You can’t trust your Google search results. They’re biased, and they don’t reflect the true reality of what everyone else sees.
“But Google’s, well, Google! It’s the biggest search engine in all the world! What do you mean, we can’t trust it?”
You can’t trust Google’s results, because it’s trying to be so helpful and useful to you.
Let’s say you need to find someone to build a deck for your house. You go to Google, and do a search for “deck builder.” The results that pop up will be all kinds of deck builders within a 10 – 20 mile radius of where you happen to be sitting at that moment. That’s because Google can tell where you are. And if you’re logged in to your Gmail or YouTube account at the same time, Google even knows who you’re connected to.
That means the results you see are based on your location and who Google thinks you’ll want to talk to. It will even show you a little map of all the deck builders in relation to where you’re sitting.
This is a useful little feature that Google has, because they figure you want to see the deck builders who are closest to you, and not the ones who have the best optimized website but are 1,000 miles away.
Want to See the Real Results?
But what if you want to get a more accurate picture about what Google “really” ranks as #1? Maybe you’re doing a national search for some company or manufacturer, and you’re not as concerned about whether they’re 10 miles away.
For this, you would do an anonymous search, where Google doesn’t know it’s you. On your web browser, open an Incognito or Private browsing session (look in the File menu). That turns off all cookies and identifiers so Google and every other website doesn’t know who you are and won’t track you. Now do the same search.
You should see some different results. In fact, depending on your search terms and your location, you’ll see some wildly different results.
That’s because Google doesn’t know a thing about you. They’re showing results that anyone who’s not signed in to Google would see. They’re as close to objective, unbiased results as you’re going to get. But even then, Google is trying to figure out where you are, so it can try to give you the results you would most likely want.
Do that deck builder search in an Incognito search, and chances are, you’ll still see the local results, but the rankings will be different. Some pages will drop and other pages will appear, but they may still be locally-focused.
Take that one step further: Do the same search while you’re sitting in a hotel room on a business trip, and Google won’t show you deck builders in your area. They’ll show you deck builders within 20 miles of your hotel room. (Google knows where you are, based on your IP address, which it can pinpoint to your physical location.)
Again, that’s because Google wants to be as helpful as possible. They want to show you the results closest to you, and the results all your Google+ friends have shared or created themselves.
Why This Is Bad for Businesses
This creates a serious problem for businesses who do this to check their Google search rank. The first thing an eager marketer will do is search for their best keywords to see where their own website ranks.
And, because Google is so helpful and kind, it figures, “A-ha, Shelly wants to see her website. Let’s show it to her!” and places her little website at the top of the search results page, where it outranks giant mega-companies who have been doing this for years.
“WE WON GOOGLE!” Shelly hollers at the top of her lungs, running around the office, high-fiving everyone.
Then, because she’s eager to show her husband how awesome she and her web team have been, she makes the 30 mile commute home, pops open his laptop, and does the same search only to find that in a few short hours, her company website has dropped from 1st to 87th.
It only gets worse when she goes back to work, checks again, and sees she’s winning Google once more.
You’re Not Really First
This is a problem for anyone who relies on Google search results to see how their search engine optimization and website design are performing. They get lulled into a false sense of security by Google’s personalized results, and slack off their SEO. And without realizing it, they slip lower and lower in the real, objective results, disappearing from everyone’s view except for their own.
If you want to get a real idea of how well you’re doing, you need a Google rank checker like WebCEO, which will check the actual rankings and tell you where you reallyrank for your chosen keywords.
This is true whether you’re doing the searches for your company, or even your own name (very handy for a job search, because it tells you what the recruiters and hiring managers will see).
In its efforts to be as helpful as possible, Google has inadvertently tricked us and lulled us into a false sense of success, which creates problems for us that we’re not even aware of.
But rather than rest on your laurels, you need to keep track of how things are really going for you. Use a rank checking website like WebCEO, and run a report at least once a month. Then, focus on new SEO techniques — a regular blog, social media promotion, submitting blog posts to Google+ — that can help move you up in the actual rankings.
Ultimately, you may end up getting your personalized search and actual search rankings to match up.