I bet all SEO’s have faced this problem at least once – a client looking up their target keywords on the Internet and seeing different website rankings than the ones stated in the rankings report. How do you explain to clients that you are not trying to cheat them?
Users may get different search results for one and the same search term because of their:
1. Web History
Personalized search results are no secret to anyone. We know that nowadays search engines (particularly Google and Bing) custom-tailor your search results based on the queries you make, websites you visit and search results you click. What’s interesting is that your results get biased by default, unless you specifically opt out.
Search engines collect users’ browsing history in 2 major ways:
(1) by tracking signed-in users’ activities and
(2) by planting cookies into signed-out users’ browsers.
Say, you are signed in with your Gmail account. Your Web history will be recorded there. And, if you are signed out of all your Google accounts, Google will send tracking cookies to your browser and your browsing history will be kept track of with the help of those cookies.
If you’d like to see search results that are not biased according to your Web history – sign out of all your accounts, clear browser cookies and perform the search again.
Search engines can tell where you are because they know your IP address. Hence, they also tweak your search results based on what would be of interest for your specific location. For example, if you look up “coffee shop” and you are searching from Manhattan, NY, you will probably see websites of cafes close to you. Search engines also look at the language of your browser and take it into account while personalizing your results.
There are several ways to make your browsing appear as if happening from a different location. You can use a proxy or a special tool for that. For example, Google Adwords Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool –
allows you to see the results visible in different geographical locations across the world. The tool enables you to change your virtual browser’s language, too.
3. Social Media Activity
Now that Google’s +1 button and Google+ have been introduced, there is even more tweaking of the search results based on your Google contacts plus-one. For example, if a contact from your:
– Gmail chat list,
– Google Plus,
– Google Contacts list,
– Google Reader, or
– Google Buzz
plus-ones a webpage or a search result (no comments on the idiosyncratic nature of that), the +1’d page may appear higher in your personalized SERPs and will contain your friend’s “recommendation.”
To nullify the effect your social media activity has on your search results, sign out of all your social media accounts and clear your browser cookies.
4. Universal Search
Thing is, search engines nowadays sprinkle their “regular” search results with Video, Images, News and other types of results. This is what they call Universal Search – a system of blended search results, first introduced by Google in 2007.
So, if we are talking about a given site’s positions in the SERPs, it’s also important to consider what part of Universal Search results we are talking about. Are we talking about everything? Or just Images?
For example, your client receives a rankings report that says that their site is # 3 on Google for the “yada-yada” search term. Your client googles “yada-yada” and sees that their site is actually # 5. However, if you do not take Google Places results (that are incorporated into Everything results) into account, the site IS indeed # 3. So, it depends on how you look at it.
Well, there is no way you can prevent search engines from “sprinkling” their Everything results with some of their Places, Images or other listings. However, you can make it clear to your client, what you consider the first result, etc.
5. Google Dance
Until Google switched to the new indexing system called Caffeine (which happened in June, 2010), it used to update its index once a month; and the update used to take several days to complete. On such days, users could see different search results for the same keyword. This was because Google’s 12 data centers were getting updated one by one, at slightly different time-frames. And, as Google normally turns to a random data center to provide search results, what users saw could have come from the new as well as the old index. This phenomenon got called the “Google Dance” by SEO’s.
However, today things are different. Caffeine allows Google to continuously update its index, thus the Google Dance is virtually non-existent nowadays. But, because Google still chooses a data center at random, users may see different search results based on what data center they come from.
There is no way you can pick what data center you’d like to receive search results from. However, you can explain the concept to clients, so that they understand that ranking fluctuations by 1-2 positions are normal.
So, users may see different search results while looking up one and the same term for the various reasons noted above. And, if your clients have questions regarding this, simply refer them to this article.
Alesya is a blogger and a marketing manager at Link-Assistant.com, the company behind SEO PowerSuite toolkit. Link-Assistant.Com is a group of SEO experts with extensive SEO experience. Based on their expertise, the company’s SEO tools were developed, setting the SEO industry’s benchmark for technology-powered link building and Web promotion.