Many people don't realize that all of those toolbars that you install in your browser do more than offer you handy links to your favorite search engine. In fact, they also track your online usage.
While some people don't mind, there are others who prefer to remain anonymous online.
So it should come as no surprise that many of the companies that offer toolbars are now (and have been for some time) gathering your habits in order to better serve you advertising.
There are a couple of inherent flaws in this logic however. One is that the toolbar can't get an accurate representation of your total online usage. Recent studies show that the majority of time spent online is done through chat programs.
In addition, there are other sources of online information, such as internet media (movies/videos/internet radio), which people take advantage of.
So while search engines monitor your online habits via the browser bar, they aren't necessarily getting a complete profile of all of your online habits. To some this may be a good thing. After all, we don't really want them gathering all that information about us do we?
The other flaw which I see, perhaps an even larger problem with this whole "serving ads based on your preferences" scheme, is that there is a huge potential for this information they are gathering to be used in other ways. Perhaps not in your best interest.
A recent study shows that globally, we perform anywhere between 30 and 40 searches per month on average using a search engine. When you factor in that many people do not find what they want in the first search, and tend to refine and refine until they get it, that's a lot of unnecessary search traffic.
Instead, search engines should be using the data they gather to improve their search experience. I'm sure some engines are doing this, but most of the new products nowadays are designed not to improve your search experience, but to serve you ads.
Kanoodle recently partnered up with a company that does this, and most of the big engines are either doing this, or looking into it.
Of course, serving targeted ads is an excellent way to boost revenue, but perhaps the engines could look at using some of the data to improve the users search experience. So that when you perform a search for "appliance repairs" on a search engine, the engine is smart enough to know that you are looking for information on repairs as opposed to parts, because of your search history.
Of course many engines, like Google, have been gathering this type of data via their Google Toolbar for some time now, and I'm sure they are trying to improve the results based on some of the data collected, but again the changes they make are based on aggregate data and not necessarily your personal preferences.
This, to me, is the next logical step for a search engine - to provide accurate information relevant to your search, not just search in general. And not a personalized search that you have to set up before it works properly, but one that learns what you prefer as time goes on.
June 21, 2004
Rob Sullivan is the production manager at Enquiro, Canada's leading search engine marketing firm and one of the top firms in North America. His articles are routinely displayed in other portals on the web including Enquiro's own information portal www.searchengineposition.com.
Rob has developed an in depth knowledge into organic search engine marketing. Rob's knowledge and experience in organic search engine marketing have helped his clients' sites experience above average growth in visibility and visitors.