Survey: People Largely Negative About Google’s Personalized Search Results

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Last month, market research tool provider Ask Your Target Market surveyed 400 US adults about their attitudes toward personalized search on Google. The results were reported today in eMarketer’s email newsletter. We went back to the source to check out the survey and discovered that the majority of respondents expressed ambivalence or outright dissatisfaction about Google’s new more personalized search results.

The first question asked was about the primary search engine used by respondents.

Primary search engine:

Source: AYTM, n=400 (1/12)

Then the survey explored respondents’ attitudes toward search personalization and Google+ participation.

Do you like the idea of personalizing search results based on past searches and info from your social networking sites?

Source: AYTM, n=400 (1/12)

A minority said yes (15.5 percent) they liked search personalization. But a clear majority were ambivalent or hostile to the idea (84.5 percent). Within that majority 45 percent said they did not want search results personalized at all. Of the three types of responses the “nos” were the dominant category.

There were two other survey questions fielded by AYTM about Google+:

  • Do you use Google+?
  • Would you be more likely to use Google+ if you knew you would get more tailored search results?

To the first question (Do you use it?) 19.3 percent responded “yes,” and another 20.3 percent said they had accounts that were not really used. The other 60.4 percent said they did not have Google+ accounts or said that they didn’t know what it was.

In terms of whether more people would use Google+ if they knew it helped personalize their results, 7.5 percent said “yes” they would be more likely to use it. However 44.4 percent said “no” and 48.1 percent said “maybe.”

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 generalized, represent a pretty strong negative reaction to the new direction Google is headed.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: I wanted to add that with a further follow-up, it probably would have been incredibly easy to turn the 45% who said “No, I think everyone should see the same results” into a much smaller number.

For example, if the question had been: “When searching for football, do you think Americans and Europeans should see the exact same results?,” that probably would have given respondents reason to think further about the advantages to personalization.

Of course, the personalization in that case tend to be geographically-based (Americans would be more likely to see NFL information; Europeans about local soccer teams). But there are other examples where past history and social connections can help. That’s one reason why Bing, just like Google, uses both factors.

My experience has been that no one seems positive about any company wanting to personalize things for them when you ask. I always put the blame on this to Amazon, because of that one purchase you make that Amazon assumes means you are completely interested in that product forever going forward.

In addition, I don’t think people like the idea that any company could somehow “figure them out” and somehow assume it could personalize things for them.

But emotion aside, personalization can help (and can hurt), and it’s all about getting the balance right. I’d highly recommend anyone interested in more to read a post from Google last year about why it does personalization, as well as “The Filter Bubble” from Eli Pariser, which takes a critical look at personalization in general. Also see SMX East Keynote: A Conversation With Eli Pariser.

The topic of personalization will also be covered in-depth at our upcoming SMX West search marketing conference in San Jose Feb. 28-March 1, in these sessions:

Related Topics: Featured | Google: Google+ | Google: Privacy | Google: Search CustomizationGoogle: Search Plus Your World | Top News

About The Author:  is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him@gsterling