Personalized Search: (Not) The Next Big Thing

Recently the search marketing world has been abuzz over personalized search. It’s the next big frontier, they say, the revolution that will turn SEO on its ear. Huzzah!

Shenanigans.

In my opinion, personalized search is not now, and most likely never will be, a search tool that will affect the way the majority of internet users look for information.

To simplify, when I say personalized search I’m talking of two concepts. The first is Google, and other engines to follow, learning from your search patterns and providing results based on search history. The second is Google Search Wiki-like platforms that allow a user to manipulate search results right on the SERP.

However, both basically rely on one concept: that the user is logged in to, in this case, his or her Google account in order to reap the benefits of personalized search results.

The average web user, the overwhelming majority of which have never even heard of personalized search, will find it a huge hassle, not to mention waste of time, to first log in to their Google account, navigate back to the search engine itself, then begin their search. If it’s one thing you learn in this business it’s that users are impatient, they don’t want to do extra work or read extra words.

Delivering better and more relevant results is great. But placing stipulations on getting to those results is taking a huge step backward. I don’t mind if when I search for “bass” the fish I get some mixed results for “bass” the instrument. Because I can read. If the page title says “Buy a Used Bass” I’m fairly certain that doesn’t mean week-old dead fish. And even better if it means I don’t have to log into any account or feel like Big Brother is watching my cookies.

Next is Google Search Wiki. The ecstatic uproar that exploded all over the internet when Google released it last November is dumbfounding.

Basically, Search Wiki allows a user, logged in to their Google account mind you, to move positions up and down on a SERP, make notes and comment on search results. Engaging? Sure. Useful? Not in the least.

First, if a normal internet user is searching for something, running shoes for example, when they find a site they like, they’ll most likely bookmark it for future reference.

Second, after they’ve found running shoes, or any product or service for that matter, how long till they need them again? Months, a year? Even if that person didn’t bookmark that particular site, I would hazard a guess that they would have cleared their browser history and cookies in that time, or their browser did it for them. I don’t see anyone, myself included, wasting time in rearranging a SERP to get favorable results to the top of the page, meaning I have to take the time to perform that exact same search over again the next time I want to find the same website.

Why on Earth would you want to search for the same thing again if a) you’ve achieved your objective or b) the much simpler and faster method (bookmarking) is one virtually every web user can and does do?

Lastly, Search Wiki results only affect that searcher’s results. A big deal has been made that this will create headaches for SEO project managers, that “ranking is dead.” It won’t and it’s not.

If Person A is logged into their account, the first time they search for something they’ll receive the unaltered SERP, not one that has been edited by millions of other people. If A marks down your website, they obviously weren’t going to generate qualified traffic and conversions to your site to begin with. Once Person A makes those changes, Person B will not see what A did, he in turn will see the pure, unaltered SERP.

I think search marketers have a tendency to forget who their audience really is. It’s not other search marketers (for the most part). It’s the average Joe who has little time and less patience. Personalized search serves to emphasize that point, pandering to a select few and not to the masses.