Top Ranking in Google Isn’t Top Rank Anymore

    February 14, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

“The top position is no longer winner-take-all,” Bryan Horling, a Google software engineer in charge of Personalized Search, told the SMX West audience in Santa Clara California. After a decade of trying to claim that prize, that may or may not be good news to some.

(Coverage of SMX West continues at WebProNews Videos.  Keep an eye on WebProNews for more notes and videos from the event this week.)

Horling spoke to a crowd looking to get a better understanding of personalized search and Google’s SearchWiki, launched last November, which allows users to customize and comment on Google search results. When logged into their personal accounts, users can move results up or down or remove them altogether.

That’s potentially bad news for webmasters who’ve earned or gamed their way to the top of the results, and probably very good news for those unable to crack the result that gets the vast majority of click-throughs and visibility.

The reasoning behind the feature is fairly obvious: Not one result works for everybody. This SMX session was opened with a Google search for “smx,” a prime example of the ambiguity associated with search. Results bring back the conference at the top of course—this is an SEO/SEM conference—and even the second result, but some users may be looking for the Santa Maria Airport (SMX on their ticket), or for Smithway Motor Xpress for freight trucking.

Bran Horling
Bryan Horling

SearchWiki manager Corey Anderson says there are other reasons Google was interested in personalized search. SearchWiki allows the search giant to conduct user studies in the field and crunch user feedback. After a few months of operation, Google has discovered that a large fraction of users are attempting to re-find websites previously visited, Anderson said. They also discovered users liked the ability to add, delete, re-rank and comment on search results.

“Many searches are inherently ambiguous,” added Horling. “Getting the right results sometimes calls for information about the user.”

There are positive and negative aspects of personalized results for the search engine marketing industry. On the negative side, personalized search makes it harder to collect metrics—personalized results are password protected, after all.

On the positive side, it makes it easier for users to find websites they like and match their intent. And that’s good for return business/visits, and, presumably, for conversions.