Steve Douglas on April 30th, 2010

Logged in Google window

If you’re monitoring your website for its ranking in Google, you may not be doing as well as you think. Here’s something that tripped me up and cost the Mrs a good night’s sleep. Got my buddy too.

This tip isn’t terribly earth shattering, but may be useful if you haven’t heard it before (If you have, skip it and take our rock band logo quiz. Probably more fun). It involves searching for stuff on Google, particularly if you’re monitoring search results of your own site’s rankings. If you have a Google account, Gmail let’s say, and you’re ‘signed in’, Google tends to track what you search for and offers up ‘personalized search results‘. That is, it favors sites that you’ve already visited, and among those sites, the ones you’ve visited the most. That means when you search for keywords, the desired keywords for your site let’s say, big G will fluff sites that you’ve been to (a lot) to the top of your search results. And as you’re always checking and fussing over it, that would be your site. Accordingly, in order to get accurate search results, what everyone else is seeing, you need to sign out of your Google account (see above for where). Fair enough, I think most of us knew that (and if you didn’t, you do now).

Google personalized search results

Here’s something you might not know. At some point Google changed all this to cookie based, and so you don’t need to be SEO face plamsigned into Google to get ‘personalized results’. Seems like they’re ‘on’ by default and you just get ‘em. The only reason I mention this is that I got caught out a couple of months ago when seeing how The Logo Factory was performing for a certain keyword set (as I mentioned in our SEO & logo designers feature, I don’t obsess over this kind of stuff, but do check once in a while). Eureka! We had hit number two for a keyword combination that we’d fell out of favor for years ago. I was like a small child. Woke up the Mrs. to tell her (did a little happy dance for her too). Woke up Funkenhammer to tell him the good news (even though it was 3:45 in the a.m.). Happy days were here again, right? Not exactly. Cookie based personalized results had skewed the results, listing our site way higher than it actually was. I didn’t realize that until the next morning, and had to sheepishly tell my long-suffering wife, and the now sleep deprived Funkenhammer, that I was a trifle premature with my search engine glee. Happy they weren’t.

Turning them off

The only reason I’m telling you this is that over dinner, a colleague told me that he had fallen for the exact same thing, for his site, using his keywords. And his reaction was exactly the same as mine, including waking up his ever-so-patient wife to tell her the good news too. To boot, he had gone as far as to announce his new SEO success to half the world via Twitter. While I originally thought my lack of knowledge in this department was due to cluelessness, it occured to me this might be something that not everyone is aware of. Accordingly, here’s how to turn personalized searches off, so that if you are monitoring how a particular site is performing in Google, you’ll get an accurate set of results from which to gauge it.
Google web history button
On the top right hand side of your search page, there’s a text link called ‘Web History‘. Click on that and you’ll be taken to a page by the same name. If that page tells you the following – “Your search results may be customized using search activity from this computer” then you’re getting results that are personalized using previous searches and your site may not be ranking as high as you think it is. To disable this, simply click on the text link that reads “Disable customizations based on search activity.
Google web history screen
The page should change to a new one that tells you “Customization based on signed-out search activity is disabled.” that looks something like this.
Google web history off screen
Now, whenever you search, you’ll be able to see what others are getting when they search for the same keywords. If, that is, their personal search option isn’t turned on (something I suppose will have a whole lot of impact on SEO stuff). If you want to turn on personal search, just do the opposite. I realize this isn’t a super-duper tip or anything, but I can think of two wives and one web developer who lost a good night’s sleep because of this nifty little feature.

Now, go and take our rock band logo quiz. It’s Friday!

 

 

 

Related Posts

  1. Google catches heat for keyword trademarks
  2. More flattery, I guess…
  3. Doodle for Google design competition
  4. 33,000 Google crawl errors

2 Comments to “Are you seeing what others are seeing?”

  1. For those of us that use other search engines, are we ok? Or is there a similar mechanism in place for those?

    • Steve Douglas says:

      Matches – That’s actually a very good question. Alas, I’ve got no good answers as I’ve absolutely no idea. I’ll poke around and see what I can come up with.