Universally and Gainfully Google: The Personalities Test

Friday, May 25, 2007
Posted by Jim Hedger @ 11:10 am

It has been about ten days since the rollout of Google Universal and the early analysis is starting to come in. Trying to put it all together and make coherent written statements about Google Universal is difficult as there are so many unique pieces of information to assimilate. For a deadline driven writer, that sort of situation is problematic. Perhaps however, the problem itself helps explain the subject.

I do a lot of searching. As a writer, I pull information from an enormous number of sources. While researching, I need to read a lot of material and extract nuggets of information, sort each nugget for relevancy and importance and pull together an A – Z story line. In short, I need to produce complex information sets in a format viewers are comfy seeing.

My primary source is my own experience, the stuff I can see with my own two eyes and filter through the scatterings of search marketing knowledge I’ve gleaned. My secondary sources tend to be my colleagues, the hundred or so other bloggers, broadcasters, analysts and writers toiling away around the world. My supplemental sources tend to come from other webmasters’ experiences often found in forums such as WebmasterWorld, Searchenginewatch, or Cre8asite. As I am my own primary source, the interpretation of all incoming data is likely going to be fairly subjective or rather, personal.

To recap: I have all these sources and only 600 – 1200 or so words to express their ideas them in. As I said, it can be problematic but on the whole, I can’t complain. Try to imagine what it must be like to pull, sort and compile lists of data from every part of the Internet live-time and feed them to the largest audiences ever assembled.

It can be done with accuracy and grace. Google has proven that time and time again but moving past the ¾ way mark of this decade, those times are rapidly changing. As file formats and new user habits supplant or bypass search results, accuracy and grace aren’t enough. As noted in my last post, Google appeared to be losing users of its vertical search options to newer, more person-specific technologies such as RSS feeds, Facebook and Fickr.

Google Universal is going to be integrating information from what were once separate databases like news, images, books, videos and maps into the general SERPs. It will display results based on an order it determines is most relevant to the search query entered by the user. During a discussion of Google Universal on our WebmasterRadio show yesterday, SEO Dave Davies and I speculated on exactly how Google is going to determine which result would be relevant to which user. That’s when I thought about a short piece Jennifer Laycock at Search Engine Guide had posted just as Dave and I went on the air.

“Am I the Only One That Thinks Google is Getting Creepy?” looks at comments made by Google CEO Eric Schmitt to the Financial Times, quoting a section that reads:

From The Financial Times:
Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, said gathering more personal data was a key way for Google to expand and the company believes that is the logical extension of its stated mission to organise the world’s information.

Asked how Google might look in five years’ time, Mr Schmidt said: “We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation.

“The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘What job shall I take?’”

How is Google going to decide which results to display to which user as it becomes (in effect), a Google-verse meta-search engine? My gut answer is, “With personal precision”.
Here is an example that, though it hasn’t actually happened yet, is likely to happen sooner than later. It gives me an idea on one way SEOs should adapt to a Universal environment.

I travel frequently and power-use Google Earth and Google Maps when making arrangements. I research hotel selections and information about the surrounding areas. Before I get to another large city, even if I have been there before, I want to know exactly where specific buildings, transportation routes and, most importantly, nice restaurants are in relation to where I plan on booking a room.

Cars give me the creeps so I prefer everything be in walking distance of each other. There is never any spare time on business trips so if I need water, coffee, snacks, sodas, dry cleaning or shaving cream, I need to know where to get whatever quickly. As I don’t like getting late-night lost coming back from those infamous search-marketing shindigs, I memorize routes through different cities before leaving. I know generally where a few eateries, drug stores and other conveniences are before I even get there. Such is the convenience of search.

Google is aware of this habit. It also knows which hotels I book as the name and address often form parts of my search-queries. As a matter of fact, Google knows exactly who I am interested in speaking with, what tourist attractions I might want to see, and which cites I am likely to visit next. All that information is easily available in my recorded search history.

It is only a matter of time until a search for “SES NYC” or “SMX Social Media”, for me, turns up results that include, maps of Manhattan, random notations regarding bars, lounges, buildings, pharmacies, and restaurants, images from previous SES and SMX events, and affiliate-driven results about hotels I have booked in the past. It is as Orwellian as it sounds but it’s a pretty cool spread of time saving information that could be sent directly to me. My own, situational, personal total information awareness network, so to speak.

How do SEOs deal with this? That’s simple. Find out who your clients’ clients are. Search marketers are going to need to get a lot more granular in relation to who the site visitors are.

Most SEO firms work with medium to smaller sized businesses. These businesses are using search to expand their marketing base and/or as a platform from which to make sales. Because personalization will affect the results shown to individual users, the habits and traffic-patterns of those individual users are of increased interest to SEOs.

Where, or more precisely, who are the top referring websites or web pages? How or why are those sites and pages referring traffic to the client’s site? Are there similar sites that could also drive traffic?

If the client has one or more brick and mortar locations, are there complimentary businesses nearby? I am thinking specifically about clients in the hotel and hospitality industries but obviously the concept is similar across the board. Groupings of people tend to gravitate to similar things for a reason. Figure out the reasons and actions of your various clients’ groupings of visitors and you might go a long way to furthering your clients’ search marketing needs.

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