SEOs Freak Out: Google To Personalize All Search Results

Dec 7, 2009 • 8:13 am | comments (19) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Back in February 2007, Google began personalizing search results based on your search history. Google would do so, only when you were logged in. Now, Google announced they are personalizing search results for everyone, even if you are not logged in.

Google explains:

Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we're doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. It's completely separate from your Google Account and Web History (which are only available to signed-in users). You'll know when we customize results because a "View customizations" link will appear on the top right of the search results page. Clicking the link will let you see how we've customized your results and also let you turn off this type of customization.

This is big stuff for the SEO world. No matter how much we complained earlier that the personalized search results made it hard to "optimize" for, this only impacted a fraction of all Google searchers. Most people had no idea how to even log into Google. Now, Google is personalizing results by default and these same people will have no idea how to turn off personalization. So now all these users will see different results, on some level, and it does impact the SEO space - more so than when Google launched this in 2007.

SEOs, most of them, are mad. Let me quote some of the more trusted names in our forums:

Cre8asite Forums:

So let me get this straight: to completely opt-out, you'll have to login permanently? Which moron came up with that scheme?

Wow... this is really going to overly favor websites like amazon and ebay that already have a huge reach.

The rich will get richer.

HighRankings Forums:

Google is using a "secret cookie" not attached to the domain to handle the Web History/Personalized Search for users who are not logged in.

The gradual impact over time will be that unaware users who click on Google search listings will reshape their search results. Unless Google develops some sort of injection to show people new (fresh) content, discovery will become more difficult for less sophisticated users.

Good news for Randy and 1dmf's Google Rank Extractor. And also for moving people further and further away from traditional rank checking as a measure of success.

DigitalPoint Forums:

Google are there to find ways to best meet the needs of the searcher. As much as we want them to be, they are not there to meet our SEO needs.


The possible impact to all is staggering.

This just feels so very wrong-headed that the mind boggles! As I often explain to IT staff, NOT EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE PROGRAMMED SHOULD BE PROGRAMMED.

Sounds like an attempt at a product improvement. SEOs may or may not like it, but the real question is whether Joe Searcher likes it. If Joe does, Google will remain one big step ahead of its competitors. If Personalized Search turns out to be Google's answer to Windows Vista, Google will need to bring back Google XP or leapfrog to Google 7.

Danny Sullivan has an excellent write up about this at Search Engine Land, he doesn't seem to touch on the SEO view of this.

Honestly, if this makes Google more relevant for their searchers - all power to them. I am not going to say I know what is better for the average searcher. They can quickly figure this out after days and decide to keep it, turn it down, or off completely. SEOs will adapt, like they always do - we are a strong and smart bunch - I am not worried.

Forum discussion is plentiful and it is at Cre8asite Forums, HighRankings Forums, DigitalPoint Forums and WebmasterWorld.

Previous story: Google Custom Search Engine Sitemaps Display Bug


Michael Butler

12/07/2009 02:19 pm

If I understand this correctly (and I may not), personalized search only affects the individual. They evolve that one individual's search results over time based on their choices -- the individual's actions wouldn't affect the global search engine ranking [that much].

Barry Schwartz

12/07/2009 02:25 pm



12/07/2009 03:43 pm

Would it work out this way? If a sites base ranking is say 7th, then if it is worse as a site than the rank indicates (irrelevant result), it will go down (10th pos or 2nd page) as it will be irrelevant for more users than relevant. For sites ranking lower than what they are worth, in the long term they should on average move up (4th or 5th place). Obviously this would mean for new users this site would be exposed more if good and less if not. For those already with personalized results, the site would be as they chose it to be.


12/07/2009 04:10 pm

What i am wondering, is how in the future a new website can score a high position in the SERP, when everything is personalised. How will Google treat these kind of websites?

Michael Martinez

12/07/2009 06:40 pm

Beany, personalized search is affected by click-throughs and repeat uses of the same query. The major search engines claim that 20-25% of all queries have never been used before. New sites can still be seen. But in popular queries the clicking activity may make it difficult for new, high value content to obtain visibility unless Google makes some room for new content.


12/07/2009 08:34 pm

Hopefully only a couple of the first page results will be personalised and the majority will be the same for all. Otherwise it's going to be a very awkward 2010 for a lot of us SEOs.

Andy M.

12/07/2009 10:01 pm

Let the change come! I'm happy to see things shake up a little. I'd rather take the "adapt and survive" route than the "throw a fit" route.


12/07/2009 10:51 pm

I don't think this is going to have a big as an effect as this is hyped up to be.

Bill Sebald

12/08/2009 01:52 pm

If it's like personalized search as it stands now (when you're logged in), it doesn't sound like something to completely freak out about. Some of the forum reactions were interesting. I use personalized search. As a user I like it. As Michael Martinez said, it's really only on those keyphrases that you search over and over. When it happens, I don't know if I can ever say that I've seen more than one or two listings change while logged in. Again, "when it happens". I feel like my experience doesn't change too often with personalized search now. And I use Google a lot! So yeah, for traditional SEO it does make things a little more difficult. For more modern SEO it's not really a big deal.

Diego Velasquez

12/08/2009 03:40 pm

Is searching in Chrome's Incognito mode a way of bypassing the special cookie and therefore obtaining search results that are unbiased/untainted by the searcher's previous search history?

Mihir Lakhani

12/08/2009 04:58 pm

lets wait n watch, some genius brain will find a way out for SEOs ;-)

Justin Freid

12/08/2009 05:50 pm

Some way or some how a very resourceful SEO will find a way around this. It is just another thing for us all to work around and eventually use as an advantage just as we did with blended search.

Jaan Kanellis

12/09/2009 03:43 pm

"the individual's actions wouldn't affect the global search engine ranking [that much]." Sure not by themselves, but if a million indivudals start choosing one site over another to rank that will change the overall SERP for query. Personalized search for each desktop has to start somewhere so everyone has the same base starting point. It would be interesting if out o the box your computer was already biased towards certain results.

Juliette Cowall

12/10/2009 06:01 pm

If I understand correctly, my personal search for restaurants will give me results that are based on previous searches. What if want to try a different cuisine or I'm tired of where I've always gone? And what's a new restaurant supposed to do?

Arihant Kothari

12/17/2009 06:15 pm

A small hyperlink "Personalized Search" besides the usual hyperlinks on could have solved the problem Juliette pointed out.


12/28/2009 06:35 pm

I am not a SEO or a website owner, however I don't like it either because I want to see new content and something new that I have'nt seen before. If I wanted to visit the same websites, I would go to their urls directly, but when I use Yahoo or Google search, I want to find something new.

Camella Lobo

02/03/2010 09:52 pm

Hey there! If you're an SEO who is still frustrated by clearing your cookies and being constantly opted back in to personalized search, we just developed a Firefox add-on that automatically opts you out of personalized search, whether signed in or out of Google. It's great for SEOs who do a lot of research for clients. Download here: Feel free to download and give us some feedback on it! Thanks!

Justin Freid

03/19/2010 02:38 am

I would be interested in a follow up post on this subject. We have seen a ton of issues arise with personal search and privacy come up over the past few months.

Milos Cvjeticanin

11/17/2012 12:53 pm

I am the Joe Searcher and I absolutely DISLIKE personalized search results, be it Google or Youtube!!!

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