Say you want to know how your site is performing. You search for a few of your keywords, and are delighted to find out you are dominating the top ten results! This fills you with confidence, and you decide you don’t need to do anything differently, because your online presence is already super strong! What you don’t realize is that you are looking in a private mirror, and all those super-site muscles don’t look quite so bulging to the rest of the world. In fact, you are so insignificant that most people won’t even get a chance to scoff at your puniness.
You are the victim of a personalized search. Don’t be angry, Google is just trying to help, and in most cases it’s great! But you should be aware of how it affects your searches, and what you can do about it. There are three main components to the personalized search: social integration, localization, and saved searches.
Earlier this year Google introduced “Search, plus Your World,” which was meant to integrate more personal results into your searches, particularly Google+ stuff. A lot of people have criticized Google for force feeding G+ results, but at least they’re being up front about it, and there is a toggle right there at the top to turn it off. Easy.
Facebook and Bing have an even more deeply integrated setup. You can see what friends liked a restaurant or movie, and when searching for a name, those with mutual friends will appear more prominently. In fact, earlier this year Bing introduced the Social Sidebar, and is expanding it’s social integration every chance it gets. It also (apparently) keeps social results completely separate from organic, so if you want to see what an average searcher sees, just ignore the sidebar.
Search engines are under constant pressure to return the best results possible for a search. So if you search for “friendly porcupine” and find a site you love, then sometime later search for it again, Google is likely to bring that site you previously spent hours on up to the front.
This happens anytime you are logged in to your account, or using Chrome, or accepting cookies. Again, the search engines are just trying to help. Here’s something nice though: flipping that toggle I mentioned earlier will take (most) of those kind of results off as well. You could also log out, and if you are still suspicious, make sure you aren’t using Chrome and your cookies are gone.
Localization is the most useful form of personalization, but it can be the most misleading in your research. Your IP address lets the engine know where you are, and they use that information to give you nearby results. This makes a lot of sense in most cases; if you search for “music store” in New York, it doesn’t do you much good to see music stores in other parts of the country. Again, there is a pretty handy way to defeat this: right there to the left is a panel of options, with an easy to find “Change Location” option. If you want to target a specific location, other than your own, just type it in. If you want results all over the country, type in United States and say goodbye to those pesky local maps results. Might not do you much good if you’re looking for the closest burger joint though…
So next time you want to know how your site stacks up, make sure your mirror is reflecting the real thing. Good results take a lot of work, but the good news is you don’t have to do it all yourself. Gravitate Online will help you get that super-site you always wanted–and plenty of eyeballs to ogle it!