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April 25, 2008

Google Previous Query Reason For Crazy Google Rankings?

Ever wonder why Google ranking change so much from week to week, day to day, hour to hour? I know I have pondered that myself on a occasion. We I think we might have discovered a major piece of the puzzle with something called Google Previous Query. He is a snippet from SEL where Danny Sullivan discusses the new technology with direct quotes from Google’s Marissa Mayer. Bolding is mine:

For example, search for [spain] then do a new search for [travel], and you may notice how the ads will be targeted around Spanish travel (see also Google’s help page on this). Google’s never given this feature a formal name, but Marissa said internally the company calls it “Previous Query,” the first time to my knowledge that we’ve had some type of formal name put to it. Learn the name well, because Previous Query refinement is now coming to unpaid or “organic” search results, she said.

For example, if someone were to search for [spain] and then [travel] after that, BOTH the ads and the organic results will be altered to take the previous query into account. To some degree, it will be as if the second query was for [spain travel].

This is a big deal. Big deal. It means that the results for many “single word” queries, which can be hard for sites to rank for when billions of listings come back, will become queries involving two or more words – and much more specific ones.

Seems like this algorithm tweak was to improve the PPC ad relevancy initially and now is being introduced into the organic results. As you can see this layering of keyword phrases during your search session can greatly change what you see from minute to minute and hour to hour. This algorithm factor could alone be the reason for the radically changing SERP view that so many see.

As most of know we see complaints about ever changing Google rankings and the lack of stability of these rankings in the Google SERPs. I swear I must answer these types of questions two dozen times on forums/blogs every week. “Where did my rankings go?” “Why do I rank #4 one hour and then #44 the next hour?” Well if this Previous Query system in play then it can explain a whole lot of what people see on a daily basis as far as shifty Google SERPs are concerned.

We all knew that Goggle personalization and localization can and do effect Google SERPs, but this is different:

“Who will get it, when live? Everyone that accepts a cookie, meaning it’s not a personalized search thing that only happens if you’re logged in.”

We know this is not not new to PPC ads, but it could be new to organic. At least it is one more piece to the puzzle of why and how certain websites are ranked.

As you might have guessed there are inherent problems with Google Previous Query.

Why does Google feel they can forecast what I am looking for?

How do they know when a specific search session start and begins?

Wont this cause issues with cross over searches? e.g. one minute I am looking for “Miami Dolphins” stuff and then the next I want to research “marine biology in the Miami area”.

Can we stop Google from using this when we search? e.g. opt out?

Does this mean those that do consecutive searches (a VERY large percentage of us) could never see the same search results as someone else does? Is this Google’s end goal?

Doesn’t this hurt the big boy websites and help the smaller well optimized mom and pop shops?

What does everyone feel about this?

Lots of questions for Google, but one possible solution to this is to keep doing what you’re doing, if you’re doing SEO right. Anyone that has been implementing the core SEO principles should be OK. With this phrase layering on Google, your properly going to rank for short and long tail keywords if your building relevant, unique content on a timely fashion on your website.

Jaan Kanellis a.k.a IncredibleHelp is a search marketing expert located in the Cincinnati, Ohio. Jaan Kanellis is the founder of, which provides organic and PPC search marketing, reputation management and social media optimization to clients, agency partners and SEM companies. Jaan has been involved in online marketing since 1999 and authors a search marketing blog at