Monday, April 21, 2008

Google Personalized Search

Google Personalized Search means that Google gives you unique search results based on your Web History. If you and I are both logged into our Google accounts and we both have Web History, we might get different Google search results even if we used identical keywords.

You may have been getting Google Personalized Searches and not realized it. How do you know if you have Personalized Search? If you're signed into your Google account and do a search, you will see these links on the top right :

Web History - My Account - Sign Out

Google Personalized Search changes your search results by giving a boost in the search results to the types of sites you have previously searched for and selected from Google search results, especially if you have visited these sites often. Google will also boost sites and pages that Google's algorithm determines are related to those you are already visited.

There are actually three things that influence your Personalized Search results:

Personalization is subtle—at first you may not notice any difference. But over time, as the search engine learns your preferences, you'll start to notice some differences.

Here is an example of how Personalized Search could work. Three different people may do a search using the keywords Civil War. The first person's web history shows a majority of genealogy searches and this person will get Civil War search results with a genealogy slant. The second person's web history shows that they are mostly interested in Civil War re-enactments and they will get served search results that are re-enactment related. The third person's web history shows that they are mostly interested in history, and, you guessed it, their results will have an emphasis on Civil War history. Subtle but each person received better results for their needs.

Sometimes, Personalized Search is very helpful in genealogy research by helping us find sites that are similar to sites we regularly frequent. I'm usually pleased to have my search results have a slight genealogy emphasis.

But sometimes having the sites you regularly visit always appear at the top of the search results may get in the way of finding new sites. In that case, log out of your Google account (top right link) and perform the search again to get slightly different results.

To see the difference in your search results with Personalized Search, do a little experiment. Search for the keyword genealogy while logged into your Google account. Take note of the first ten results. Then, log out of your Google account and perform the same search again. Note the top ten results and compare these results to your first search. When I do this, only two of the ten results are the same. Since my results are unique to me, you may find something completely different.

If you want Personalized Search and don't have it, all you need is a Google Account. If you have an existing Google Account and want to activate Web History to enable Personalized Search, visit

One additional point to make: I've been on RootsWeb mailing lists where people suggest to search for a particular term on Google and look at the "4th result". Now that you understand about Personalized Search, you will see that my 4th result and someone else's 4th result will probably be completely different. Better to give the name of the site that you see as the "4th result".

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