Have you ever doubted Google?
When it comes to the keyword ranking accuracy, we can be skeptical about rank tracker tools we use or SEOs we hired. But when we check rankings manually, we trust our eyes and Google.
But you shouldn’t be so careless. Google is clever and agile. They have a massive list of factors that affect the search results they display for you. Even if you see your website in the Number 1 position, it doesn’t mean you really are on top of the world. Your customers may see a very different Top 10.
Fortunately, you can still get pure and accurate rankings. Or, at least, close to it. All you need to know is the factors that affect personal search results, and how to deal with them.
Google Personalized Search
It’s not a secret that Google tracks their users on the web. And it’s not surprising that Google utilizes this information to adjust to users. But what does it mean?
It means that they collect and thoroughly analyze our behavior as we are browsing. Search queries, clicks, the time we spent on websites, topics we prefer, websites we like, etc. It may sound a bit creepy, but we’re not here for conspiracy theories.
In practice, this is good for you as a Google user. You get personal search results adapted to your needs as much as possible. Google can predict what you want to see. For example, you visit the same webpage on the regular basis. Most likely, Google will move it up to the top for you.
By the way, that’s why website owners often see their pages higher than they really are.
If you’re a web analyst or an SEO expert, there’s a downside. Personalization makes your customers get their own search results for the same query. We can’t predict what a random user will see on Google. But we should get used to the fact that what we see on Google isn’t what our customers see.
Before getting into a panic, let’s figure out how much Google can really influence the keyword rankings. In fact, it depends.
I’ve run a couple of tests with different search queries of different topics. Below you can see the screen captures of personalized (left) and anonymous (right) search results for the same keywords. In most cases, the difference isn’t critical. Sometimes, yet, it can be as impressive as 10-20 positions.
We don’t have access to Google algorithms. We can’t know how personalization will affect our website in every single case. But we still can get non-personalized search results and use them as the gold standard. In most cases, your clients’ personal search results will be close to it.
To avoid getting personalized results, check rankings only in the incognito mode and clear cache and cookies before running tests (all types: permanent, temporary, and flash-cookie). Most often, these recommendations enable you to see the non-personalized search results.
Activate Incognito Mode
First, activate the incognito mode to go anonymous. This way you’ll cut off your browsing history and most of the personal factors. Don’t forget to block add-ons and plug-ins in the incognito mode. Otherwise, they will affect the search results.
To go incognito, follow one of the instructions below:
Clear Cache and Cookies
Google utilizes information saved in cookies and cache. Even activating incognito mode won’t resolve this.
Cookies are small text files stored in the web browser on the computer or mobile device by a website you visit. The browser accesses the cookie file when you visit the website that created the cookie file. There are persistent cookies which remain on your hard drive until you erase them, or they expire, and session (temporary) cookies which are erased when you close the browser.
A web cache is an information technology for the temporary storage (caching) of web documents, such as HTML pages and images, to reduce bandwidth usage, server load, and perceived lag.
You can clear cache and cookies in browser settings. Keep in mind that, as a result, you can lose your autocomplete data (passwords, names, addresses, search suggestions, etc.). To make it less painful, I recommend using another browser to run manual ranking checks.
Let’s say you use Chrome to browse and Firefox to check rankings.
You can control which cookies you get, block and erase cache and cookies in browser settings.
Managing cookies and cache vary from browser to browser. To manage them, follow one of the links below.
If you use Chrome, try one of the handy apps available on Chrome App Store. They can clear cache and cookies in one click without going to browser settings. Don’t forget to reload a page each time you apply them to get anonymous results.
Stop Saving Browsing History
There’s also a way to keep Google from tracking your browsing history. You can disable Google personalized search. Google tracks all browsing history: the search queries and the search results you viewed. You can clear and stop saving browsing history in the search settings.
Find a short summary below:
According to Google, they automatically detect your computer’s location using its IP address, Location History (if it’s turned on), and recent locations you’ve searched for. To show you relevant results, Google uses the most precise location it can track.
This fact has two important consequences:
- Imagine you’re in Paris searching for a ‘French cuisine restaurant’. In most cases, Google will detect your precise location and display the nearest restaurants. So, two people googling ‘French cuisine restaurant’ in Paris may get absolutely different results if they are in different areas. Because Google is very accurate.
- Not long ago Google disabled location management. You can prevent Google from tracking your location to some extent. But you can’t set a location you wish to see the search results for.
So, how should you target your business to get the best search results? It depends on your business specifics. Note that Google Search console enables targeting your business only at a country-level. Move to Google My Business to deliver your website to users in a specific city or area.
But there’s another problem. What if you need to check how your website ranks in different locations. Remember, Google doesn’t allow you to pick a location in the settings anymore.
You can use VPN or proxy as a workaround.
But there’s one trick you can use to check search results in a different location -> Use the AdPreview tool:
- Go to Ad preview tool
- Pick a location, a domain, and a language
- Right-click anywhere on the page and select ‘Inspect’ in the context menu
- Type a keyword and press Enter
- In the Inspector window switch to the Network tab and click a link to open in a new window
- Enjoy local search results
I strongly recommend that you avoid checking ranks for country-level locations.
If you select ‘United States’, you’ll get an overall picture for the US. But your clients won’t get the ‘United States’ search results. Google will display relevant search results for their location: town, district or area.
Be closer to your customers and narrow down the search results to a specific location.
By the way, there’s another powerful option AdPreview can offer. You can use it to check all supported Google locations. This way you’ll be able to pick the best option to target your business.
Google Front Servers
Google uses a distributed network of front servers located worldwide to process search queries and provide search results as quickly as possible.
When you type a search query and press Enter, it’s picked up and processed by the nearest front server. If you’re curious, you can check your front server IP address.
Google keeps updating and improving the search results non-stop. Front servers are constantly synchronizing to adapt to changes and return the same search results for the same settings applied. But sometimes it takes time to synchronize them, for example, after major updates rolled out.
We ran a few tests to check how long it can take. In most cases, keyword rankings get stable within a couple of days, but sometimes it took up to a week.
So, different front servers might display different search results. Let’s take automated rank trackers. Most of them interact with the nearest front server. If it isn’t synced with the others, you may get inaccurate results.
The only way to resolve this is to use a proxy configured for a specific location. The issue isn’t common, so, in most cases, we can ignore it. But as an SEO expert, you should be aware of it.
As an experienced user you probably know how to manage the search results by applying filters and search tools: match types, time range, document types, etc. The filters mix the search results.
When manually checking your positions, make sure that no filters are applied.
If you’ve been in SEO for awhile, you know a great deal about ‘Google dance’.
Google has a search index to store the search details: document types, encoding, languages, saved copies, etc. In most cases, ‘Google dance’ occurs after major updates that affect the search index.
Index changes and updates often cause dramatic moves in the search listings order. A user who’s searching something risks getting a result that lies somewhere between ‘Before’ and ‘After’ update. Google dance may be a result of Google penalties, or of filters, bans, or viruses. New search listings, like news, may also cause chaotic movements in the search results.
I would recommend keeping in mind that it takes up to 15-20 hours for search index to get back to normal. Take your time and get back to checking your rankings when Google is calm and peaceful.
Most locations have default search results language suggested by Google. But some users set up the preferable language manually. Keep in mind that you should pick a language that your clients are likely to select. It can be vital for the bilingual countries with more than one language in use.
Let’s say you own a French website in Canada. When you run rank tests, you should make sure that a search results language is set to French. If it’s English, Google will mix English and French language websites in the search results.
Measure thrice and cut once is a good rule to work with Google keyword rankings. Before acting, make sure that you know accurate and non-personalized website positions. Even if you use a rank tracker tool, it’s not a bad idea to check rankings manually from time to time. Do it in a clever way:
- Always check keyword rankings in the incognito mode, with empty cache and cookies
- Make sure that you run tests in the correct location with the correct language preset
- Keep in mind a front server inaccuracy
- Disable search filters if any
- Never check rankings right after a major update
About the Author: Sasha Vasileva is the Customer Manager at Topvisor. Her areas of expertise include SEO, customer experience, customer success, and social media. Sign up for a free Topvisor account here.