Google Takes Over

By: Jeff Atwood

Two big things have hit the search engine streets from Google’s front door that may change the history of how we get our search results forever – and that’s not an exaggeration.

Change #1:

It was December 4th, 2009, at precisely 3:01 PM. The day had been going nicely, optimizers going about the business of getting clients into the top rankings. It was peaceful, it was quiet; it was a normal business day. Until Google stepped in.

“Hey you guys,” Google says, “I have this great idea. You remember personalized search?”

Everybody allowed as how, yes they had heard of personalized search and, as a matter of fact, some used it themselves.

“Well,” says Google with a grin, “today, we’re announcing the extension of personalized search. We’re not just going to give it to people that sign into their Google account. Oh, no. From today on, whether you’re signed out, signed in, or even interested, you’re going to get personalized search.”

Direct quote: “Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we’re doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser.”

Can anyone say, “Opt-out”? I think you can. Anyone who has done a little email marketing probably knows the difference between opt-out and opt-in campaigns. For those that don’t, opt-in campaigns are those that you actually have to sign up for before you ever get a newsletter. With opt-out campaigns, you end up on a mailing list you (usually) would rather not be included in, and you have to unsubscribe to get off of it. In the marketing world, opt-out campaigns are considered bad form.

Good job Google. With their handy, dandy extension of personalized search, they’ve officially turned search results into an opt-out campaign. You get them personalized whether you want them or not, and then have to turn them off.

Here’s the example Google uses to explain how personalized search works:

“For example, since I always search for [recipes] and often click on results from epicurious.com, Google might rank epicurious.com higher on the results page the next time I look for recipes.”

Look out SEOs, Big Daddy Google is coming and he’s not adding Christmas presents around the tree. This is a wonderful thing for searchers loyal to a particular site (i.e. epicurious.com for recipes), but what if I want to find another recipe site? What about all the businesses trying to break into the wonderful World Wide Web, but can’t; no one knows about them because personalized search is leaving them out. Last, but not least, is this going to knock out SEO?

SEO is based around moving the client up the search results that everybody sees. If Bob in Florida searches “professional seo provider”, and Cherryl in Washington searches the same, they’d both see Level343 in the first results. Hoorah! My in-house SEO team is doing their job. Then personalized search comes in.

Now Bob, who has viewed another SEO company two times more than he has viewed Level343, will no longer see Level343 in the number one spot. He’ll see the other company. Now apply that to your business. You may hire a great SEO provider, but, for searchers who have already viewed the competition, you’ll never be seen.

Come ON, Google! Didn’t you say that you didn’t like black hat SEOs (and SEOs in general, for that matter) because you wanted to give everybody a chance to excel online? Ooops… missed the mark there, didn’t ya?

Change #2:

Real time search – sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Up-to-date, high technology… with words like “real time”, you get the idea that Google is really on top of things. They aren’t just on top of things; they’re real time! Integrated with social media, real time search let’s you see what’s being talked about NOW.

So what’s the problem? Isn’t it great to know what’s being said about you, or, more importantly, what’s being said about your business? Yes, but there in lies the problem. Anybody can say anything.

Do you have a disgruntled employee you don’t know about? What if they decide to air their grievances on Twitter? Imagine what an angry employee could say to the world… or an unhappy client… or unscrupulous competition.

Who verifies sources? Not Google, and not Twitter. All you can do is scramble to respond in kind. From spam to slander, informational to pornographic, real time search brings the ability to say anything, about anybody, and get your fifteen minutes of fame. Rae Hoffman over at Outspoken Media wrote a compelling post pointing out the errors in real time search; the possible ways to abuse it are shocking.

Again, way to go Google. With all the stuff Google is coming out with to stay at the head of the competition (Real Time, Personalized Search, Google Wave, Chrome, etc…), it’s starting to seem like they’re just pushing out ideas without really thinking about them. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the guys at Google to take a well-deserved, much-needed break. Then again, maybe they feel they don’t have to think about any ramifications; they are, after all, the big daddy search engine.