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Google Takes Over – Search on Their Terms, Not Yours

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Posted by: Level343 Team

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.

Comments (7)

  • Avatar
    Blog Handbook Reply

    Many people have been talking about the overpower of google. They just seem to do what they like, and they do not ask the users a thing. Hopefully the new search engines will take over google a bit and give us other real opportunities to work with.

    What do you think. Is google too powerful?

    December 10, 2009 at 11:29 am
  • Avatar
    Admin Reply

    Hey, Handbook, thanks for the comment. This is my basic gripe with Google as well. They don’t bother asking opinions or anything else, it’s just “this is the way things will go”. Unfortunately, I don’t think Google’s going to give up the ghost anytime soon, although SEOs may definitely have to target other engines with the changes in personalized search.

    Is Google too powerful? Definitely. Will they lose any of their momentum? Not if they can help it, and the rest of us will just be left tagging along.

    December 10, 2009 at 11:58 am
  • Avatar
    Foot In Mouth Reply

    I do feel a bit nervous as an SEO professional, because it will make the waters just a bit muddier…but on the other hand search results in different areas have been different for years now on a pretty consistent basis. In the past this would be due to different data centers showing slightly different results as new algorithm changes rolled out unevenly…

    Unfortunately, this also decreases the likelyhood of Google ever actually giving helpful ranking information via Webmaster tools. Sigh.

    I don’t think that personalization though will be the end of it, if you participated in @thegypsy ‘s tests last time around you’d see that it’s not a TOTAL revision of the serps, just a couple of spots here and there… So I don’t think the sky is falling, we just need to look out for each other and do some real collaborative thinking to determine the extent of personalization before we decry it as SEOARMMAGEDDON.

    December 10, 2009 at 4:56 pm
  • Avatar
    Admin Reply

    @Foot
    I love it – SEO ARMAGEDDON lol… no no, let’s not scream doom and gloom just yet. However, I strongly believe the SEOs that don’t keep up with the changing of the times will be left in the dust, wondering what happened (of course, this really isn’t anything new). I’d love to see some collaboration (more so then there is now), but I wonder if we’ll see collaboration or just more competition.

    SEO is a tough, rough game, and I think it’s just going to get more rough; elbows, knees and head butts anyone? It’s not quite as cut-throat as politics, but it’s getting there.

    Yes, the idea of “one result for all”, where everyone gets the same SERPS, hasn’t been around for years (referencing your comment on data centers), but I think you’d have to admit that Google just took an already competitive industry and upped the stakes. If you’re going to survive as an SEO, you’d better be GOOD.

    Thanks for the great comment, Foot!

    December 11, 2009 at 10:53 am
  • Avatar
    Ben the Bar Man Reply

    Well Bing i feel is a viable alternative to Google (I dont think Yahoo is)… As with any company with a monopoly, they tend to push the limits of acceptable business practices (as Microsoft did not too long ago)…

    December 27, 2009 at 4:24 pm
    • Avatar
      Admin Reply

      Yeah Microsoft got a spanking alright, but, if you are Microsoft you can afford to loose lawsuits every once in a while… like this last fiasco

      December 28, 2009 at 11:13 am
  • Avatar
    Tim Vosburgh Reply

    Google’s expansion into real time search does help users find recent articles. As the real-time web evolves, another emerging trend is real-time discovery. One exciting new product in this area is the real-time discovery engine YourVersion. Yourversion allows you to create and save a tree of interests which can be many keywords and then allows quick Discovery of of recent content. You can then easily share any content with Twitter, Facebook, and email as well as shorten the urls and bookmark your content. Once you’re set up, it is a tool that can be referred to without much thinking and quickly get and share content (news, blogs, webpages, twitter, and products). This is the difference between real time search and real time discovery… no extra thinking or typing of keywords. YourVersion also offers a free iPhone app.

    January 14, 2010 at 4:39 pm

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Google Takes Over – Search on Their Terms, Not Yours