Google’s quiet rollout of new personalization features

Google’s quiet rollout of new personalization features

Google made quite a few significant announcements this year about its search—headlined by real-time search, a new animated homepage and a magazine layout for images in Universal Search. For retail, they launched product ads and an e-commerce site search. But, tucked midway into this week’s blog post on search is a brief announcement that deserves greater attention than such a limited mention would suggest.  Google introduced “Extended Personalized Search” which personalizes your Google search results to activity linked to your browser’s cookie, including queries and results you click—regardless of whether or not you are signed in to your Google account or have Google toolbar enabled. Google calls the new functionality in this scenario “signed-out personalized search.” Conversely, should you be signed into your account, you receive “signed-in personalized search.” You can read the full description of the two categories here. Long story short, Google has succeeded in quietly rolling out a feature that search engine guru Danny Sullivan is calling “the biggest change that has ever happened in search engines.”  The full article can be found here.

This new search functionality is by no means Google’s first venture in 1-to-1 personalization. Earlier this year, Google released a beta feature called “interest based advertising” (a more user friendly pseudonym for a fairly standard application of behavioral targeting) on YouTube and partner sites. Instead of ads being based on your interests at a specific moment, they are associated with categories of interest—derived from the types of sites you visit and the pages you view. Users can visit a fairly innocuous page to customize what Google considers interest categories.

An even quieter rollout?

Earlier this week, Yahoo also announced interest based advertising. While media attention focused on this announcement, I noticed another unpublicized change in my regular www.motherhood.comGoogle experience. It appears that Google has now extended its preliminary, beta release of interest based advertising beyond just YouTube and partner sites (they hinted at a late 2009 increased expansion at the time of the original release). Ads that are not directly relevant to my search queries, but are related to previous browsing activity, now show up alongside results. For example, after visiting, Google ads for the site appeared for a completely unrelated search term—“sms alerts shopping.” (For anyone wondering, nope, we’re not pregnant again! ☺)
These developments indicate that Google is shifting its direction. The company has always outgrown or redefined its own labels (Eric Schmidt is quoted as defining it in not one but four ways: an advertising company, an end-user system, a giant supercomputer, and last but not least a social phenomenon).

As Google’s friendly, informational video for personalized search confidently says, “At Google we’re working hard to make sure it’s easy for you to find the information that’s relevant for you and we hope that this is a big step in that direction.”

Indeed, it is a big step, but only time will tell in what direction Google is headed. Long gone are the days of the straightforward search engine. And it should be no surprise that we at {rr} are lauding the transition. We’ve proven the value of behavioral data if used appropriately—I guess Google agrees.

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This post was written by David Selinger

ABOUT David Selinger
David is CEO and founder of RichRelevance. He first garnered international recognition as an expert in the field of eCommerce data analytics and personalization with his groundbreaking work leading the research and development arm of Amazon’s Data Mining and Personalization team. In that role, David increased Amazon’s annual profit by over $50 million (25% of US profit, 2003) setting the industry standard for recommendation services. To view David's full profile, click here.
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