your previous searches and clicks.

Someone else researching the same topic would likely get back a different set of results, and the confusion and argument then starts.

That’s my current take on it so far, and my thoughts are evolving on the topic at the moment, so expect more from me on this. My gut feel says this is a bad idea and good for nobody – especially those people who know nothing about it.

-Frank

long distance movers

I just read about this on another blog yesterday and immediately turned off the “Personalized Results.” I think from an internet marketing/SEO standpoint, this is definitely not good. Because if you don’t turn it off, you’ll just see your website(s) ranking higher and higher but it won’t necessarily mean anything in the world outside your own computer. On the other hand, if you do turn it off and get your site ranking well, the likelihood is that 95% of all other internet users still have personalized results turned on so they might never see your site despite its first page ranking. But on the other hand, from the perspective of the average (oblivious) internet user, this could actually increase the relevance of search results. Because really most people only visit a handful of sites regularly and rarely do actual research aside from “asking Google” when there’s something they don’t know (in which case there won’t be anything to personalize because it’ll be a unique one-time search on the subject.) -Doug

Wow that’s certainly given me somethng to think about! We should admire how Google have got to where they are today by putting the “user” first and not the internet marketer.

I often moan that mail I want gets put into the junk folder where as the junk gets through. This is an annoyance but I think things would be much more annoying if there was no filtering at all, though on the whole I don’t think Google should play god and decide what I may or may not want to see.

If however this type of filtering extends to search results then it is another obstacle/consideration for us marketers to overcome. Thos like you Frank who keep your finger on the pulse can react and figure out new strategies whilst competitors are left scratching their heads.

Thank you for your warning Frank.

Jose Anajero

“Put more clearly, because you keep visiting your own sites by clicking on them within Google, you’ll start to see them higher and higher in the results pages. You would falsely think that your sites are doing better and better, but everyone else may not see your site showing in the results at all.

“So while you see your site going up and going up, to everyone else it may be dropping a page every day.

Then you’d get the puzzle of seeing your site appearing to rank well, but getting less or no traffic.”

Am a technophobe but I find your post very interesting.

You also mentioned, “Remember, Google don’t care about your privacy. What they care about is compiling as much data on you as possible, and making as much money as possible.”

At the moment, I still can’t understand this thing but perhaps as I get to read more about this new development from Google, I would understand more.

Thanks Frank for this interesting post.

Thank for the info , WoW Google always coming with something new.