Welcome to Google 2012! As of this week, Google has begun rolling out their new personalized search for users logged in through Google.com. The change to Google’s search results is called “Search Plus Your World” and it could have a great impact on your search results. But is it as big a deal as some in the SEO space are touting?
Search Plus Your World presents a mixture of personalized, even private, results with the more generic results you would otherwise associate with Google. Where you are used to seeing “about X number of results (X number of seconds)” below the search box, you will now see “X number of personal results and X number of other results (X number of seconds).” You might also see personal information mixed in with the actual result listings. For example, if I searched for “Fido” while logged into my Gmail account, I might see the normal list of sites along with images of not just any dog named Fido but of my dog Fido, or my friend’s dog with Fido, etc. If you haven’t been using Google+ much, you probably won’t see a significant change—your Google Instant suggestions may be more personally oriented, but otherwise, your queries are not going to be affected.
For those that do have a high degree of integration with Google+ and other Google products, like the photo service Picasa, the change will be more noticeable. You will see private pictures that you may not have shared with the world now pop up in search results. Never fear—they weren’t suddenly shared and they’re not accessible when you’re not logged in. If you find the personalization an unwelcome change, you can toggle between personalized and non-personalized results by using the new human / globe buttons visible in the right-hand corner of the page.
Twitter’s lawyer, Alex Macgillivray, is particularly irritated with this new development in Search, as Twitter results are excluded from the new personal / private results (Source: BBC). Some speculate that Google was hoping for a reaction like this and that “Search Plus Your World” is in part meant to induce Twitter and Facebook to share data with Google. Possibly, but we are not quite there yet.
At the moment, this should have little effect on current SEO campaigns. The update makes Search more social, but since it only does so through the still growing Google+, its impact is limited. Plus, few queries are likely to have a big inbuilt social footprint. If I am selling anything related to cats, the most popular animal on the Internet, then, perhaps I am wondering how this will affect my business. Even in this case, the personalization thus far seems restricted to very specific keywords, like the name of a particular cat. As another example, my own search for “Christmas” showed me a number of possible personal results below the search box that I could click on (as my social circle had been discussing Christmas), but did not appear to affect the ordering of the actual SERPs at all.
The moral of the story is a variation on the old cliché, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” This update will probably affect internet marketing more distinctly in the future but it certainly doesn’t change the importance of internet marketing. If Google is now integrating the use of Google Plus and Picasa into its search and if Bing is currently integrating Facebook (and they are), then getting all your bases covered socially and otherwise is even more important. It’s a direction that should reward SEO tactics and websites that look to please users and search engines—a user friendly site is more likely to be shared. This new update ensures that SEO will be an interesting and invaluable marketing channel in the new year.