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Search and My History Shall Find

Google will give people a window into their past -- or at least, their past searches. The service also could open the door for new kinds of ad targeting.

My Search History, which went live on Wednesday, lets users access and manage their Google search history from any computer. My Search History also tells how many times a person has visited a particular Web page and the last time it was viewed.

In order to enable My Search History, users must sign in to some kind of Google account: Gmail, Froogle, Google Alerts or Google Groups. Searches will be saved only when they're signed in.

After signing in, a small header appears at the top right of the regular Google search page, with links to My Account, Sign Out and My Search History.

Clicking on My Search History takes users to a page with a list of search queries; underneath query is a list of the results actually clicked on underneath. There's also a calendar showing the level of search activity on a particular day.

Instead of conducting the same search again, users can search the full text of the previously visited results by typing the query into the search box and clicking on "search history." Over time, the service will cluster related searches, so that the results for a query might include results from My Search History.

All this information is stored on Google's servers, but users can either delete individual items from their histories or delete the history altogether.

Google's privacy policy for My Search History advises that the information collected may be shared among all Google services, but it won't be disclosed to other companies.

The launch follows similar services such as My Yahoo, My Jeeves from Ask Jeeves , A9 and Snap.

"Google already has had a chance to see how this works," said Andy Beal, vice president of marketing for WebSourced, a search engine optimization company. "Everyone scrambled to match Google's search technology, but now Google is in catch-up mode."

Google's AdWords advertising program certainly could use this information, according to David Berkowitz, director of marketing for icrossing, a search engine marketing agency.

Berkowitz said that someone who had done a lot of related searches in a short period of time still could be a hot prospect for an advertiser.

"If they're looking for something and haven't met you yet, and you have what they want, it could be extremely valuable," he said.

A Google spokesperson said the company had no plans to announce such a service.

Berkowitz said that tracking users' search histories also could let Google do what's known as behavioral targeting, that is, showing ads to a person based on their previous interests rather than just the current search. But he said this function would be more useful to Yahoo , because it has loads of content not related to search. "Within search itself there's generally a mission in mind," he said.

Beal said aggregating the search history data could give Google a way to compete with MSN's new adCenter, previewed in March. Like adCenter, My Search History could let Google advertisers refine their key word buys to demographic segments that were most likely to click.

"Why not, down the road, if they're building up a history of what I search for and what I click on, why not start showing AdWords ads that I've shown a preference for in the past or start targeting the AdWords so I'm more likely to click on them?" Beal asked.

While advertisers would love such a service, Beal said, he predicted Google would roll it out very carefully to avoid users' privacy concerns.

As Google engages in a features war with rival search providers, piling on another type of search results could detract from Google's reputation as having the best results and a clean, easy-to-use interface, Berkowitz said. Google search results already begin with two sponsored links, followed by results from other services such as Google Books, products, or local.

Already, in tests that Berkowitz did with different screen resolution, all but the top one or two natural results are pushed down to the second page. Adding search history results could leave just a single natural result on the first page, he said.

"There is a sense of too much clutter," Berkowitz said.

Google also has been quietly rolling out RSS functions within the Gmail Web e-mail interface. Web Clips is an RSS reader. As first reported by Evan Williams in his blog, Web Clips shows headlines in a box at the top of the Gmail reader, alternating with text ads.