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article imageOp-Ed: Are Google searches too ‘personal’?

By Paul Wallis     Dec 4, 2018 in Internet
Sydney - “Personalization” of searches is common on Google, and you could also argue that it’s inevitable. The problem is that personalization also appears to deliver a lot of inconsistencies.
A study of Google searches by a Google competitor, Duck Duck Go, found that getting replicable searches was nearly impossible, and that search results in normal and incognito modes were also different. Duck Duck Go says that your searches are “personal”, even when you’re logged out.
Irritated search users will know only too well that the constant chopping and changing and tweaking of Google searches is very much an acquired taste. Sometimes it looks like "busy work", and sometimes it's just plain annoying.
In fairness, Google has reason to be a bit persnickety and less than transparent about its searches. As the number one search engine, Google searches have to be of a certain very high standard, but they also have to be convenient for users, and manage multiple bandwidths in search terms. Search engine optimization, also, is a bit of a burden for Google, which has to make rules and then make those rules work to make realistic needs.
Personalization, by definition, means that all searches will have these personal elements in them. It should also be noted that people don't mind personalization when it comes to location, search relevance, and other fundamentals. Google also makes the point that search results can change literally by the second. That's due to new information becoming available in context with searches. News searches, for example, literally change drastically, roughly every hour or so. Searching Tweets can be equally high volume and variable, with so much new information coming onstream every second. If you've ever tried finding a specific tweet in a Twitter stream, you'll know the problem.
So – Is personalization of searches really such a big deal? The most disturbing, and arguably eventually dysfunctional, part of this equation is that if it really is impossible to replicate a search, why? Personalization is definitely not a good reason for having problems searching for a specific search objective.
Google, meanwhile, isn't very impressed with the study. They say the study is inaccurate, uses flawed methods, and didn't use basic parameters like time and location as qualifiers for search results. Google further says that they're moving away from personalization in searches, and that personalization is now more directed at Gmail and Google assistant. They also state that personalization isn't particularly useful for core search functions, and that the personal components are limited to location and prior searches, a statement which seems to be pretty accurate.
How personal do you want your search to be?
In my line of work, I use Google search about 10 to 20 times a day. My searches covering very broad bandwidth of different subjects, from personal searches to shopping, and business-related searches.
The only significant problem I find with personalization in searches is that I might get Australian locations when I'm searching for overseas companies or products. This is more of a nuisance than an actual problem, but it does highlight the fact that the personalization creates search contexts which might not be what I mean when I'm searching.
Extrapolating this situation a little further, it is reasonable to assume that variable search contexts could easily be affected by personalization. Searches in science, finance, and other often broad bandwidth subject matter wouldn't benefit a lot from personalization on that basis.
Search engine optimization and personalization
SEO, interestingly, it is both a possible beneficiary and victim of personalization. When you're shopping, personalization is often very useful. Simply remembering searches make life considerably easier when you're back at the coalface looking for your shopping needs. In commercial terms, however, it's not so simple.
Search terms need to be fully functional. Consider the range of terminology you might use for shopping, and then apply that to try to find a business or product. SEO rankings, however, the all-important ranking on search results, are also dependent on search terms. The whole science of search engine optimization, in fact, revolves around making search terminology work, however illiterate or hopelessly vague the search terminology may be.
Personalization may help in some cases, but maybe in an own goal in other cases. I'm a case in point, in fact. The work I do requires me to search a lot of different types of businesses, industries, and specific websites. So a "personalised" search, for me, can be very like an encyclopaedia.
I know how to deal with that, but there's another issue – I recently discovered a company which had chosen a series of words in its name which made it virtually unsearchable. This company apparently decided that its best option was to use every possible generic word in its sector as a business name. I quite literally couldn't find this company at all, until I started using geographic locations to pin it down. As SEO, it was 100 percent godawful.
Point being – This search was about as depersonalized as it was possible to get, using basic search terms. Personalization may not be the answer to everybody's dreams, but it beats some of the alternatives by a very long way.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Google Searches, personalized searches, Duck Duck Go Google search study 2018, SEO and personalized searches, search terminology
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