Google Adds Your Click Path to Search Personalization

You know how when you install the Google toolbar and enable the PageRank feature, it gives you the warning on the EULA that this is not your typical legal  Yada yada?  Ever wondered what they were doing with all that information that’s being streamed back to a Google server somewhere?  Well, today Google announced just what they intend to do with it.  They’re going to use it to personalize your search results.  At least that’s what they’re going to do today. Tomorrow, who knows?

I just had a walk-through with Marissa Mayer and Sep Kamvar of Google’s new plans for personalization.

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In a nutshell, it will take the information gathered through the Google toolbar and use that, in combination with your search history, to personalize your search results.  Up till now only your past search history was used.  Enabling Web history, which is what Google is calling this, is very much a “opt in” process.  Google wants to get a small beta test bed of users so they can get a data set large enough to let Sep Kamvar, the person behind Google’s personalization algorithm, see what he can do with this additional rich set of data. Marissa indicated that this would increase the transparency of the data that Google was collecting about you. Based on the below screenshot you should be able to see exactly the sites that you visited in the past.

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If you want to see the nitty-gritty on what it means to sign in  or sign out of web history and what it will look like on the search results page, I would suggest checking out Danny Sullivan ever growing blog post on Searchengineland.  This is breaking news so I haven’t had much of a chance to put my thoughts together.  Like Danny, I’m “growing the post” as I find out more.  I’m going to be going back over my notes with Marissa because I think there’s some pretty significant implications for both users and advertisers in this.

In a column earlier this month I talked about Google moving towards behavioral targeting across their network and this is a huge missing piece.  I asked Marissa specifically about whether behavioral targeting of advertising based on the data collected through the toolbar would take place.  In her words, they want their organic search results to be “a little bit ahead of the curve” but overall, they want their search ads and their search results to be aligned in relevance, which means they need to be listening to the same signals.  Increasingly these will be coming from Google’s personalization algorithm.

Until I get a chance to blog more, here’s a little food for thought.  I had previously posted about Google moving towards behavioral targeting.  For me this makes all kinds of sense.  And there I speculated about what Google might be doing with all that data it collects through the PageRank toolbar.  Again, I seem to be reading my crystal ball into the future because just a few weeks later I got the call that Marissa wanted to talk to me.  And when Marissa Mayer wants to talk to you, you should listen, because it generally means something important is happening at the Googleplex.  So when you start putting pieces together, including this new move to personalization with including Web history, Google’s recent acquisition of DoubleClick, and the ability to behaviorally target people across both are contextual and DoubleClick network, not to mention the search results page, you start to get a picture of where they may be taking this.  There’s a lot more thought required here and I’m going to be trying to carve some time aside tomorrow morning to do another post on this.  I obviously want to look at this from the user perspective.  I think, although they’re limiting this to a beta and it’s very much an opt in process, this will renew the calls against personalization that have been coming from critics around the Web.  Marissa indicated that right now they’re going to be sticking to their threshold of two personal results per page, never knocking out the number one organic results, but she made it clear that that’s a “for now” call and will likely change in the future.  Google will move more aggressively towards personalization on more types of searches and they will impact more results.  A few months ago when I did the original post I said that once the gates are open on personalization the dam will burst and there will be no holding it back.  Today’s announcement ups the ante significantly.

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