Personalised search is about to become a whole lot more personal as Google begins to roll out ‘Google Search, Plus Your World’. This update could completely change the face of search, dragging in content from your social world to create tailored results.
It’s yet another curve ball from the search engine, which has been moving towards complete personalisation of search for a while now. The official blog promotes it as an opportunity for signed in users to see content shared by online friends. Theoretically this should provide a customised stream of results, somewhere between conventional search and social network feeds. But how useful will this be in real terms?
Initially at least, this is only likely to impact those searchers who already have a Google+ account. The latest estimates suggest that there are currently 62 million users, which is only a fraction of the number of unique searches conducted each day and is some way behind Facebook, which now has 800 million active members.
To avoid privacy fears, it will be an opt-in/out service; with sign-in also required, the likely impact shouldn’t be too widely felt at first. However, as with all things that Google do, Your World is likely to be the first step of many. The search engine wants to harness social and all of the contextualising benefits that it affords. By understanding user activity and trends, theoretically they can better understand search intentions and deliver results accordingly.
So what is it?
Essentially, Your World will provide users with an opportunity to view content related to searches that they make on Google directly in the SERPs. Therefore if a friend shares a video and you search for something with an associated keyword, this should be returned as a prominent result (even if it has no bearing on what you were actually looking for). You can also view social profiles and the latest updates from particular acquaintances, making it easy to find and contact your friends through a singly query.
The Google +1 button will inevitably play a major part in the amended results. This data will be shared amongst your network of friends and inform the SERPs that everybody sees. Whilst this can be a good way of sharing recommendations, it also has the potential to permanently damage certain search terms.
Consider how many of your good friends have completely different opinions, interest and viewpoints to yourself. Political stances, sporting allegiances, musical tastes and even your individual sense of humour can be poles apart. So why should their preferences inform your results?
For me this has always been the sticking point of personal and social search. How on earth do you filter out the dozens of people that you have befriended, but yet share very little in common with? We’re all different and have our own interests. If you’ve amassed thousands of followers and have developed a massive network of friends, these differences are surely only going to be magnified.
What about SEO?
This won’t change the need to carry out optimisation, in fact it probably demonstrates the need to adhere to best practices and leave a good impression on visitors. If your site ranks well, delivers exceptional content and a product that people are searching for, then they are far more likely to share this experience with others.
If anything, SEO has been merging with social just as quickly as the intertwining of search and social. The primary goal is to ensure that a site is seen first, regardless of the platform and obstacles laid in front of you. So just because SERPs are likely to get juggled around for 60 million odd users, this doesn’t mean that organic results are defunct.
This should be seen as a shot in the arm for SEO and the online marketing fraternity, not the death knell. Nobody can ignore personalised search or indeed the impact of social platforms on how people access your content. So don’t stop what you’re doing just yet.
Is it a Facebook Killer?
Facebook has been missing a trick when it comes to searching for friends. With Plus Your World showing user information straight off the bat, you can avoid a lot of the tip toeing involved in searching the largest social network. But this one feature alone won’t bury Facebook.
Whilst Google+ has grown massively since it was first opened up to the general public in September of last year, it’s still lagging a long way behind its major competitors. Whether greater integration with search results will turn that around is certainly open to debate, but for most Google is for searching and Facebook is socialising. Changing this attitude will take time and require a major shift in user habits.
Should you be worried?
There’s no point in pretending that rankings and visibility won’t be impacted; however, the majority of search results – particularly for niche terms – should be largely unaffected. As Google pulls in more social factors and personalisation, this will change. Local search could become particularly cluttered, particularly with the prevalence of maps and other elements that already feature above organic results.
Only time will tell what the full extent of these changes will be, but you certainly shouldn’t be looking to throw in the towel just yet. Just make sure you have a +1 button on every page of your site and perhaps look at developing or creating a Google Plus profile (business and personal) to begin marketing where it matters.
This won’t be the last update that Google make to their results pages this year and I shouldn’t imagine it will even be the biggest. If this was a poker situation, they would have just raised the stakes, changing the context of the game but not necessarily altering it entirely. However, we may be edging towards a situation where they are likely to go all in with a completely integrated form of social search. A lot though will depend on how comfortable people are with the privacy settings and whether the quality of results that they can provide. If they fall flat, this could be a bigger day for Bing than it is for Google.
For further reading I recommend Google’s Results Get More Personal With “Search Plus Your World” from Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land.
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