You don’t need me to tell you how much everybody is talking about the next big thing to happen in search, Google+ Your World, which is the beginning of “Personalised Search” and the end of the world as we know it…..again. But I thought you may like to hear some of the ideas and debates surrounding the buzz at the SES London conference this week. Speakers that I thought made particularly good points included Loren Baker, Mike Grehan, Nichola Stott and Angie Schottmuller. This topic was also something all audiences wanted to get involved in.
Search Gets Social
Let’s look at what this is all about. We all know Google as the number one name within search, but it really is only (relatively) recently that they have become a big player in the social media sector. Google+ has in no way shape or form created much trouble for the likes of Facebook and Twitter but what they do have, is almost complete control over the search market. Those of us in the search industry have been watching avidly to see how their social service is affecting their search service. And this is where it all gets a little bit crazy. If you are logged into your Google profile or Google+ page you will start to notice that the SERPs are beginning to show more and more social results. If you search for “Italian restaurants in London”, it’s more than likely that you will see the top ranking pages have been +1’d by your friends, colleagues and family. In other words, the results you see are based on what people you actually know have experienced before and “recommend”.
SEO is Dead?
Google and people who advocate their tactics say that they want search to provide us with richer content which is more relevant to you and your community. They also think we will benefit by getting recommendations from people we actually know and trust, which will make our world a richer place to live in. In short, it’s a kind of hybrid (or Frankenstien depending on your view point) between social and search. For this reason people are toying with the idea that “SEO is Dead”. Because if everybody is seeing different results depending on who they know, how can we optimise with traditional SEO techniques?
In theory I suppose this is hard to argue with but as one of the audience members said “But all my friends are idiots…”. Do you really want to see results purely on what your friends and family like? Is that really the way to get more out of life? Do you have friends with similar interests to you? How can we discover more if all we do is regurgitate the same old stuff?
Personalised Search – Restrain Yourself
The clear problem with personalised search is that it could end up restricting us and what we are exposed to. How are we ever going to get fresh search results with new ideas that people outside of our circle of friends are talking about? Another audience member gave an example of how an American Republican friend of his had noticed that his search results were only displaying news results written by Republicans. He believed this was because his friends and professional circles were also Republicans so Google personalised it accordingly. But this isn’t good! Especially if he works in politics, we all need to see what the opposition are doing so as we can react, learn and develop.
Mike Grehan, who was moderating the talk made some valid points: Google are more complex than we give them credit for and know that Republicans aren’t exclusively interested in Republican news. There are ways to “burst the bubble” and even if this is an issue at the moment, Google will adapt the service quickly in response.
Personally, after listening to different ideas about whether or not Google+ is “evil”, or whether it should be allowed, I would suggest we look at the facts – it’s already happening, it’s arrived! For those of us that work in the industry we need to accept these changes (whether you agree with them or not) and understand how we can use it to provide a better service. But what is a better service? Should it be one size fits all? The search industry is so insanely monopolised by Google that it makes you wonder how long it will be before people start to look elsewhere. I heard a few people voice their concerns over personalised search and how they have started to use other search engines to find what they want.
It’s Too Late!
If we continue to use Google (and let’s face it, we will), we cannot ignore the fact that Google+ pages ARE out ranking many other pages and the +1 button is something that is already providing results and will continue to do so in the future. Admittedly, most of us hardly use our Google+ accounts to communicate with our community (a fact proven by a pathetic show of hands at SES), but it is driving results and we need to be in it to win it.
Other arguments suggest that the average user doesn’t realise how much information is being tracked. Many feel we are living under the watchful eye of “Big Brother” but as another audience member noted: “Haven’t we said that every time there has been a drastic change since the industrial revolution?” Maybe we need to be more open minded? Maybe we should try to trust Google and see where they are going with this.
How to Respond
If Google SERPs are powered by social signals (in particular Google+ signals) we need to “out social signal” our competition. Yes! We can do that! – We don’t really have to stop doing anything and we all know about Google’s “don’t be evil” approach, it’s basically just more of the same. All we have to do, and I do mean “have” to do, is start utilizing what Google+ have offered us – a chance to mix our social efforts with our SEO efforts. I don’t think SEO is dead, it’s just changing and evolving as it has done since the beginning of it’s creation. Don’t fight it!
Nobody at SES really seemed to want to say “Yes, personalised search is a great idea” or “No, we really should fight against this terrible change!” – Everybody agreed, however, that it is happening and we need to be involved. Watch this space!