This article was written a few years back. I keep it here for historical purposes so that you can see how much has changed in a very short amount of time.
Personalized search is a hot topic especially since Yahoo! and Microsoft have announced they are aggressively developing this service. Most likely, people will be leery of personalized search if they think that this is just be another way for companies to market to them. Search engine research has shown that there are typically two types of searchers: information seekers and buyers. Information Seekers
If personalized search is to work for the information seekers, then instead of lots of targeted marketing, the personalized search experience had better offer targeted information that the person can use. A better information search experience without having to bypass a slew of commercial sites would appeal to the information seeker.
What if you already have the information you need or don’t want any information, but just want to make an online purchase? For buyers, information-only sites are something to be by-passed in the SERP’s. If personalized search can deliver the products and services the buyer wants, and not just what the marketers want to push before them, then buyers may find some value in personalized search.
Personalized search must involve personal choice if it is to succeed. The Big Brother and privacy issues need to be held to a minimum. Personalized search needs to be an option that can easily be turned on and off as desired. Personalized search should not be equated with limited choices. The person needs to feel that they are in control and not the search engines. They also need to see real personal value in using this service.
What if a person is sometimes an information seeker and other times a buyer, or in the matter of seconds they switch hats? How will personalized search accommodate this person? Will the person have to toggle back and forth between a couple of different user profiles or click on and off a checkbox to switch between these two different forms of search? These are questions the SE’s will have to address in personalization.
Google has a beta personalized search engine that is pretty interesting to test. You’re told to click on Health, then the General Health checkbox and search for “stanford.” When searching for the word “bob” instead of “stanford” at the Minimum Personalize setting the first three results are “Bob the Builder,” “Bob Marley” and “Bob Dylan”. The rest of this page has no health related information on it as well. But, when the slider is pulled to Maximum Personalize, “Dr. Bob” has the first two positions followed the other results mentioned above. Its obvious Google has a ways to go in developing this.
If personalized search is to succeed, then personal privacy issues need to be addressed and concerns held to a minimum. Will personalized search involve searching your hard drive to see what your interests are? Will your interests be stored in a cookie on your computer? What happens when multiple users share a computer – will someone else get hit with all sorts of Preparation H advertisements because of the hemorrhoid treatment searches you wanted to keep private? And will children be affected by adult personalized searches?
These are all questions that the SE’s need to address so that people do not feel that their privacy is being violated or put at risk. The more control and choice the user has over personalized search the more likely it has in succeeding for the search engines.