Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Does Google Show the Same Results for Everyone?

Starting in February 2007, Google begin personalizing its search results for users who entered a search query while logged into their Google accounts. We wrote our take on Google’s personalized search and its impact on SEO in our blog.

However, that’s not the only way that Google adjusts its search results to fit the individual user. Do you know Google changes your search results even when you are not signed into the account?

Google personalizes your search results by using two additional parameters, your geographic location and your recent search history, when applicable.


For some queries, Google may try to alter your results based on your geographic location. Google identifies your approximate city location based on your computer's IP address and uses it to customize your search results. When Google does this, you will see a note on the top right hand side of your search results that Google has customized your results.

In cases when Google doesn’t get it right, or if you’re looking for local information but outside the area you’re interested in, you might want to override Google’s customization. If so, then you need to click on the “More details” link and click to run the search without the customization.

On a side note, if you are logged in to your Google account, Google will use the location you’ve saved as your default in Google Maps. (By default, Google automatically saves the last 100 addresses you search for into a "Saved Locations" list)

Recent searches

Called Previous Query, it’s where Google might see that you first searched for [hotels] then did another search for [Chicago] and so will effectively combine the first search to the second to make [Chicago hotels]. You’re searching for all two words even though you only put in one — hotels — on your most current query. Another example is, a search for [jordan] showing Jordan’s furniture store rather than Michael Jordan if the immediately preceding search was for [ethan allen].

If Previous Query kicks in, a message saying "Customized based on recent search activity" will appear at the top right of the results. Clicking on "More Details" link from that message will take you to the search customizations page, where you can then discover what previous query was used. Via that page, you can also reissue the query without the previous query being involved.

Despite some privacy concerns and the fact that customized searches may not always generate the results the user wanted, Google stands by personalization as the future of search. Since personalized search is here to stay, let us focus on how this Google customization affects SEO.

SEO Impact

As we said before, if you have a website with good content, your site is not going to be negatively impacted by these changes. As a matter of fact, you’ll benefit as people who are looking for your service will be able to more easily find you. The key, as always, is to ensure that your website is optimized for relevant keywords and, if applicable, for your business’ geographic location.

The only place where personalized search impacts the SEO world is the metrics. Since these personalized searches do not yield the same search results for all users, you can’t rely on your site’s rankings alone to measure your SEO success. You will need to use additional measures, such as the search engines’ traffic delivery to your site, to measure your optimization results. Also, while the rankings you see may not be same as other users the differences in ranking will not be that great.

So, focus on having compelling and interesting content on your site – it will please both your users and the search engines, and you will have a Win-Win scenario irrespective of these personalization changes.

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