Google rattled a few cages Monday when it began rolling out what it calls the real-time Web and personalized search queries. While it's clear how this will influence people searching for information on Google's engine and how live updates from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace will appear in search query result, it's less clear how the changes will affect marketers' SEO and PPC campaigns.
AimClear CEO Marty Weintraub calls real-time search and Web personalization "huge," an "inevitable evolution" he saw coming for years. The roll-out of the latest feature creates a "seismic explosion with far reaching implications to exacerbate an already difficult reality."
Describing that reality in his dramatic rock-star style, he says that personalization confuses the average users, including some fairly sophisticated marketing pros that already have no idea what they're looking at in query rankings. "Personalized search candy-coats what users like and hate -- polarizing SERPs to the user's predilections," he says.
There's no way for the uninformed to tell what's what, and this rollout makes things messier. Clicking on the competition's results in Google will return more of that competitor's results in the search query until the history of that click lapses.
For those who conduct vanity searches, typing their own name into the search query returns their very own personalized SERPs skewed toward their own site, he says. "Searching unpersonalized [log out of Google services, include the pws=0 variable, opt out of Web history] only tells the story before Google scrambles SERPs for individual people," Weintraub says. "We're pretty much screwed."
Measuring traffic and site conversions that marketers control and analyze will become the best method to evaluate the prominence of organic listings, according to Weintraub. "If organic traffic increases on a page for a specific keyword, then it's reasonable to assume that page's ranking in the 'average' Google result has improved," he says, adding that the opposite is true if traffic decreases. In either case, marketers need to consider mitigating factors.
Search marketers also must learn how to communicate to search novices such factors as seasonality, increased search interest and economic conditions. Weintraub calls it a daunting task because it's rare to find a marketer who can quickly grasp these concepts. Most have no idea how to interpret the data they look at and feel emotional about what they perceive as rankings, he says.
Reliable SEO Founder David Harry says Google has been using behavioral data in AdWords and AdSense products long before it was introduced to the regular search index. This move will likely see more demographic options for advertisers, as well as weaker organic listings moving to the second page. Some of these findings were discussed in a white paper, "A Study of Google Ranking Flux and Personalized Search," on real-time search he published earlier this year.
Harry sees real-time search as a bigger problem for social sites because it could motivate spammers to hit sites harder. "It crosses over more to the social media marketers than SEOs," he says. "They are totally spamable. We played around yesterday spamming the stream and it was quite easy to do. I'd say, shockingly, OneRiot did a better job of filtering out the noise."
Next week, Harry plans to test real-time search with Bing, Google, FriendFeed and OneRiot by running some queries to see how the quality of results stacks up between them.
Real-time streams will likely not influence PPC campaigns because most people don't trust random Twitter posts from people they don't know, Harry says. For the most part, users must trust the listing to click on the paid search ad in the right rail. Anonymous social recommendations don't typically convince people.
Gone are the days where SEOs can, to a certain degree, ignore social media strategies and focus merely on traditional SEO techniques, according to Peter Young, SEO guru at Holistic Search in the United Kingdom. Real-time search could potentially take the SERP ranking position from sites focused on news and information, he says.
Social media has become an integral part of the SEO remit and will directly impact what potential customers see near the brand listing.
Young plans to keep a close eye on the scale of the MySpace integration, and where Google goes from there. Companies vying for the No. 1 ranking in search engine result queries could experience challenges in the ranking of real-time Twitter, MySpace and Facebook feeds and updates.
Pointing to a page streaming Twitter tweets about Tiger Woods as an example, Young says that while Woods isn't a traditional brand, the real-time results from Twitter sits in the middle of the page among the organic search results. If the news trends higher, it could potentially become a problem as results rise to the top, he says.
"I certainly think this will have a more profound impact on results sitting below the Twitter feed and those above," he says. "The scramble for the top positions will become fiercer. That may mean more people invest in PPC to gain more control of their presence."