Google have introduced the next step in their personalisation of search: Your World. At its core, Your World aims to create “
Web results I should care about” (Amit Singhal, Google Exec) and allows a deeper integration of Google+ with Google search results, personalising the results pages. Google will harvest resources from a user’s Google+ account and stored personal data to generate personal search results, more tailored and specific to what Google deems a user would like to see. This new personalised content includes photos, videos, profiles and pages sourced from people in your Google+ network.
This is an ambitious move for Google, setting Google+ apart from being ‘another facebook clone’. While integrating social content into search has been attempted previously (Google integrated social in search results with Twitter while Microsoft have created a partnership with Facebook), Your World takes this to a whole new level by seamlessly integrating privately shared content from social into search engine results.
The emergence of a social search platform that seamlessly integrates personal social data within search result pages is not a surprising development, but such integration will no doubt raise a few eyebrows and create a lot of stir within the search world
For the average search engine user, the concept seems rather appealing, as they will now have access to search results that include more of what they want and have it all displayed in one place. Without signing into Google+, users of the service will be able to navigate through shared relevant content, increasing engagement.
The concept aims to harvest the emotional connection and increased engagement users feel with Social media platforms and apply them to other areas of their business (much as they did with the recent ‘Dear Sophie’ ads).
Currently, users in the UK spend more time on Facebook than in Google sites by approximately 90% (UKOM, December 2011), and the time they spend in Facebook is likely to be more engaged with both the content and the brand than in many of the Google sites (Google+ being the exception). The integration is likely to lead to a shift both in user behaviour and perception of Google search results as engagement levels increase.
Clearly, this move will be more successful in some areas than others: Over the last 7 days, ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ has been one of the top rising searches in the UK, according to Google Insights. Seeing what Google+ contacts have shared about this topic may be useful and insightful to a user; in this topic area, they are probably more interested in joining the conversation, than reading hard facts and information. However, in the case of another of the top rising searches ‘Bitesize’ (referring to the free GCSE revision service provided by the BBC), users are most likely to want to be directed straight to the website and relevant content, rather than wanting to discuss it with others or see what their friends think about it.
It is possible that users would react negatively to the organic search pages being pushed down the page in cases like this, however, Google has built-in functionality which allows users to toggle Your World on and off at will, giving users control over when they want to see personalised results. When users get to grips with what this button allows them to see in search results, behaviour may change and they may learn to search for new queries where they are looking for G+ content. But out of the pool of present search terms, the usefulness of personalized results is limited and then limited further when you consider what sort of posts contacts are making on Google+. And, over time, users will become increasingly more savvy about when to toggle personalization on and off based on their search intent and when they want to ‘care about it’.
Google have emphasised a high focus on the security they place on personal data by ensuring SSL encryption is set as default for signed-in users, while also giving users full control and transparency over what is shared in search and how it is viewed.
Although providing a more social search experience for the general user, the implementation of Your World results are almost certain to cause a lot of controversy across the web in the coming weeks. Despite Google’s assurances, competitors such as Twitter & Facebook will definitely have a lot to say about privacy issues such as the inclusion of an opt-out option rather than an opt-in control system. A number of reactions and counter reactions will also unravel in the coming weeks relating to anti-trust concerns. Questions could be raised around how Google are using their search dominance to push their social network on the world, by leveraging privately shared content with no apparent clear distinction between the two.
These changes are also likely to have a knock-on effect across other aspects of Google’s business channels.
The presence of the Your World results at the top of the page is likely to shake things up in the SEM arena. SEO will undoubtedly be affected, with organic results inevitably being pushed towards or even below the fold. On the flip-side, brands with low ranking in natural search could leap-frog their competitors by using a good Google+ Page to get above the fold of Page 1.
The crucial point is that Social content will appear in Google search results whereas it was previously confined to places like Facebook. By becoming prevalent in an environment previously considered a place to find facts and answers, users may be influenced by it.
These changes are likely to shift toward brands establishing a presence on Google+ that is relevant and useful to their customers is now stronger than ever. This shift will not be limited to simply having a Google+ presence, but will push brands towards creating relevant and up to date content such as articles, reviews, videos and photos; the Google strategy is no longer just an SEM strategy, but will need to be a holistic approach to the growing, personalised ecosystem Google have created. As well as uniting your SEO and PPC plans, it is now crucial to bring in your 'Social' Google+ plans into the mix to ensure that when people search you are not pushed off the page.
For PPC, the most apparent impact is on the placement of the Google+ widget in search results, sitting above the right hand PPC results and pushing them down- the gap between position 3 and position 4 just got a lot bigger. Elements of Google+ in search like Direct Connect have already meant Google are missing out on keyword traffic and revenue; people can skip straight to a Brands page from the search bar. As things like Direct Connect for profiles looms closer, this may have even greater implications for paid traffic
Ultimately, The popularity and use of Google+ integration in search results is dependent on how discerning users are of the service and how much they credence they place in Google+’s word of mouth content. The usefulness to users will also rely heavily on Brands building up relevant content in order to keep users engaged and using the tool as part of their everyday search activities.
Your World is only being launched on Google.com currently and will likely take a while to be rolled out here in the UK so we will no doubt be able to see the impact it has on brands in the US over the coming days and weeks. One thing that is certain - search will never be the same again.
This is an extended version of an article that appeared at NMA.com - Opinion: Search will never be the same again (subscription required)