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Google Search Gets More Personal

Published on January 13, 2012
Tags: SEO

In recent days, Google has come under increasing pressure from Twitter and others who accuse the corporation of prioritising its own search results over others. The accusation from Twitter is that Google is boosting the search rankings of its own Google+ site over other social networking sites.

This essentially means that when people are logged in to Google and do a search, they will typically see results from the Google+ networking site appearing near the top of the page. This is significant because of the high click-through rate associated with the first page of search rankings – only a tiny proportion of web users ever go onto the second page of search results, which is why web designers and SEO experts spend so much effort trying to get onto that coveted first page.

The accusation that is levelled at Google largely came about because of a new feature that they are currently rolling out: ‘Search, plus Your World’. The idea behind this is about helping people find the best results for their search term. Google makes the point that sometimes these results come from the ‘public’ domain – that is, other websites offering information or services. However, sometimes these results are more personal, and so the new feature also incorporates personal content into search results, such as content that an individual has previously shared with their friends and family.

One concern that has been raised relates to privacy and the perception that personal results now appear as though they are also public. In fact, this is not true, but it does mean that friends and family who previously weren’t included in ‘sharing’ posts might now be able to access information from people they are connected with.

The upshot of Search plus Your World is that social search, personal search and personalised search – all of which typically make up search results – have been combined. You should know when you are seeing personal search results because as well as the usual ‘X results found’ notification, you’ll also see an ‘X personal results’ found notification at the top of the results screen.

The criticism from Twitter, mentioned above, is that these personal results heavily favour Google+, and in fact Twitter, Facebook and other social networks aren’t currently covered by Search plus Your World. One of the reasons Twitter isn’t happy about this is because of the trend for news to break first on Twitter – and they’re worried that breaking information will be harder for people to find if Google+ is prioritised in the search results.

Google argues that Facebook, Twitter and others don’t allow the search bots to crawl their sites particularly deeply (largely because of privacy reasons, but a fair reading would also argue it’s possible they’re not too keen on the idea of sharing their information with a dominant, powerful rival) and that Google+ is the only one they have decent access to – hence the prioritisation in the social and personal search results. It essentially allows Google to integrate more of its services so that they can all be searched from the one, central, google.com (or .co.uk) location, rather than separately having to carry out searches in Google+, News and Images, for example.

However, this isn’t an entirely new argument: it has been reported before that when people carry out Google searches for their own names (we’ve all done it at one time or another), their Google+ profiles appear higher in the search results than their Facebook and Twitter pages. This led to similar prioritisation accusations being made on the grounds that while people had spent years working on their Facebook or Twitter accounts, Google+ has only been going for a few months and so it’s odd that it would be appearing higher in the results.

Arguably, though, this can be explained away by the same reasons. Google has better access to and more information from Google+. Plus, personal Facebook profiles aren’t included in site crawls and when you consider that Twitter posts are limited to only 140 characters, there is often very limited information available from other sites for the search bots to pick up on.

Also, it’s possible to argue that Google is simply better at SEO than Facebook and Twitter. For example, Google+ encourages authors to put links back to their Plus profile on their own websites – and any SEO expert will tell you that inbound links are very important. There’s also typically a huge amount of useful search content on Plus profiles, often because they simply include more information than other networking sites. Google+ also allows more descriptive title tags.

Overall, it seems as though on this occasion, even though there are some privacy concerns and legitimate worries about Google’s increasing prevalence, Search plus Your World is a clever update from Google. One thing to keep an eye on, though, is the growing pressure for an antitrust investigation as a result of Google’s dominance.



By Chelsey Evans

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