Personalized Search

Personalized Search

Contrary to popular belief, the search engine results that you see are not the same for everybody else.  Personalization of search results is an insidious convenience. The distorted perspective it gives of the web can cost your business valuable marketing dollars and it’s very hard to turn off.

You’ve probably noticed it on Netflix, every since my friend Cor watched those Japanese splatter films at my place. Netflix has been convinced I would love to see “Old Boy.”

Less noticeable, but far worse is the way Facebook News Feed which is literally screening your friends from you based on preferences and interaction rates so you can kiss your old friends goodbye…

On the plus side, Newegg is pretty good at predicting what I might be interested in and Amazon is terrific at recommending books.

But this is not about how some commercial sites think, I think. This is about the terrifying implications of that all powerful, all seeing, ubiquitous search engine, Google, because when Google customizes your search engine results this runs the risk of not just recommending the wrong movie, but of seriously limiting your worldview, by reinforcing an already biased perceptual framework. Or worse yet, costing your business money…

There is a time and a place for personalization, where I want my search results based on my past search history, my location, or what my social group has shared.  But not, when I want objective information and especially not when I’m trying to gauge the effectiveness of my site’s SEO.

Allow me to illustrate what this means for your business:

Me: Your site has a page rank of 2 and it is not showing up till page 4 on Google for your Major Keyword.

Client: What do you mean I’m #1 on Google for that keyword.

Me: Try typing “&pws=0” at the end of your search and see what happens.

Client: OMG!

Now if you check with Google they have some ridiculously convoluted instructions on how to turn off personalized results.  Which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Logging out of your account
  • Deleting your search history and/or
  • Clearing your cookies
  • etc. etc. etc.

Using this method is not only inconvenient, it doesn’t work that well, as the instant you check your email or your calendar your getting customized results. Google obviously wants you to keep getting personalized results because it’s part of their system for monetizing search results.

Typing &pws=0 at the end of your search is by far, the simplest way to get non-personalized search results.

Now, for the bad new… Even with personalization turned off Google will auto-detect your location and serve up localized results.  And this, I’m sorry to say can’t be turned off as it’s based on your IP location.

Tune in next week, for how to get around that one.

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