Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Search Engines
I came across this great article on SearchEngineLand the other day that discussed how users feel about personalized search. The debate has been going back and forth for some time about whether personalized search is a good or bad thing for the end user, who in the end is Google’s customer. Some say it makes for a better search experience because it tailors the search results to the things that are the most applicable to them, minimizing the amount of clutter they have to dig through. Others don’t like it because they feel like it limits the information they have access to and Google is overstepping their bounds by deciding what results they should be most interested in.
Personally, I belong in the second camp. I don’t like that Google is policing/organizing/influencing (or whatever word you want to use to describe it) my search results. Apparently I am not alone in that sentiment. According to the SearchEngineLand article, 65% of people surveyed thought that personalized search was a “bad thing,” while 73% see it as a privacy invasion. Considering Google is trying to assuage privacy concerns with encrypted search, I’d bet they aren’t too happy about that! An interesting insight from the report found that the older someone is, the less likely they were to agree with personalized search. I would have assumed it would be the younger generations that are less comfortable with Google using their search history to impact the search results.
So why do I think personalized search is a bad thing?
Well first off, I think that personalized search could have a negative impact on the SEO industry. Organic SEO is about directing people to your site that may have never heard of your brand before. A site may not be relevant according to a person’s search history, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t relevant right now for that user. Would personalized search limit the amount of exposure a website could receive to a new audience because it doesn’t align with their search history and behavior?
Also, I worry that personalized search means users (myself included) get stuck in a repeating loop of information. How much more limited does their search experience become when the search engines decide what information is and isn’t relevant? How much does their online world shrink? With Google determining what is and isn’t relevant information, searching loses some of its spontaneity and potential. What new and interesting information can I discover outside of my usual online world if Google is filtering it out for me?
While I may not like personalized search, I’m not ready to turn my back on Google just yet. And since the majority of users aren’t in an uproar about personalized search, it looks like it might just be something I have to learn to live (and work) with.