When Google made personalised search a reality by introducing Google+ results into Search, creating “Search, Plus Your World” (or Search+ for everyone outside of the Googleplex), the world went mental.
To recap, when you do a search on Google.com now you don’t just get global results, you also get personalised results from your Circles on Google+. This occurs when you are logged in to Google in the main, though even logged out there is some Google+ content creeping into the right hand column.
This ‘social search’ is Google’s way of providing ultra-relevant results to you – their thinking is that serving up results from people you have endorsed by Circling them is going to be better than their own, non-personalised algorithm.
It sounds reasonable enough in theory. So why did the world go mental?
First of all, Google is only including Google+. Not Twitter or Facebook or any others. Twitter in particular were up in arms about this. Google’s Erick Schmidt claimed it was because Twitter no longer gives them firehose access, but that doesn’t quite ring valid, as they still index Twitter and are well over three billion pages into it.
I’ll say right now that Google should include both those services and more if they truly want to provide the best results in this manner. But let’s put that aside for now. It’s Google’s search engine and they can do what they like with it in my opinion.
The next group up in arms about the changes were SEOs, as they so often are when Google changes anything. It’s a kneejerk reaction though, and comes from not thinking things through.
What Search+ does is offer opportunity, not problems. And yes, a whole lot more work, potentially, but at least it’s fresh work, keeps us interested!
There’s a great article here that explains how to go about optimising for the new personalised search results and I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been said within it, at least not yet.
The final thing that caused uproar was the way in which Google implemented this change. The kneejerk reaction here was that Google was messing up users search results and shoving Google+ down our throats. Well, that’s just a point of view.
If you think that, for you personally, getting results from what Google is assuming are your contemporaries is not what you want then sure, this change is a bit of a pain.
But Google have been very careful to give the user control. When this eventually rolls out worldwide and hits the UK the default search results will be the personalised ones. They are ‘forcing’ it on you from that perspective, but you have the following options:
Switch to global results with a single click of a button, clearly displayed at the top of the results
Change your default to global in your search settings
Opt out of social search all together, again in your search settings
So basically to get back what you had you have to spend 10 seconds changing it. Oh. My. God. Get a grip, people.
The other thing to consider is that if you have a Google account you automatically have a Google+ profile, just like you used to have a normal Google Profile. But you don’t have to use it.
If you don’t and your Circles are empty then Google has nothing to serve you. Your personalised results will be identical to your global results.
I admit I can’t test this, but the theory is sound. You’ll still get Google+ People & Pages recommendations in the right hand column (logged in or logged out it seems) and this may annoy some, but it’s not as intrusive as some are making out.
Back to Google’s original premise then – that search results containing content shared, +1′d and commented on by your peers (aka people in your Circles) is likely to be more relevant to you than the Google algorithm would serve up on its own.
That is probably true if you’re searching for a restaurant to eat at, film to see or bar to visit and it may be true if you’re searching for information on a current event.
There are searches where you want cold, hard facts though, and what your peers are talking about are less likely to be relevant. In this instance, personalised search is not going to bring you what you want unless you’re really lucky.
And as this personalised search is fed by your Circles and the Google-perceived authority of the people within them, you’re going to have to start thinking long and hard about who you add to them.
When I first joined Google+, well before it went public, I added anyone and everyone who had something interesting to say. My Circles at the start of 2012 had well over 1,000 people in them, people I didn’t know and who had probably only posted one interesting thing (to me), ever.
That sort of Circle count and make up was not going to give me valuable personalised search results. When I heard about Search+ I realised this, went back and deleted all but a few of my Circles and started again. Now I think I have the right mix for those personalised results to matter when they finally hit the UK.
Now when I Google “italian restaurants manchester” I’m confident I’ll see, mixed in with Google’s organic results, links to comments about and recommendations for (or warnings off!) italian restaurants in Manchester. That type of information is hugely valuable. More valuable, in fact, than a global search that would just return me the best optimised restaurants below those that had bothered to get a Google Places page.
Would those results be even better if Twitter and Facebook were included? Of course they would (provided you’ve kept a tight rein on those you follow).
From a user point of view, Search+ could prove invaluable.
One thing to note here is that all those personalised search results will take you into Google+, not to external sites. You’ll have to click through to G+ and then on again to the external content referenced, if it exists. This too has annoyed people and I can see why, to a point. But it’s still a minor one for me.
What’s good about it is that you’ll be introduced to a platform (Google+) that is incredibly informative and entertaining, if you haven’t already.
If it still isn’t for you, then Google has given you all the control you need. So what’s the fuss?
From an SEO point of view, which is obviously of great importance to me, there’s a wealth of opportunity here, as well as whole new load of work to do. That post mentioned earlier on Blind Five Year Old is likely only scratching the surface, but I’m itching to get started on behalf of my clients (in some cases I already have).
No, I really don’t see what the fuss is about and think that Search+ is great, really, really great. Not perfect, not by a long shot and I understand Twitter’s and Facebook’s issues, but they can be resolved, as I’m sure they will be.
(Indeed, Facebook have already done it via a bookmarklet entitled “Don’t Be Evil”. Check it out!)