Monday, 7 December 2009

Increased relevancy in search: Good or Bad?

Buzzing around the web at the mo is lots of debate about Google's decision to roll out "opt out" search personlisation.

To the average consumer that means that they will now / soon have to consciously act to stop Google storing data about their search behaviour. If you have a Google account that means actively opting out of Google storing your web history indefinitely, and if you don't / are not signed in it means you need to choose to block Google's ability to store your search data via cookie for 180 days.  Then again, you might not want to block them out so you can benefit from increased relevancy in the way your search results are displayed. Your call.

Here's a rather geeky video Google posted on their blog to explain the benefits / opt out methods.

Do you feel this is Google being "Big Brother" ish or see the benefit of prioritised search results?

It's an interesting debate, and certainly one that will rage for a while.  I flip between both sides of the fence. I'm obviously interested in how search is evolving, and so trying to ignore quite how much Google know about me, I signed up to the Google Labs Social Search beta a while back...

I can see why daata privacy is a big hairy issue for a lot of people, but I also suspect that it's a bit like when people first started getting mobile phones - it took a while before people got over the issue of trusting a person's mobile number.

I remember lots of people being wary of calling a tradesman who only appeared to have a mobile number, rather than a landline, despite the fact that obviously if you've got a leaking tap, you really wanted to speak to the plumber himself ASAP not wait 'til he got home from work to pick up his messages.  I am sure we'll adapt fairly readily to sharing certain aspects of our digital behaviour if we can see the benefit to our busy lives of having results pre-filtered against either our social graph (friends/contacts), our previous/regular behaviour or, increasingly, our location as we move more and more interchangeably between desktop and mobile searches.

I can't see our lives getting any less busy, so I believe that shortcuts will become more and more important to us, whatever forms they may take. Where that gets interesting as a notion is therefore how brands will be able to play in that space. It means they will have to work hard to build relationships with us, and / or with our friends as the conduits to other people.  Interrupting people via search will get more and more challenging.

To me, the opportunity to initiate those relationships by being useful or entertaining is now. At the moment there's lots of people exploring and open to try new things. True, there will always be some that continue to do so, but I also think that humans being humans, we'll also quickly find that people find a repertoire of "service providers" for certain things and then it will become much harder to get them to swap and try something else unless the current provider fails to deliver. It makes total sense.  We already know that most people have around 8 favourite / default TV channels from the many to choose from, 6-8 websites they visit regularly, so getting your brand on that trusted repertoire list ASAP, whether it's for "go to" stuff or stuff coming to you via an app/RSS/Twitter feed etc is pretty important.

I predict a war of attrition starting in the next 12-18 months with brands fighting each other hard for deeper relationships with the relatively small numbers of wavering consumers. At the minute the field is open, so think about how you can start being useful or relevant to your consumers to start building brand affinity / sign up to apps / services that go beyond just flogging brand benefits to death.  There'll always be a role of traditional offline media like TV for that!

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