Warning: after reading this, you may never look at your phone the same way again.
Over the years, Google has become a very complex and intelligent search engine. From a basic algorithm displaying results based on how often a particular word featured on a page, it’s developed into something very close to artificial intelligence.
With the amount of online content growing at a staggering rate over the past decade or so, the ability to filter pages effectively has become key for search engines to remain usable. As a result Google now understands longer queries, and what sort of answer people want. In other words, they no longer target just relevancy, but expectations also.
Dozens of factors
Google have learned to get around countless tricks to boost visibility and have got to know YOU too, which is kind of creepy but also very useful. That is one of the increasingly prominent aspect of online search I want to talk about here: implicit factors, the additional information you provide to your query without actually typing anything.
What are implicit search factors? There are probably dozens of them, many of which we know little about yet. However, it is obvious location plays an important part.
For instance, If I look up the London Eye from home, I’m likely to get very different results than if I’m standing outside Waterloo station. In one case I’m likely to be looking for historical information or opening hours, while in the other I’m probably seeking directions. Likewise, searches for generic terms such as ‘dentist’ or ‘restaurant’ will display very different results based on what’s nearest you.
Arsenal FC or weapon factories
Your choice of browsing device is important too. Searches on mobile are more likely to be direction orientated as well. Plus, mobile friendliness has become an important aspect of ranking on portable devices, which means you may get very different results across platforms depending on the suitability of particular websites for mobile.
With the emergence of personalised search a few years ago now, your web history also plays a part in what you see online. Your history creates a blueprint of what you’re into, which feeds back into your future searches. Hence, if I search for Arsenal Google already knows to display stuff about my football team. But if my grandad who doesn’t give a shit about football searches Arsenal, he might come across…like, weapon factories? Rubbish example I know, but you get the point.
In a sense, this means your phone or laptop probably know you better than your family and closest friends. Again, that’s rather unsettling. Finally, Google is currently testing new ways to tailor your browser further using implicit search. Not even that, it’s looking to get a step ahead of the game by providing information before you even decide you’re looking for it.
David Cameron’s struggle
For instance, Google Now for mobile is a new app which provides you with information in the form of ‘cards’, pulling data directly from your Google accounts. Yes, this means your emails. As a result, search can return things as intimate as your loved ones’ addresses, your flight booking times, your online purchases and more.
At this point it’s pretty safe to assume Google also accesses your Google Plus account, which would mean even more data to exploit. While this isn’t exactly the end of the world since no one’s ever really used Plus – by the way Google, please give it up now – information from its profiles can be picked up and used too. This includes things you like, your profile descriptions, etc.
Now cards will tell you the weather where they know you’re heading, how much traffic to expect on the journeys they know you’re about to undertake, etc. As the app is still in its infancy, it will most likely develop over time as tons of data get picked up and the algo continues to grow. It may not be branded as cards for much longer, but there is no doubt the future advances in search will continue to come from the integration of personal user data.
So don’t you mind David Cameron’s seemingly continuous struggle to take away your online privacy through sneaky security legislation.
That’s long gone, anyway. Muhahaha 😉