Google wants to give every searcher the “best” possible results when they use the search engine.  To accomplish this, their developers have created and implemented personalized search; a means of providing results for search queries based on each person’s search history, websites they visit, online buying habits and even their physical location. For webmasters, determining where their own websites rank in Google search results in the age of personalized search is muddier than ever.

Personalized results limit the prospect of searchers finding new websites and information, since the listings searchers see ultimately come from sites they’ve been before.  Do we want a truly open web where quality websites with compelling content compete for prime search real estate?  Or, do we want search results localized in digital neighborhoods of previously trod earth?  You might think it doesn’t benefit the searcher to see 10 results that didn’t help them on the first page of Google results simply because they clicked on them once.

So are you seeing personalized results when you check to see where your website ranks?  If you are, you are wrong about where you think your site ranks?  How do you get the real, unfiltered result of where your website ranks?

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Logged in Lifestyle: Is Google Spying on Me?

You’ve seen the tagline, “one account, all of Google,” right?  Connecting your accounts on Google properties – Gmail, YouTube, Google Play, Google+, etc. – to a single Gmail address might sound convenient, but it also allows the search giant to track your behavior when you’re logged into them.  Even if you’re not checking your email, just logging into Gmail from one browser tab while searching on another can allow Google to record your web footprint.

Google isn’t technically spying you, but they’re not exactly turning away all that data, either.

Here’s the Thing: Even if you’re not logged into any Google property, if you are using Chrome, they can still deliver personalized search results based on your previous search history.  Is it possible to see a true representation of organic search results anymore?

Going Incognito for Non-Personalized Search Results      

If you’re a webmaster or site owner trying to find out where your site actually ranks in Google SERPs, you’ll first need to open an Incognito window in Chrome.  From your Incognito window, if you’re searching for a GEO-specific term, adjust your browser’s target location by clicking the “Search Tools” button in the top center of the browser window.  Type the city and state in the box that appears and hit enter.  Now, type in your search term, hit enter and see your true organic search result position.

But wait…are these results actually an honest representation of how searchers who’ve never visited your site will see?  Is Google manipulating the rankings in some other way?  Let’s make sure Google isn’t stacking the deck against you.

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Check for Google’s Personalized Search Influence  

I routinely have dozens of tabs open in my browser for various and equally essential reasons.  Aside from the memory they eat up, tabs can hold logged-in pages Google properties that may or may not affect search results in separate windows.  If you want to be certain that search results showing in your Incognito window are accurate, here’s what you need to do:

  • Turn Off Google Web History: Ironically, you’ll need to log into your Google account and go here to opt out of customized search results. Once you’re on the proper page, click ‘disable customizations based on search activity.’ This action will stop personalized search on your computer in browser UNTIL someone logs in to a Google account again.
  • Delete Your Existing Web History: Remove all browsing data, including cookies,from both your browser and stored in your Google profile. You don’t want to leave any trace that Google can use to predict your search patterns or interests. If you don’t know how to delete your Google search history, here’s a brief tutorial.
  • Log Out of All Google Properties: That includes Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics and especially Google+. Close the tabs once you’re logged out – before you start checking organic rankings.

Brace Yourself: Even after you delete your search history, Google can elect to store that data in separate log files for an undetermined amount of time.  Once you type anything into a Google search bar, their systems are watching and the red record light is definitely in the on position.

Why Real Search Rankings Matter

For internet marketers, reliable and accurate search rankings are vital as part of the never-ending battle to prove ROI and provide clients with the information they need to assess their presence on the web.  Even if you are using real-time rank tracking software, it is important to spot check the results.  If the data lies, you can’t make informed decisions about many of the other important digital marketing metrics that we use everyday.

If you want Google to use your browsing history to help “improve” searcher experience, by all means remain logged in and on the grid.  But, if you’re looking to help a client understand search results better, shouldn’t you want to give them the unadulterated feed?

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