SMX Recap Day Two: Chasing the Long(er) Tail

Thursday, September 15, 2011
SEnsign

This is part two of a three part series on SMX (Search Marketing Expo) 2011 at the Javits Center in Manhattan. Read part one here.

Have you ever been looking all over for someone only to find out, when you finally locate them, that they’ve also been looking all over for you? If day one of SMX East was all about us search marketers chasing Google and trying to figure out what they’re thinking in Mountain View, then day two was all about Google (and Bing) trying to figure out what all of us (searchers) are thinking. Day two was all about personalized search.

The keynote speaker in the morning was Filter Bubble author Eli Pariser, who essentially delivered the same message he gave at TED 2011 (see it here). Pariser’s point is that Google and Facebook are using behavioral and other signals to filter (read:personalize) what we see on their sites based on what they think we want to see. For Pariser, this is a slippery slope into a world where we’re all just constantly consuming what we want rather than what we need. This, he argues, puts us in a “filter bubble” where our preconceived notions are reinforced, never allowing us to be challenged or expand our horizons.

The customer is always right?

I agree with Pariser that this is a potential problem. People should be cognizant of what information they’re consuming and how. However, Pariser thinks that Google and Facebook should actively do things to somehow give people more of what they need and less of what they think they want. I disagree. This is essentially asking a business not to give its customers what they want. Facebook is a little different, but Google is using personalization to deliver better, more targeted results. You can’t give someone Charlie Rose when they’re looking for TMZ. If they stop getting what they’re looking for from Google, they’ll simply go elsewhere. It is not, nor should it be, Google’s job to get people to eat their digital vegetables.

The point is somewhat moot, because personalized search “is the new normal.” At least that’s what Stefan Weitz from Bing had to say about it in a session on the current state of personalized search. Weitz and co-presenter Jack Menzel from Google explained what their respective engines are doing around personalization and argued against Pariser’s basic point that personalization precludes the serendipity of search. Menzel had a great line about it:

“It’s great that personalization is working for people to the extent that we have this dystopian fantasy about it.”

Adaptive Search

In the session, Weitzel also announced that Bing has launched something called Adaptive Search (read about it and see a video featuring Weitz here). Adaptive search takes the idea of personalization a little further on Bing, making your search history an even more important factor in what you see in the results. This is on top of Bing annotating results with Facebook likes from your friends (and a more complex concept they’re calling “entity collapse” where Facebook likes follow an entity across domains) and Google doing the same with Google+ functionality. Both engines say they’re not re-ranking results based on those social signals, but that is undoubtedly on the horizon.

What does this trend toward personalization mean for search marketers? The biggest implication for SEO is that there is no longer any illusion of a canonical answer to a given search query. Ranking #1 doesn’t mean so much when those rankings look increasingly different from searcher to searcher. (To me, personalized search will be well worth it if it does nothing but pound the final nail in the coffin of the ranking report.)

This level of personalization is creating a bunch of tiny little forks in the long tail. It makes it even more important to have good content that speaks to the multitude of ways your audience is searching for what you have to offer. If personalized search lives up to its promise, it should deliver those people who want what you have to you at just the right time. We’ll see.

Thinking about how to chase that new long(er) tail made for a fascinating day two at SMX. Check back tomorrow morning to see what day three has us all chasing.

If you’d like to find out more, feel free to reach out!