Saturday, January 27, 2007

SEO and personalized search

Fortune Interactive writes about the impact of personalized search on search engine optimization (SEO). Some excerpts:
The personalization of search alters search results from user to user based on the history and profile of the searcher.

[Mike Moran said,] "Widespread personalization will doom traditional rank checking. The question won't be 'Does my site rank No. 1?' but rather 'For what percentage of searchers does my site rank No. 1' or 'What was my average ranking yesterday?' . . . [I]t's the biggest change in search marketing since paid search."

Without a reliable means of rank checking, traditional SEO loses its foundations for optimization decisions .... Without a reliable means of rank checking, traditional SEO ... loses its metrics for determining its success or failure.

With widespread personalization on the rise, traditional SEO can be aptly characterized as a dead man walking.
White hat search engine optimization is not spam, but enough SEO is black hat that I think my previous post, "Web spam, AIRWeb, and SIGIR" is relevant here. In that post, I said:
"Winner takes all" encourages spam. When spam succeeds in getting the top slot, everyone sees the spam. It is like winning the jackpot.

If different people saw different search results -- perhaps using personalization based on history to generate individualized relevance ranks -- this winner takes all effect should fade and the incentive to spam decline.
See also my previous post, "Combating web spam with personalization".

[Fortune Interactive article found via Gary Price]

Update: Erik Dafforn writes, "The single algorithm you're chasing now will soon be 500 million little ones."

Update: Nick Wilson at Search Engine Land says:
[The] rollout of ... personalized search results for the masses ... was cataclysmic.

In short, it's a game changer. Those who adapt quickly or are already ahead of the curve will thrive in the new environment. Those too slow or in denial will perish.

"One page fits all" is now a thing of the past. Personalized search is now the default.
Update: Matt Cutts says, "With personalization ... black hat becomes a lot more difficult ... You can't rank that (trophy keyword) for everyone anymore."

Update: Another good quote from Matt Cutts (from the same SES keynote interview):
The nice thing about personalization is you don't see one monolithic set of results ... Now everyone can rank in the top ten for some niche, so there is no weird step function.

It's not winner-take-all anymore.

2 comments:

p-air said...

My concern w/personalized search is that it creates too much homogeneity in our tastes and reduces much of the serendipity of running into new things that are not like what we've been looking at. Just because I spend time reading football news doesn't mean I want to have more of it recommended to me. I wonder whether over time less and less new things will be recommended because the recommendations are about topics I follow and so that's all that keeps showing up and in turn what I have to choose from. It's kind of like a self fulfilling prophecy.

jeremy said...

p-air: I cannot imagine how personalized search could be any more homogenized than current search. Right now, everyone sees the exact same thing for a search. That sounds pretty homogenized to me. We have nowhere to go but up, at this point.

I've never fully agreed with Greg that automatic, history-based personalization is the way to go. I agree with you that just because you read a lot of football news does not mean you necessarily want your search results to be biased toward football results.

But whether or not personalization is the right way to go, I think Greg is spot on when he says:

"Winner takes all" encourages spam. When spam succeeds in getting the top slot, everyone sees the spam. It is like winning the jackpot. If different people saw different search results -- perhaps using personalization based on history to generate individualized relevance ranks -- this winner takes all effect should fade and the incentive to spam decline.

Off the top of my head I can think of half a dozen other ways, other than personalization, to allow different people to see different results. Google should start implementing at least some of these things. It's absolutely correct that "winner takes all" encourages spam.