Why Google search results can be different on different computers.

By Les Kollegian
Jacob Tyler Creative Group

les kollegian social media

Jacob Tyler and our sister company SEO Town handle Search Engine Optimization for a broad base of clients. The thing about SEO is that it’s not only a process that is 100% iterative, it’s also always a 100% learning experience. Keeping up with the brilliant minds at Google is not always an easy task even though they offer to help through support documents, forums, and more. For those of you out there who are saying “what about Bing and Yahoo?”… they have their place but they don’t hold a search “candle” to that of Google. This isn’t just because of their market share, but mostly because of the quality of their search algorithms. Thus, as a creative marketing agency, we put most of our emphasis on creating leads for our clients from Google and now even YouTube, the world’s second most searched search engine.

So now we get to a question we have been asking recently. Why are search results sometimes different on different systems and how can we accurately track where we rank organically in the eyes of our customers? Great question! Not so easy answer.

The good and bad:
Google does an amazing job of making searches for users relevant to their preferences by automatically personalizing the results. While this can be GREAT for the typical Web browser, it makes finding “true” search results a little more difficult. Here’s why.

In the past, the only way to receive better or “preferred/personal” results was to sign up for personalized search. Now, you can get customized results whenever you use Google. Depending upon whether or not you’re signed in to a Google Account when you search, the information they use for customizing your experience will be different:

Signed-in personalization: When you’re signed in, Google personalizes your search experience based on your Web History. If you don’t want to receive personalized results while you’re signed in, you can turn off Web History and remove it from your Google Account. You can also view and remove individual items from your Web History. At Jacob Tyler, we recommend our clients disable personalization on their own systems to get the most accurate search results. Otherwise, Google may place YOUR link toward the top of your results pages based on your previous search and clicks. See the image below on how to delete your Web history/personalization.

delete google web history

Signed-out customization: When you’re not signed in, Google customizes your search experience based on past search information linked to your browser, using a cookie. Google stores up to 180 days of signed-out search activity linked to your browser’s cookie, including queries and results you click.

Because many people might search from a single computer, the browser cookie may be associated with more than one person’s search activity. For this reason, Google doesn’t provide a method for viewing this signed-out search activity. If you don’t want to receive customized results while you are signed out, you can turn off these search customizations. See the image below to turn off cookies for signed out searches.

delete cookies

Of course, deleting cookies effects a LOT on your system including personal site preferences related to browsing, passwords, purchases, and more so you may or may not want to do this depending on “easy” you want your browsing experiences to be. For more information on how to control cookies, please visit http://www.aboutcookies.org

Here’s an illustration of the information Google uses in each case:
google search illustration

At this point, most of the internet browsing population is using Internet Explorer or Firefox for their day-to-day surfing and information. While it may make sense to turn off cookies and web history for those interested in the most “neutral” and true results, it’s also a pain and erases information that each user wants stored for future use. I recommend downloading another browser to use for your specific searches to determine organic ranking. For example, download Google Chrome and set up the browser to run in “incognito mode“. Once this is set up, customization and personalization features are turned off and you can just stick to this browser for your rank checking curiosity.

If you’d rather stick to your current Firefox and IE browsers, there is also a plug-in you can download from Yoast that makes it simple to disable personalization.

For any business, it is extremely important to stay on top of your current search engine rankings. To do so, you must avoid personalized search as you may end up seeing different rankings on different computers. While this is a great search feature, it will not provide useful insight for your SEO marketing campaigns.