Google+ users have overwhelmingly given a collective thumbs down to personalised search results
Google is facing a potential user backlash after a survey of 400 American Internet users found the overwhelming majority prefer Google search results to remain impersonal rather than personalised.
AYTM Market Research asked Web users if they liked the idea of personalised search results, which is a particularly poignant question at this stage in Google’s evolution. Some 45.4 percent of respondents said they preferred to see the same search results as everyone else, which would seem to dent Google’s plans to inject social media content into its own search results.
Google, the dominant US search engine with some 66 percent market share, last month launched “Search, plus your world,” a play to inject topical Google+ posts and photos into users’ search results on Google.com.
For example, a user searching for the term “New York Mets” on Google.com would see content they’ve created about the baseball team, as well as posts and photos created by friends who have chosen to share their content with the searcher on the Google+ social network. The idea is that Google is making people a major part of the search equation to boost personal relevancy.
Yet if AYTM’s small poll is to be believed, most people don’t like this personal search approach. Of those surveyed, only 15.5 percent said they would like personalised search results, while 39.1 percent said that while they might like such results, they were also concerned with privacy.
While US senators and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have expressed concern about how Google user privacy might be impacted by Search, plus your world, Google employs Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption to personal results. Google has also made sure to mark personal results with specific designations used on Google+, including brandings for Public, Limited or Only you.
There is also a new toggle switch in the upper right-hand corner of search results pages where users can see what results look like without personal content. So privacy isn’t as much a concern, perhaps, as the fact that Google has also chosen not to include social content from Facebook and Twitter in Search, plus your world.
This is the result of some complicated and contentious negotiations that failed to bear fruit. Interestingly, while people may be concerned about Google+ on the whole, most aren’t using it.
The social network has around 90 million registered users, but 41 percent of those surveyed said they don’t use Google+. Less than 20 percent of those surveyed by AYTM said they actively use Google+, and another 20 percent said they have a Google+ account but don’t use it.
Yet another 19.5 percent said they don’t even know what Google+ is, underscoring how much more marketing Google must do to make its social network a household brand like Facebook, which has roughly 850 million users and recently filed for a $5 billion (£3.2bn) initial public offering.
Moreover, only 7.5 percent of those surveyed by AYTM said they would use Google+ if they knew it helped personalise their results, while 44.4 percent said they would not and 48.1 percent said they might use Google+ if they thought it would help.
While that doesn’t sound very encouraging, Search Engine Land, which detailed the AYTM data, put the issue in perspective:
“It’s important to point out that this is just one survey, and it’s not clear how representative the survey population was of the entire US adult population. It’s also important to observe that people often react negatively to change. However, these results, if they can be generalised, represent a pretty strong negative reaction to the new direction Google is headed.”
Indeed, eMarketer, which published AYTM’s results on its Website, chimed in: “Google faces an uphill battle as it works to connect its social content to search results, including determining how users prefer to connect the two.
What’s clear is that Google has its work cut out for it in all facets of social, from growing membership and user engagement to successfully preaching and upholding user privacy concerns.