A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project has revealed that although search engine users are highly satisfied with the quality of search engine results, there is a growing concern about the collection of personal data, and the subsequent personalisation of results.
Personalised Search Results & Data Collection
According to their report, a summary of which you can find here, 65% of search engine users feel that search engines collecting information about your search habits, and using that information to rank future search results is a bad thing. The prevailing reason behind this feeling appears to be the worry that personalised results may limit the information you’ll find online, and the search results you see.
Only 29% said that it was a good thing, in that you’d receive results that were more personally relevant to you. (I assume the remaining 6% didn’t have an opinion.)
73% of respondents additionally felt that data collection for search personalisation was an invasion of privacy, while only 23% didn’t care.
Targeted advertising, which incorporates remarketing or retargeting, essentially involves serving people ads based on their browsing or search history. In the case of remarketing or retargeting, this means serving people who visited your site with your ads, when they’re on other sites, and is usually accomplished by dropping a cookie on visitors who don’t convert, allowing participating sites to serve them ads based on where they’ve been before.
According to this study though, as many as 68% of respondents said that they didn’t approve of targeted advertising, because they didn’t like their online behaviour to be tracked or analysed, even for the purpose of showing them ads for things they’re probably more interested in.
28% said that they were fine with it, for the very same reason: A better chance of seeing things that they might be interested in.
Aside for the privacy issues around advertising and personalised search, people were in general however very happy with search engine results on the whole. However, it appears that only very few users are actually aware of the ways that they can prevent search engines (Google) from collecting information about them, or tracking their browsing or search habits.
This is particularly interesting because I’ve personally seen a marked increase in the (not provided) statistic from Google analytics. Which tells me that even here in SA, there are more and more people searching Google while logged in.
So What Does It All Mean?
Uh, probably nothing. I think it’s unlikely that Google will stop or dial back the personalisation of search results, leaving us with the very real possibility that we’ll be merrily creating our own little filter bubbles, where nothing but what we know and like will ever intrude.
Of course, it’s also something of a nightmare for SEO’s, knowing that ranking well in organic results for one search doesn’t mean that you’ll do as well when somebody else searches.
Can we do anything about it? Not that I can think of, although I welcome suggestions. In the end, we can’t do anything but stick to the fundamentals. Good content, good page construction, and good links. Those are the basic principles, and they still apply, and probably, (hopefully), always will.
(Except for links. Hopefully that will change eventually. But that’s a topic for a different day.)