On January 28th, Danny Sullivan published an interview with Amit Singhal (Google Software Engineer) discussing the initial reaction to Google’s personal search engine ‘Search Plus Your World’. It is now two weeks since the product was integrated into Google search and there has been a huge backlash from the SEO blogosphere with criticism all round for Google ruining search and promoting their own products.
In the interview with Search Engine Land, Singhal defends Search Plus Your World with the assertion that ‘real’ users actually enjoy the new feature and that bloggers are concentrating too much on popular users such as celebrities. Singhal’s point is actually backed up when Danny Sullivan asks about the results for Britney Spears.
How many people can actually say Britney Spears is part of ‘their world’? I think many bloggers (including us) have really missed the aim of Search Plus Your World. It is not about finding the most relevant result for finding celebrities or buying a toaster, it is about finding results based on your friends. This is where the distinction between bloggers and ‘real’ users comes in. Singhal distinguishes between the two because he believes ‘real’ users do benefit from SPYW as their results are based on personal relationships and not what Google think you should see.
This also explains why Search Plus Your World is limited to Google+ results. When Sullivan asks ‘What do you need from companies like Twitter and Facebook to integrate them into Search Plus Your World?’ he is reflecting the assumption that all Google want to show is links to profiles. This would actually be quite easy to do – as shown by the “Don’t Be Evil” Tool – a browser tools that changes the SPYW results to show links to other social networks. However, the new results don’t seem to draw content from these other social networks and only produce public results.
That’s not the aim of SPYW. Google want users to be able to search within their private social sphere – content made available only to them by their friends. To integrate Twitter and Facebook into SPYW Google would need access to private user content to make it searchable.
SPYW is not about finding out the most relevant profile for Britney Spears, it is a way to find out what your friends and connections think about topics and interests. In my mind, the best result for Britney Spears in SPYW would not be her Twitter or Facebook page, or even her Google+ account – you can find those pages in global search. The most relevant results would be those posted by your friends. Posts they have written mentioning the singer, videos they have posted, pages they have liked/tweeted/+1′d.
As Amit Singhal says Google are ‘clearly not done’, Search plus Your World has a long way to go and must appease search bloggers in some way. Explaining that the search service is for ‘individuals’ rather than ‘popular people’ is unlikely to do so. Search marketers want their website and social media profiles appearing before everything else. This way they can control what people see. If somebody searches your brand and ends up your website you can sell yourself however you want. You can hide negative criticism and scammers can hide behind a well designed site.
SPYW makes brand reputation vital. If my friend’s rant about how much he hates a product appears in my search results before the product’s own website then I’m unlikely to buy it. Suddenly the focus turns to creating great products and managing brand reputation, not just weaning your way to the top of search results with a dodgy product while ignoring real customer feedback.
Google wants user relevancy, users want to hear what their friends think, not what businesses want them to think. This gives small businesses a chance to shine. A company that creates an incredible product but don’t have the finances to compete with global corporations when it comes to online advertising, should see a huge increase in traffic and sales if Amit Singhal’s ‘real’ people are talking about them.
This is a step forward for the internet, right?
SEO is still important as people will still use global search results to find information. Perhaps Google’s biggest mistake is to make SPYW the default search setting for logged in users rather than an option. This would have made it less obtrusive and wouldn’t have upset so many people.
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