In case you didn’t see it yesterday, Google officially began launching an update to their social search algorithm entitled, “Search Plus Your World“. This new change – which will be rolling out over the next few days – brings a bit of clarity to some of the recent changes by Google including the launch of their own social network as well as the full-scale deployment of Encrypted Search.
While social search has been around in Google since 2009, this adaptation seems to be Google’s ace-in-the-hole in terms of beginning to leverage their search engine’s power to compete in the social world with Twitter and Facebook – which won’t be promoted with this update.
Here is a bit of what Google had to say about Search Plus Your World:
We’re transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships. We began this transformation with Social Search, and today we’re taking another big step in this direction by introducing three new features:
- Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;
- Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,
- People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.
Together, these features combine to create Search plus Your World. Search is simply better with your world in it, and we’re just getting started.
“The social search algorithm, and the personal search algorithm, and the personalized search algorithm are actually one algorithm now, and we are merging it in a way that is very pleasant and useful…”
Users can click a new personalization icon at the top of the search results page, which pulls relevant posts and pictures from their Circle of friends into their search results.
Another shot of Search Plus Your World in action:
As you can see, you’ll have to option to toggle back and forth between personalized results from your Google+ circle and non-personalized results. Again, the biggest note here would be the omission of Twitter and Facebook from these results.
Amit Singhal had this to say about the omission of Facebook and Twitter:
“Facebook and Twitter and other services, basically, their terms of service don’t allow us to crawl them deeply and store things. Google+ is the only [network] that provides such a persistent service. Of course, going forward, if others were willing to change, we’d look at designing things to see how it would work.”
So it looks as if Google may be open to including content from the social giants at some point.
Google+ Profiles in Search
Another big change as part of the Search Plus Your World release is how people with Google+ accounts are going to be featured more often in search results.
Users who are logged in may begin to see their Google+ connectons appear right within the search box:
Once you’ve found the person you’re looking for, you can see every single web result Google attributes to them, leaving out all others with the same name.
“This feature alone has the potential for great convenience for the average user, as well as massive abuse. A result about a person could be highly relevant and “do all the right things” as far as SEO is concerned, but malign the person it’s about. It will be interesting to see how Google handles complaints about content generated by others when it’s now available curated on a single page.
Google may also suggest to users others they may wish to search by autocompleting with popular Google+ profiles, which they can add to Circles with a single click from the results page. In particular, this feature builds on the author profile markup that Google introduced towards the end of last year.”
Here is what the Google+ results integration will look like initially:
People & Page Suggestions
People and page suggestions will be implemented on the right-hand side of the SERPs when Google feels that they are relevant. Here is what it might look like:
Per Danny Sullivan on this feature:
“That’s nice promotion for Google+ (and it also underscores yet again why search marketers simply cannot ignore Google+). But there are many, many more people still on Twitter and Facebook. Google should be able to easily figure out some of these which might be relevant to searches, which is the job of a search engine.
But they don’t get this type of promotion. Only Google+ is getting that, and it doesn’t feel right.
Overall, I like the integration that allows for searching through private and public material. As I’ve said, I think many people will find it useful.
I do think there are some additional privacy controls that could be added — in particular, the ability for people to opt their content out of being found through search, if they want.
But really, more than anything, I’d like to see Google diligently work in the coming weeks to see how it can level the playing field up for other social networks. Yes, there are things that Facebook or Twitter might not allow, not without Google cutting deals or agreeing to terms it may not want to.
But there are also above-and-beyond things that I think Google probably could do to promote these other services in the way it’s doing for Google+, and I’d like to see that happen.”
Google provides us with some insight into some of their security initiatives, including the full-scale implentation of SSL search for signed-in users:
“When it comes to security and privacy, we set a high bar for Search plus Your World. Since some of the information you’ll now find in search results, including Google+ posts and private photos, is already secured by SSL encryption on Google+, we have decided that the results page should also have the same level of security and privacy protection. That’s part of why we were the first major search engine to turn on search via SSL by default for signed-in users last year. This means when you’re signed in to Google, your search results—including your private content—are protected by the same high standards of encryption as your messages in Gmail.
We also want to be transparent about how our features work and give you control over how to use them. With today’s changes, we provide interface elements and control settings like those you’ll find in Google+. For example, personal results are clearly marked as Public, Limited or Only you. Additionally, people in your results are clearly marked with the Google+ circle they are in, or as suggested connections.
We’re also introducing a prominent new toggle on the upper right of the results page where you can see what your search results look like without personal content. With a single click, you can see an unpersonalized view of search results.
That means no results from your friends, no private information and no personalization of results based on your Web History. This toggle button works for an individual search session, but you can also make this the default in your Search Settings. We provide separate control in Search Settings over other contextual signals we use, including location and language.
That’s unprecedented transparency and control over personal search results.”
More thoughts on SSL from Miranda Miller of SearchEngineWatch:
“While this sounds like a wonderful feature for users, it could also mean that secure personalized search results and history are subject to the same draconian search and seizure methods the government now employs under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to access personal email accounts. As we discussed last year, government officials may seize electronic data including email accounts under this legislation with no probable cause a crime has been committed, no search warrant, and without notifying the user.
Google received 4,601 requests from July to December 2010 to hand over user data as a result of search warrants, subpoenas, and requests under the ECPA. They complied with 94%, according to their Transparency Report website.”
From Amit Singhal on SSL:
“We’ve been working on it for a year, very hard to get it right. It’s just a hard technical problem that we bit off, and it was something that we could not launch until we had it right.”
Whether they got it right is still up for debate in the mind of many searchers and SEOs.
With some of the concerns over such things as SOPA and other government interventions, this may be a good thing for users. However, from an SEO perspective, it kind of stinks in that we will be losing quite a bit of keyword referral data. Google initially said that it will impact less than 10% of searches, but I’ve seen it impact anywhere from 20-30% of the keyword referrals to this site on any given day and similar results with clients.
Opt-In vs. Opt-Out
Is personalized search something you’d prefer to opt out of? Too bad.
According to Google, you have to deliberately opt-out of the program.
Amit Singhal explaining why the default change was made:
“I think this is a much better experience, at the end of the day.”
If you’d like to permanently opt-out of personalized results, you can do so in the Search Settings area on Google. You can also opt-out on a per-search basis using the aforementioned toggle by clicking on the globe symbol, which enables you to see unpersonalized results.
Although the change will now be default, it is good to know that the user has the control to opt out if they wish, which since 2009 wasn’t the case.
Personalization Is the New “Normal”
Some good closing thoughts from Danny Sullivan on how personalization will be the new “normal”:
Of course, it’s a mistake to assume that doing this really shows normal results. It will eliminate personalization factors such as your web browsing history (if you provide that to Google through its toolbar in Internet Explorer), your searching history or your social connections.
But geographic targeting — which can be really significant – will still happen. So will targeting by language. Google begun calling these contextual signals rather than personal ones. Both can be overridden, for those who want. But doing so will still produce results that are tailored, just to a different geographical location or language.
More important, with Google heading toward 100 million users on Google+, if a good number of those are active users — then they’re logged in. And that means the “normal” results they see are personalized. Personalized results are normal; non-personalized are not.
You should begin to see this change roll out when you’re signed in to your Google account over the next few days to weeks. It will certainly be interesting to watch what kind of impact this has on search and social and what the response will be from the two social giants Twitter and Facebook.
I’ll be continuing to monitor the impact here at the Agent SEO blog.
Here is the link to Google’s Search Plus Your World page.
What are your thoughts on Google Search Plus Your World? Is it Google’s big master play into social, or will it be something that moves them closer and closer to an anti-trust violation for being too dominant? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…
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