Aug 21, 2007

SES Day II - Personalized Search & User Generated Content

I've decided to focus on a number of very specific themes which I've observed at SES San Jose. There are many, well informed and knowledgeable individuals providing commentary on SEO Optimization, Search Engine Marketing and several other industry trends. I'd like to provide some insight on a handful of subjects, which I think are still evolving and certainly seemed to dominate some key sessions at SES San Jose. The key theme that I"m noticing is that the idea of Personalized Search and the power of User Generated Content - seems to be driving the Search Engine landscape, as never before. Universal / Blended Search (GUS), as Search Engines way of providing more "relevant" results by giving users a vareity of interesting features. Consumer Reviews and other User Generated Content, are very useful from a Personalization stand point. The key objective of Personalized Search being to provide results as close to Searcher Intent, as possible.

Gordon Hotchkiss, of Enquiro Search Solutions Inc. provided his insight on Personalization and Personalized Search. He contends that as Search Engines start to get users personal information, they can aggregate it, mine the data and introduce intersting ways of disambiguating their Search Intent.

Personalization is also influenced by the origin of the Search - smart phones, PCs, Lap Tops all may all represent a different Search Intent, in many cases Search is a task oriented exercise. One interesting question which a lot of people were asking at SES sessions was this - If the natural results are getting better, as a result of improved features like Personalized Search, - will anyone click on the ads?

Search Engagement studies have shown that Users tend to fixate on Imagery - so if Universal Search is delivering more Imagery - be it Celeb Pictures or Video Imagery, how will this impact overall relevance. Personalization of SERP, by surfacing Multi-media features - will certainly change the user experience and impact the relative importance of Page Rank for the top 10 - 20 weblinks.

As Personalization takes hold - the search space becomes a lot more user centric. Searchers provide information on their current tasks, social patterns and overall Search Intent -thruough their Search history.

A number of websites including one from Progressive, are establishing relationships with online prospects and customers -with interactive tools which help drive personalization right at the start of the process funnel. As Personalization evolves, SERPs may take on more of a Search Portal - type structure, with Search Results from different multi-media features, prominently featured on each results page.

So, I get that Personalized Search resutls change based on your perferences. But what if you've never searched for something before? Whose preferences shape your results? In many cases, a site will generate different results for the same query terms - when the queries are generated from different geographic regions. Search Engines are also trying to categorize Search Enine results based on regional differences. Google does a very good job of delivering Market-Specific results for same query terms, when the queries are generated from different geographic regions.

Dave Davies, from Beanstalk Search Engine Positioning, Inc. shared a different take. He reviewed Google Patents as a functrion of personalization and user behaviour. How will user behaviour impact the types of results which you we will receive in future.

Search Engines can watch user behaviour to assess the value of web pages which are displayed throuhg their SERPs. 3 key indicatrs of user behaviour - include: Click tghrough, Time to return to engine and type of query.

Personal PageRank - Judging Your Value
Google will be assiging a value to you as a Search User. Factors for grouping users may include: Membership in common social communities, common bookmarks and common search behavioural patterns, (sites slected and/or behaviour on sites once selected). Jonathan Mendez, offered some key insights on the importance of Behavioural Targetting and Personalization for Search Engine Marketing.
->Nothing performs better than targetting to the intentions of users
-> SEMs need to be recognized as persons who do personalization / targeting
-> Behavioural Targeting is not just about online (display) advertising. Search Engines are getting involved as well

Key Parameters for BT and Personalization may be found in URL Referral Strings including
hl= host language
• safe = safe search preference
• client = browser
rls = results language
• q = query
btnG= search interface

Referral Strings in general, offer very valuable information on Searcher Intent. Online ads can provide even more useful information through Cookies, Ad Group, Ad Creative, Match Type and parameters based on Local features. All of these parameters are very useful as a source for developing personalized content.

In mining Search Reporting data, it's important to Focus on High Impact Segments: This provides a great segmentation base for analyzing BT data. The following segments below are all useful in BT. Behaviour, Source, Temporal and Environment.

Search Engine Commentary On Personalization & BT
Google - strives to answer the users question - regarding, What should I be searching for? Tarot have a horoscope gadget which gets about 37M PVs weekly, it works because they have found a way to showcase very useful content. Yahoo tries to focus on Subjective Search - by leveraging the collective knowledge base of it's users.

But, are we right to equate relevance with the degree of engagement on the SERP? Certainly, this trend makes Search Engine Optimization - more of a challenge. How do Search Marketers get their websites ranked high on Google, when GUS is reshaping the Search Experience. How about the other major Search Engines which are beginning to feature Multi-Media content prominently on their SERPs?

In theory, Personalized Search should provide a better Search Experience. One of Google's key goals is to optimize search results for users, specifically in relation to keywords. Website owners should think about creative ways to showcase content on their sites through different multi-media features (video, local, images and useful, relevant content). It's always a good idea to make your site the authoritative destination for a specific, niche areas. Historically, you could do that with a boatload of great content. Now, it seems that sites will have to get a little creative with regard to how that content is decimated.

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