Yesterday, on the company’s official blog, Google engineer Amit Singhal expressed a vision of “transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.”
The transformation to which he is referring appeared in the form of a major update entitled “Search, Plus Your World”. Rolled out to a limited portion of users, specifically those signed in to Google.com, the developments are geared towards results personalisation, building upon the social search aspects the company introduced back in 2009.
Comprising 3 main developments – Personal Results, Profiles in Search and People and Pages – the update is intended to fulfil Google’s dream of “enabling everyone to experience the richness of all their information and people around them.” Or possibly just to help popularise their Google Plus service. Either way, it’s going to revolutionise the way in which we use search.
The implementation of Personal Results essentially builds upon the influence of Google Plus in search results which we saw introduced last year. The new developments now mean that both Google Plus posts and photos will appear in your personal search engine results pages (SERPs). If, for example, you search for “Thierry Henry” and someone in your circles has recently posted something related on Google Plus, the post will prominently appear in the results returned. Additionally, if they posted a photo tagged Thierry Henry, then that would also appear in your image results.
Each time you conduct a search which contains Personal Results, a message will appear at the top of the page indicating their appearance and how many results are personalised. Next to each individual result, a small icon appears, denoting its personal nature. By default these Personal Results are enabled, but you can toggle their appearance by choosing the ‘Hide Personal Results’ option.
It wouldn’t be the recent face of Google without a sentimental element and the way in which the development is demonstrated on the Google Blog is typically saccharine. Amit Singhal describes how a simple search for “Chikoo” caused a childhood memory of fruit and the love he has for his dog to collide as a result of the new personalised results. His wife had uploaded pictures of their dog, which is incidentally named Chikoo, which appeared alongside images of the fruit Chikoo, inspiring the “magical experience” of finding both Chikoos Amit loves on the same page.
Head of Google’s Webspam team Matt Cutts also, on his personal blog, wistfully recounts how, via Personal Results, he discovered pictures of himself and others at a journalism conference called “News Foo Camp”. Cutts, like Singhal, similarly describes the experience as “magical” and hopes that more people will experience “Aha!” moments, like he did.
Despite these idealistic portrayals, they do serve to emphasise the vision Google has for personalised results, indicating such developments are a big step towards making search a more involved, community-based experience.
Profiles in Search
The implementation of Profiles in Search is a fairly self-explanatory concept and now, if you begin to type the name of someone in your circles into the search box, a preview of their profile will appear in the autocomplete suggestions. This works in a similar way to the search process on Facebook in which typing a few letters of someone’s name will return their name, a thumbnail image of their profile picture and their current employment or education status.
With Profiles in Search, however, if you select the suggestion of a profile it returns a results page featuring an expanded preview of the selected individual’s details and some of their recent posts.
Also, suggestions featuring the profiles of prominent people may also appear in this manner. Google gives the example of photographer Trey Ratcliff, but further investigation has confirmed that typing ‘Sno’ immediately suggests you check out Snoop Dogg, who describes himself as a spiritual advisor.
If you are signed in to Google Plus, you will also have the option of adding these people to your circles directly from the results page.
People and Pages
The introduction of People and Pages is again, a mechanism to draw attention to high profile Google Plus profiles and engage the communities behind search queries. Prominent and popular profiles related to the your search query will now appear in the right-hand side of results.
If, for example, you search for ‘football’, the profiles of David Beckham, Detroit Lions’ Safety Chris Harris and Sports journalist Erin Andrews appear.
Security and Privacy
The inclusion of personal information in SERPs may come as a privacy concern to some users but Google is confident of the safety of its service. Last year, Google were the first major search engine to turn SSL on for signed in users, which gave their searches the same level of encryption as Gmail and serves to prevent any eavesdropping.
Google has also said they are committed to transparency and, as mentioned earlier, all Personal Results are clearly marked and you have the ability to turn off personalisation at any time.
This option to easily view depersonalised results will come as a positive to many SEOs, making it easier for them to check the ranking and progress of their projects but the increasing number of signed in users will also mean a higher number of “(not provided)” keywords in their Google Analytics reports, which may affect strategies.
Google bills the new results as the beginning of a beautiful journey and emphasises that while the derivation of their name, Googol, refers to the millions of pages on the internet, their new focus is on the other part of search: people. This is indicative of further emphasis on personalisation in the future, a development that no doubt hinges on the reception of this update from the general searching population.
Author: David Gerrard