Adverse perceptions of personalised search

In the United States, a revealing survey has been conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Approximately 2,000 individuals were asked about their attitudes to personalised search. Google and Bing have been focusing on personalised search for some time but their arguments have not persuaded users the approach is a positive thing. While British users might feel slightly differently from their American counterparts, SEO services should not ignore these findings. To do so would certainly not be prudent.

At SEO Consult, we focus on the delivery of affordable SEO services. This means we pay very close attention to the news about the sphere of search. Some of the news may be from the United States but that does not necessarily make it irrelevant to the British context. Firstly, the behaviour or tastes of British users might follow patterns similar to trends established in America. Secondly, corporate strategy in Britain can often learn from examples of good practice across the Atlantic.

Search Engine Optimisation services cannot ignore the Pew findings, mentioned above, as they are detailed and illuminating. Significant proportions of users from diverse age groups are hostile to personalised search. They simply do not buy Google’s argument that personalised search is an innocent way of providing more relevant search results. 65 per cent of the sample viewed it as negative and many were alarmed by the implications for the privacy of the individual.

Older, wealthier individuals tended to be less positive about personalised search than younger people with lower incomes. This difference may be connected with the kind of conventional media content consumed by those questioned. If concern about personalised search is highest among affluent groups, this is particularly bad news for Google and Bing. However, the fact that younger people are more relaxed is a positive thing for search engines because these are future target audiences.

Personalised search is a tricky thing for many users to warm towards; the notion of searches being tracked and being used to shape what you see seems wrong to many people. It is clear the search engines want to make money via personalised search but it is not apparent that users gain much in return for what they may perceive as giving up their personal data.

It can be argued that personalised search works to limit the amount of irrelevant information you are likely to discover after typing a query on your search engine of choice. Whether this argument is persuasive arguably depends to a significant extent on your overall attitude to online privacy issues.

Although it seems unlikely that a large number of users will be convinced by arguments which suggest personalised search is a positive step forward, antipathy is probably not strong enough to force people to make use of other search engines. The fact that Google and Bing both use personalised search means that it will not have an influence on the competition between them. It is important to keep an eye on user discontent regarding personalised search in case it becomes more critical over time.

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