If you’ve been following the buzz in Online Marketing circles these past two weeks you’ll have noticed the big story on everybody’s mind is Google’s gradually increasing reliance and integration of social data into search results. In case you’re wondering what that means in plain English –
Google is now customizing our search results based on data it’s pulling from our personal social circle, and other personal indicators it has about us
Variations in search are nothing but new – we’re probably well aware of the variance in results for queries between google.com and any of Google’s nationally localized sites (i.e. google.co.uk, google.de, etc.), but this new step is something beyond that. Google is now serving each of us with a unique set of results based on what it knows about us PERSONALLY.
A really simple example of how this influences results is below. The screenshot on the left is Google’s search results for my surname, from a browser session where I was signed in. You’ll note my own LinkedIn profile ranks in at #6. On the right hand side I conducted the same search without being signed in. My LinkedIn profile is absent from the results:
Many of the pundits writing about this recent change are taking offence at what they view as a serious offence against their privacy. While I feel it’s not my place to weigh in on the moral aspects of this change, I will say I believe Google doesn’t really have a choice, if it wants to retain it’s position as the leader in RELEVANT search results. There are two main reasons why I think this must be the wave of the future:
#1 – Is that really number 1?
As the web continues to grow exponentially, presenting sites in a simple ranked list format is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It’s a simplistic form of rating that doesn’t really match the complexities of the paradigm.
An easy example is a search for “technology news”. When I ran this search Cnet news came out ranking in at number #1 (from a non-personalized session).
Is Cnet the “best” site for that query?
Aren’t Techcrunch, engadget, Mashable, CNN’s technology section, etc. etc. etc…. just as deserving?
#2 – Personal IS Relevant
Consider the following situation – Your anniversary is coming up and you’d like to surprise your spouse with a cool date at an Indian restaurant. You have two choices for selecting a restaurant to go to:
- Option #1 – Search your local food directory for a restaurant that might be a good fit
- Option #2 – Ask a foodie friend for a recommendation
Obviously option #2 will yield better fitting results for your date – because your friend knows you. They’ll naturally rule out all the options that you’re less likely to enjoy, leaving you with a selection that matches your choice in decor, budget, location, etc.
This is precisely what Google is tapping into now.
The reality is that the answer to the question “Which is the best Indian restaurant in town“, is entirely subjective, and probably even changes depending on the type of evening you have planned out (going out with a bunch of mates to eat Indian you might choose a different spot than where you’d go for a romantic dinner for two…)
What this means for ecommerce and why product videos matter even more
Online vendors are going to have get used to a web where the old and tried SEO techniques that worked to push them up the SERPs will gradually be replaced (Google’s detractors say “supplanted”).
Increasingly we’ll be all viewing customized and personalized results where for every query the top results will be determined by whatever related content our friends have been sharing, reviewing, commenting and buzzing about. It’s here I believe vendors with video integrated into their sites will truly enjoy an advantage for the simple reason that video content is far more likely to create that type of engagement than boring old text-and-images.
But I’m willing to put this to the test: