What is it?
The whole world of personalised search took a big leap forward with the launch of ‘Search Plus Your World’ by Google. The interactions of people within your community directly influence the search results which are shown to you, to a greater extent than ever experienced before.
If a friend has shared a piece of content that is directly related to your search engine query, there is a high chance that it will take a prominent position within your results. Whether you wish to have this level of personalisation in your search results or not, it is something that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
So, does this mean traditional SEO is dead? No. It just means we need to alter our thinking. A more personalised search tells us quite clearly that we need to optimise for users and not search engines. Creating great content, interactively and reward mechanics is something that should be central to your on-site strategy rather than letting it become second fiddle to acquiring that all important link to help push up your search engine rankings.
There are a number of increasingly popular methods of improving the user experience of a website. Richard Baxter at SEOGadget.co.uk raised our awareness of Gamification, the method of integrating gaming mechanics to non-game applications to create a more engaging experience. Adding compelling user generated content possibilities incentivises both website owners and users to make the content popular.
Engaging content encourages a social ‘share’ or vote. This is the new form of link acquisition.
The problem with friend biased search results is exactly that. Exposure to new content outside of your circles is now limited. There is no shortage of great content on the web which may be more relevant to your search engine query that that from your friends. It’s comparable to someone who lives in a city without ever leaving the concrete jungle. They have their circle of friends and don’t step out of these boundaries. It’s by no means a bad existence but the fact there is a whole world out there it seems somewhat limited.
Google’s ‘Search Plus Your World’ also has two immediate issues, the lack of Facebook ad Twitter integration. Despite the growing base of Google+ these are by far the most popular social networks for users. Not including this data into a personalised search engine results page cuts off a significant % of your friend and contact base.
Many sites push the social sharing side of their website in an overly aggressive manner which can alienate many users. Mashable for example have countless social media references ‘above the fold’ in their website template. There are so many in fact it can be quite overwhelming. A quote from @graywolf seems to describe it perfectly - “Sharing a link to Mashable is like dropping naive tourists off on Freemont Street without warning”.
Join, Add, Share, Sign In, Like, Follow… Argh!
The introduction of a forced ‘share’ is something which I consider risky for any brand. For example on Facebook I was greeted with a forced ‘inform your friends what you are reading’ message before it lets me view the content I was initially interested in. It should be up to the user if they wish to share the content, not a forced ‘share’ just to promote your website or app. Savvy internet users can see through this straight away and will have a detrimental effect on your brand.
Personalised search brings a mix of pros and cons to the web. It seems to promote a better user experience for users, creating more ‘sharable’ content whilst limiting our exposure to new content within the search engines.
Matt is a SEO Executive at Extreme Creations, a specialist web design agency in Harrogate.