Survey Says "NO" To New Google Personalized Search
In a surprising study of about 400 people conducted by research tool provider Ask Your Target Market, it was found that most people just plain hate Google's new personalized search results. That's surprising, as Google has really been pushing personalized search for a while now. It seems to make sense on the surface. If you're searching Google (or some other website for you heretics out there), you want results that are tailored to your likes and dislikes. I mean, who really wants search results that are "cookie cutter."
Apparently, the bulk of the population does.
Maybe people sense the non-objectivity of personalized search results. Maybe they don't want to see their friend's Google + profile show up when searching for "lol cats." Maybe users just don't like the idea of Google using personal information to spit out relevant results.
In the survey, about 38.3 percent of the people surveyed said that they always used Google. Twenty-seven and a half people said they mostly use Google. If that's representative of the public at large, that's an incredible amount of people using Google. When asked if people liked the idea of Google personalizing search results based on past searches and information from their social networking sites, 45.4 percent of people said "no, I think everyone should see the same results when searching the same keyword," 39.1 percent said "yes, but I do have concerns about privacy." Only 15.5 percent said "yes."
What's interesting to note is the difference between 45.4 percent and the 39.1 percent. The majority of people want everyone to see the same search results for the same keyword.
An Issue of Objectivity?
If you're searching for something on the Internet, and you want to share something with a friend on the phone or via text message, maybe you link to the search result. Most likely, you'll just link to the page... unless you're trying to show some kind of funny search result in the search engines.
If the search results are different for everyone, then there may be a sense of non-objectivity in the search engines. What's funny is that different search results already exist to some extent. Google has different data centers all over the world. Each data center ends up showing different results based on the region you happen to live in. The results may not vary significantly, but sometimes they do. So, people already see different results without personalized search. Unless you are an Internet marketer, or SEO expert, this might not be very obvious.
What may be more accurate is the issue with privacy. If Google is taking in all of this information, there might be a fear that it will use private information for nefarious purposes. That's not a totally unfounded fear either. Financial institutions sometimes get flack for sharing information, and occasionally have to send out notices telling customers that their security measures have been defeated and some hacker stole 10,000 credit card numbers or something. These institutions have to turn around and apologize and sometimes offer a year of credit report monitoring.
With Google, you're not giving away your credit card number, but you are giving it some of your most personal information. Every post you make on a blog, every home movie you upload to Youtube, every subversive article you share on Google +, and every email, chat session, and search query are saved, cataloged, and stored on Google's servers.
Think about that for a moment. Every single search you've every performed is logged by Google. Over time, the big "G" could profile you based on search trends, posts, videos, emails, and chats you have with friends. You might not be too worried about it, but then again you might. Google's getting very familiar with its users, but some users just don't want to be friends with Google. They want anonymity, or at least some semblance of it.
Even if their fears are unfounded, they don't want a company to gather up a lot of information and use that information to sell them stuff. Or worse - sell it to other people who then relentlessly pitch products and services. With Google's main source of income being Adsense, the big "G" is in a perfect position to help advertisers.
"You Don't Know Me Like That"
Some of the resistance to change could come from people not wanting Google to try to "figure them out." Amazon sometimes has this problem. Buy something from them sometime. That company will forever believe that you are interested in whatever you bought and continue to make suggestions for similar products. If you're a man, and you bought a Christmas gift for your mother from Amazon, you could end up receiving suggestions for fuzzy pink slippers for the next 12 months.
Now, think about what this would mean in Google's search engine. If you accidentally click on a link you didn't mean to click on, you could end up being served irrelevant search results in the future. It could be more disastrous. Suppose you forget to log out of your Google account and your children go searching for Justin Bieber videos. Google might end up serving you Bieber 24/7 when you're feeling antsy about your stale music collection and go searching for some new tunes to listen to.
Why Personalized Search Is A Good Thing
Despite this study, personalized search is still a good thing as long as it produces relevant search results. Note that people in the study may have answered differently if they had been asked "When searching for local bars or restaurants, do you think everyone should see the same search results?" Personalized search does have its place.
It's most useful when users discover "hot spots" in their local city that they want to frequent or tell other people about, when they want to shop at local business, or when they want to get directions to someplace downtown. Personalized search might not be so useful when a user wants to find the cheapest pair of sneakers online. Then again, they could always use Amazon as long as they don't mind getting ads for Nike for the rest of their life.