Google, the great SERP-ent slayer

By Kylie Robertson, Communications Officer, Calgary

Just as Facebook is the top-of-mind brand when anyone mentions social media, Google has become our ubiquitous search engine tool through many years of hard work and very little marketing. In fact, "to Google" is now a verb in Webster's dictionary.

Being that they dictate most of the terms by which we search the Internet for information, any updates to Google's algorithms have massive implications to individuals or companies trying to optimize their content for search engine results.

Being at the top of the search engine results page, or SERP, is the goal for many search engine optimization (SEO) experts. Having your link appear at the top of a user SERP means that your content is doing its job, and your behind-closed-doors SEO efforts are paying off.

I recently attended a conference in New York called BlogHer, and sat in on a session about making the most of your web traffic using SEO strategies. One topic of discussion was a recent upgrade to the Google algorithm (called the "Penguin" update), and how it changed SERP into something much more individual.

Search, plus Your World was rolled out by Google at the beginning of this year, and has the ability to change the way your search engine query results are displayed by showing not just the outside content for the terms you're looking for, but information and links personalized just for you. The three biggest changes, according to Google, is that you can now find:

  1. Personal results, which finds information tailored just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts (both your own and those shared specifically with you), that only you will see on your results page;
  2. Profiles in search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you're close to or might be interested in following; and,
  3. People and pages, which helps you find individual's profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. (Because behind almost every query is a community.)

But just think of the doors that this may open in terms of big data mining and truly personalized search results pages. Google, as you are no doubt aware, already uses the information attached to your accounts to tailor ads to your interests. Imagine if they mined every search query you've ever run, gathered information from your Google+ profile, YouTube account, and Gmail settings, and used this information to show Google search results that best match (according to their analysis, anyways) what you're looking for.

This may not be too far away, given the direction of the latest updates. You want an update on that news story you've been following? Well, here's a link to an article that is similar in tone and style to the ones you've read already. Need tips on baking and cooking? You've searched "easy" and "for dummies" so many times with "food," here's the simplest version of the recipe you need (and I know I've searched those terms…).

Are we moving towards a truly personalized Internet experience? Or is Google trying too hard to become a second consciousness, using data to give us what it thinks we want? Can't algorithms and math be fooled? And where is the line between helpful and harmful? How will excluding some search results for certain people change perceptions on major issues?

Leave a comment or connect on social media to let us know what you think.