Personalization Skews Search Results

October 2011, Number 126

Ever wonder how Google manages to provide search engine services at no out of pocket cost to you? It’s all about the ads. Along with the list of results, Google serves up advertisements, and the advertisers pay Google for the service. Google ads are chosen especially for you. How, you might well ask, would Google know what kind of ads to show you? They track your search behavior to see what kind of sites and subjects interest you.

They also know what Internet browser software you use. This, along with dozens of other variables that Google will not disclose, gives them a profile that helps target advertising and twek your search results.

To test this assertion, try this. Ask someone you know, maybe the person in the next cubicle, to enter a search in Google at the same time as you do. Use the same search terms entered in the same way. Compare results. If the top 10 hits are identical, let me know. I’ll be quite surprised. I just searched on Canon cameras. At the top of the search results I got an ad for the Canon web site. A photographer in the same building did the same search. His results included four ads from Canon, Sears, Dell, and B&H Photo. My top five search results included the Canon Museum. His did not.

For many searchers the personalization of results does not make a difference and, in fact, may be a good thing. If objective search results matter to you, try the following:

  • Use multiple browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.
  • Use multiple search engines including Bing, Blekko, and Qwiki.
  • Use “privacy” search engines such as Scroogle, DuckDuckGo, and StartPage.

Happy Searching!

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