Have you noticed the new symbols — the promote arrows, close boxes, and word balloons — during routine Google searches? In November 2008, Google rolled out SearchWiki, a feature allowing logged-in Google users to organize their search results by moving entries around, deleting results, suggesting new pages to add, and attaching notes to listings. Whether this on-demand personalization of search results is an opportunity or a headache for search marketers may depend on their situation.
SearchWiki brings social media and search a step closer to merger. Google has used social signals to rank web pages for a long time. A webmaster’s choice to link to a site and a searcher’s choice of which result to click are both signals that Google measures and uses to rank pages. Google has said that SearchWiki activities do not affect public search results, but hasn’t counted it out for the future.
As a de facto bookmarking service, SearchWiki may have an adverse effect on competitor assets such as Yahoo!’s del.icio.us and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. With search results as modifiable pages, users have less need for external bookmarking services such as del.icio.us and are less tied to their favorite browsers and browser toolbars. Google appears to be drawing users deeper into the cloud with SearchWiki.
What does this mean for search marketers? As users personalize search results to a greater degree, natural rankings mean even less. Those who have optimized sites by means other than constructing a truly useful site stand to lose traffic. If you show up in the search results where you don’t belong, users may banish your listings, and Google may eventually decide not to list your site anymore. Those who build great sites that attract a loyal following will do even better than ever.
By providing yet more features, Google may increase their market share further, a development that is likely to make search marketers even more nervous about the Google search monopoly. We all like choices, but Google is damn seductive.
As users move more items to the top of their personalized search results, other organic listings will have less visibility. Newcomers to the search marketing game may have to rely more on paid placement to get in front of Google users. For established sites, SearchWiki will help them retain loyal customers by pushing new players to the bottom of the page on personalized search results. Search marketers and business owners may be shocked to see public comments about their web pages on Google. Then again, marketers can put in their two cents, a potential marketing opportunity.
The procedure for accessing comments is somewhat convoluted. Google could improve the value of SearchWiki by making it easier to see comments in the main search results by listing the number of comments available with a link at the search result, rather than making users scroll to the bottom of the page. They could also let users select an option to hide or show some default number of comments. Then again, many users may feel that comments left by anonymous identities lacking reputation metrics have no value. Has Google added comments to their search results as a well-considered move, or did they see a trend and decide to jump on it?
SearchWiki provides useful reputation management information, but also may present new challenges. Marketers who would like to know if users have bumped a site to the top or banished it can find that information on the “All SearchWiki notes” page. But what can a search marketer do if somebody organizes a campaign to add derogatory comments to listings, with as-yet no clear method for requesting the review of potentially abusive comments or vote stacking? There’s lots left to address regarding SearchWiki — it will be interesting to see how Google handles its implementation.