Recently I was doing a bit of research on personalized search for two different projects (I love a bit of convergence) and I had a revelation, with Google’s personalized search they are creating traffic addicts for their own self interests.
First off, I understand drug addiction is serious problem and I’m not making light of it. When I talk about addiction I’m talking about the theoretical business model drug dealers operate under, and if you don’t think drug dealers have a business model you need to read freakonomics.
If you aren’t familiar with personalized search and how it works, you should check out Google Ramps Up Personalized Search by Danny Sullivan , The Personalized Results are Coming, The Personalized Results are Coming! by Gord Hotchkiss and an interview he had with Marissa Mayer on Personalization. If you’re too lazy and want the sound bite version, basically for people who are logged in to Google and haven’t turned off personalized search (it’s on by default, traffic pushers) Google may substitute up to three personalized results that they think you like based on your “history”.
While they are a little fuzzy on exactly what is given weight in personalizing your results, we do know that your search history (and almost certainly click through data) makes up a big part. Other signals they may or may not be being using to some degree are, GMail click throughs, Google reader (posts actually read, starred or shared) and Google bookmarks.
So if you were a clever and forward thinking web publisher what would you do? You might encourage people to add your RSS feed in Google reader with one of the snazzy branded add to Google reader buttons shown below:
Likewise you might also encourage people to add you to their Google bookmarks with another nifty little button:
In fact if you were really “smart” you might even feature them first, above the fold, or give them prominence in one way or another. The logic being if people add your site into their “collective Google data” the more likely you are to be included in their personalized results. That friends is when they’ve got you.
Hundreds of publishers will be doing this, and while you may manage to eeek a little traffic with this tactic what you’ve done is two things. First you’ve become a junkie to the Google traffic pusher. You keep doing exactly what Google wants in hopes they will throw you a little personalized search traffic.
The kick in the ass though is what you’re really doing is helping Google establish a more dominant position. Changing search engines is easy. Changing feed readers is a PIA but still do-able. Changing from Google bookmarks to another service like del.icio.us is still do-able but more problematic. Changing email services is usually just this side of nightmarishly gruesome. Changing search engines, feed readers, bookmarking services, and email all at one time is borderline masochistic.
In case you missed it Google is using you. Using you to help them promote their services, hoping you’ll take the bite, for a little bit of personalized traffic. Hoping you’ll make other people so dependant on Google’s array of services, the “price” for switching is so unpleasant almost no one will do it … ever.
Say no to personalized search, say no pushing it for a little bit of extra traffic, don’t make yourself more dependant on Google than you already are … in the long run it’s not worth it … really it’s not.