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SES:SJ – Personalization, User Data & Search

Searcher Track, Monday 2:00 – 2:30 PM
Personalization, User Data & Search

Moderator: Chris Sherman, Co-Chair, Search Engine Strategies, San Jose
Jonathan Mendez, Chief Strategy Officer, OTTO Digital
Richard Zwicky, CEO, Enqisite
Dave Davies, CEO, Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning
Gordon Hotchkiss, Presiden & CEO, Enquiro Search Solutions
Sepandar Kamvar, Google

Personalization, User Data & Search

On a personal level, I’ve never had much use for personalized search. If I know my results are being personalized, I always want to know what I’m missing… what is it that the search engines think that I don’t care about? The most basic level where I have seen personalization implemented is my online DVD rental accounts. What I find is that I never like the movies they way that think I’ll like them based on my movie rating history. I’ll concede that Google is far more advanced than Netflix, but this does seem to be some pretty basic stuff here.

Beyond that I think personalization can be terribly flawed because we don’t always search our interests… sometimes we search other people’s interests. In my own experience, search is often about discovery. I’m not looking for something specific so much as I’m looking for my searching to lead me to information that I am interested in. Personalization could end up cutting out much of this discovery process. On the other hand, it might also open additional doors to discovery that were not there before. For now I think its the former rather than later.

Gord provided some eye tracking information (go figure!) that showed how personalization effects the user experience. He suggests that studies have shown that personalization improves the performance of the search results. Because of this optimization needs to happen around themes rather than individual phrases. I’m not sure I see that. Searchers using personalized search are still searching using keywords, are they not? In my mind, personalization just adds an additional step of trying to make your keyword optimized content more personally relevant for different groups. But maybe I just don’t get what Gord was suggesting.

Richard suggested that a searcher’s location is becoming a part of the personalization of the results. This echoes something I heard this earlier today. Perhaps there is something to that. He points out that personalization makes SEO more sophisticated. More research is needed, especially when targeting an audience in different locations.

Dave talked about the patents involved in personalized search. I’m not much of a patent freak, but Dave kept it interesting. He talked about how Google might assign a value to a particular searcher that will be factored in to how the sites they visit may rank. The higher “personal page rank”, as Dave calls it, a searcher has the more value they’ll give to a site they visit… depending on how much time they spend there. I suppose that means if they spend little time then that will work against you more than a lower personal page rank searcher.

Dave uttered the funniest comment I’ve heard from the platform so far. He starts talking about methods that provide the engines user data and he looked over to the Google rep and said, “correct me if I’m wrong.” Nobody laughed. Am I the only one who finds that funny?

In all, Dave’s presentation, thus far, has been the most tangible. I like hands-on “how-to” stuff. Dave provided that. He says design your site to keep visitors on the page, link out to authorities so visitors don’t go back to the engine, localize your site and attract the high profile searchers in your industry.

The guy from Google says that personalization means optimizing for the keyword AND the user. That makes more sense than the themes suggested by Gord earlier.

I know personalized search does have its benefits and it probably makes more sense for some people than others. Being a search marketer, I’m probably not the typical searcher that Google and other engines are trying to please. What I haven’t heard yet is any number of people that say they are satisfied with personalized search. If you’re out there hollar. Or maybe people don’t even know their results are personalized?

Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm whose pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his “bride enjoy” and his children. Read Stoney’s full bio.

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