Google Testing “Preferred Sites” Personalization

By Josh Catone
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According to Google Operating System, Google is testing a new search customization option for select users called Google Preferred Sites. If you have access to the service, you’ll find the option on your preferences page when logged in (it isn’t turned on for me).

“The preferred sites feature lets you set your Google Web Search preferences so that your search results match your unique tastes and needs,” explains Google on a help page. “Fill in the sites you rely on the most, and results from your preferred sites will show up more often when they’re relevant to your search query.”

When logged in, your preferred sites will show up higher in matching search query results. For example, if you generally want IMDB results to show up first when searching for a movie, you can add IMDB to your preferred list. Or if you want tech articles from SitePoint to show up for relevant queries, you could do the same for this site.

Alex Chitu at Google Operating system lists some other use cases for Google Preferred Sites, including as a partial replacement for bookmarks, and a way to ensure that obscure sites (such as local news outlets) bubble to the top in your searches. However, I’m torn on the potential benefit of this system.

Search personalization has been a hot topic for Google these days. In November Google launched a feature called SearchWiki that allows users to edit search results while logged in by reordering or removing them, or leaving comments on them. (Google Operating System actually reports that Preferred Sites is an extension of the earlier SearchWiki experiment.)

However, I’m skeptical that editing search results is a good thing. Keeping track of your favorite sites is the job of bookmarks, and searching those bookmarks specifically can be done with third party services like deliGoo. Futzing with search results, though, will just create a different experience for every user, and that might not be such a good thing. Not only does personalized search fundamentally alter the practice of search engine optimization, it makes helping your peers find something online a more difficult prospect. “Just search for it on Google,” doesn’t work as well when everyone’s Google results are different.

On the other hand, Chitu’s use cases for Preferred Sites do make a lot of sense. When I search for a movie on Google, for example, I generally am looking for quick links to a handful of sites — IMDB, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes — adding those to Google Preferred Sites would ensure they come up first.

What do you think? Is Preferred Sites a good idea or a bad one? Let us know in the comments.

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  • This is cool. I wonder though given the direction that Google is heading in with search (personalized search, universal search, etc) if this might all be a precursor to something even bigger the search giant is working on.

    Thoughts, anybody?

  • zuneone

    I stick with for my searches but I think the goog may be on to something here.

  • Good snag Josh! My guess is they are doing the only thing any advertisement supported business can do, creating a “premium” niche product for highly targeted, high conversion type of revenue. Perhaps scared of the concept of Wikia Search etc. The larger issue Dan leads into, is of course maintaining a lead in search no matter what methodology is used, and of course their next generation of Web monitization dominance.

    Just my initial thoughts, but great article Josh.


  • I struggle to see the point of this.

    When searching Google, I want the most relevant results at the top – not a site I like the most. I’d rather go to an obscure site to get the perfect answer to my query rather than a large, popular site and potentially not get as good of an answer.

    Also, if I wanted content from a specific site, why wouldn’t I just search those sites in the first place?

  • You never know… I guess this can be a good thing if people get used to it, but I wouldn’t imagine spending time to tweak such a list… generally I go directly to the sites I have business on. If I don’t know where to go directly then why should I limit my searches on the sites I know only?

    This feature sounds good but is it really good?

  • Personally I think SEO really can damage the quality of the search results you are returned, I was searching for agencies close to me of late and found a company had taken the top ranking on google on a certain search phrase and as far as I could tell the company was situated 1000 miles away from my area and had no real relevant information on anything relating to web development.

    I enjoy searching with stumble upon I always find a good web site with lots of relavant information. So any steps google can take to provide better more on point search results is good in my eyes.

  • It’s fine, as long as they have a little check box that you can tick/untick: “search my preferred sites”.

    Untick, and you search normally. Tick, and they bubble to the top.


  • I think its pointless… unless of course you are always searching for things on a local basis…. but then there are the locals of yahoo etc…
    the whole beauty of a search engine is the serendipity of the results and how often a good or great search engine spits out the right or relevant results…
    otherwise having preferences is like having a preordained directory… sounds like the old “search engines” of yore before google….
    and you can use advanced search to narrow down a lot of parameters without killing the joy of finding the right result…

  • Alex

    it could help google to know who likes what but absolutely irrelevant for me as a user when I perform GOOGLE SEARCH. I need to find smth by keyword as long as possible…and get search results not by GOOGLE’s paid customers but RELEVANCY of what I’m searching for…based on analysis of my keyphrase. I’d say that personalization is sufficient with BOOKMARKING with browser. I’ve already discover my favorites for certain categories why DO I NEED GOOGLE TO SEARCH what I already know??? won’t use ‘this feature’ for sure…On another side why should I help Google to make $ on me posting irrelevant advertizements paid per CPM to google????
    It is another indicator that google stock with search engine…volumes and little relevancy to user on returned search results…paid customers…ebay, amazon, and etc…how many times I have to use GOOGLE search to get what I need??? beside shoping at amazon or ebay???? search engine need to be optimized by forecasting models of user behaviour on internet browsing … not just PERSONAL BOOKMARKS FOR KEYWORD search…

  • glenngould

    I agree with Josh that this might not be a good thing and leads to confusion for some, especially the average user.

    Another thing is there is no exact way to detect what kind of information the user is actually looking for and in what context, so preferred sites with huge content might be hit even at times they are less relevant (to the users intention).

    It’s a good option though.

  • the whole point is to ultimately make it impossible to do organic optimization. Google eventually want to create the environment where by the only way to get listed for your keywords across the board is with Adwords.
    It is always about the money.
    Haven’t we figured that out yet?

  • So long as there is a separator between preferred sites and standard Google results then I think this is a good thing.

  • Gail

    My customers frequently ask me: How can I move my site up in Google search results?
    Well, what would my answer be now?
    OTOH, I think a feature like this would probably be overlooked or ignored by the vast majority of non-geek web users. I mean, how many non-geek web users even use Google advanced search? (Please don’t be insulted by my use of “non-geek.” I figure just about everybody who reads SitePoint – myself included – is in the “geek” category.)

    Still, if this feature became widely used, small or new web site owners would find themselves with an even more difficult task getting people to their sites. Instead of making little sites *more* accessible, it will probably have the effect of further obscuring them from the masses.

  • trust101

    Thie feature is only good if you want to limit your search to providers that like. There is a flaw with google when it comes to search for businesses, there is no trust, anyone can list on google even osama bin laden.