It may come as no surprise that in comScore’s Explicit Core Search Share data for February 2012 search authority Google is still at first place with 66.4%, followed by Microsoft sites which include search engine Bing at 15.3% and Yahoo at 13.8%. What is surprising is how Google retained its lead and even gained 0.2 percentage points since January when another survey recently conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project clearly shows that majority of searchers dislike personalised search, a feature which Google has been promoting and which Bing has been quick to emulate.
In comScore’s Search Query Report, Google also took the lead with 11.7 billion queries followed by the same runner-ups: Microsoft with 2.7 billion and Yahoo with 2.4 billion. In the Pew survey results published on web development news site Mashable, a significant 83% of searchers preferred Google as their search engine of choice, further showing that undeniably, Google has not shifted from its place at the top and hence one reason search engine optimisation companies still focus primarily on the rankings in Google vs. the other search engines.
Alongside these positive statistics though, the Pew survey revealed that of its 2,000 respondents the majority 65% viewed personalised search as bad and limiting to search results one sees. An even larger 73% agreed that search engines keeping track of what you search in order to personalise search results is an invasion of privacy. When asked how they felt about targeted advertising, 68% responded that they were “not okay with it” because of how it tracks and analyses their online behaviour. These negative views toward personalised results have led many SEO experts to wonder, why is Google still doing so well? Since there is relatively little impact the majority of search engine optimisation companies thus continue to focus on Google's search rankings.
TechCrunch concludes that though personalisation has garnered various complaints and criticism from the media and now these staggering statistics, users are not really turned-off by the personalisation of Google Search in the form of Search Plus Your World-- at least not enough to make them switch to another search engine. But according to Search Engine Land Contributing Editor Greg Sterling the reason could lie more on the odd phenomenon that the users - at least those who participated in the Pew survey - did not immediately associate their negative views toward personalisation with Google Search. “In fact,” Sterling notes, “there seems to be a complete disconnect between survey respondents’ positive views of search, and by extension Google, and disapproval of personalization and data mining.” Sterling points out that Pew did not mention Google or Bing in any of the questions regarding personalisation or data mining, which may have been the reason why the respondents did not associate these particular search engines with their responses to personalisation. “However,” Sterling adds, “it would have been very interesting to see the answers to those more specific questions.” The above should make it increasingly clear that not all experts of search engine optimisation agree about Search Plus Your World.
Search Engine Land Editor-In-Chief Danny Sullivan points out that the responses on the survey were specific, but not in giving out names of actual search engines. The responses instead provided some context. Rather than a simple yes or no response, respondents had to choose from answers which identified specific reasons. For example, if one disliked targeted advertising, the response closest to this dislike would be “I’m not okay with it because I don’t like having my online behaviour tracked and analysed,” even if one would have different reasons for disliking it, or not really dislike it that much. Not all respondents may have answered all the questions as well due to the specific nature of the responses available. This may cause some minor disparity in the results, and might also explain why despite seemingly heavily negative views toward personalisation based on the survey, users still continue to use Google Search frequently.
Sullivan notes that another possible reason for the apparent contradiction of users disliking personalisation but still using Google Search is the users’ belief that they currently have some control over the personalisation of their search results. Based on the survey 38% felt they were “generally aware of themselves” and could control what information about them could be gathered by a website. When asked about the means by which they thought they could do this, 81% said they did it by deleting their web history, 75% used privacy settings of websites and 65% changed their browser settings. According to Sullivan, these methods may not always be effective and could just be giving the respondents a false sense of control which is why, though they dislike personalisation, they aren’t really vehemently fighting it or discontinuing the use of search engines like Google. This is point worthy of noting for all those in the search engine optimisation industry.
The contradiction may be caused by any number of reasons, but it could also be very simple- perhaps people are not really against personalisation, but are just wary of the possible negative effects it could have, and unaware of its benefits. Sullivan delivers a very good point to this end -“The fact that most people haven’t objected, or gone out of their way to prevent even logged-out personalization from happening, probably means that they really don’t understand the ways that personalization can be helpful.”
“I think when you ask anyone about personalization, the reaction they have will be far more negative than in their actual routine,” Sullivan a leading SEO expert states. “If they’re educated more about it, if you give them more context, a knee-jerk ‘it’s bad’ response can often turn into a ‘maybe.’ I’ve seen this happen when I’ve spoken with people on the topic.” Sullivan still warns that there are privacy issues to be resolved here, but with proper education and with Google recognising these concerns and statistics instead of ignoring them, people’s perception about personalisation could take a turn for the better and finally coincide with Google’s position as the most preferred search engine.
Revised Slightly: 19/06/2012
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