This is a question I am often asked by clients. How come I see my site in different positions than you do? Well, there could many different reasons. Therefore you need to understand a bit of how Google and other search engine work to understand why there may be a difference in the results you see.
In this article I will focus on Google and why you will sometimes see different results at the exact same time on different computers.
Reason 1: Google Search History
One of the biggest reasons you see different results than other people has to do with your search history and HOW you search.
You see, Google is always trying to decide what results to send you. It’s not like the results you are seeing are saved somewhere. Google builds those pages on the fly. I wrote about this here. As Google is building this page they are also using what you have searched for in the past to help determine if something is relevant to what you are searching for now.
For example, let’s say you searched for your make and model of vehicle. You clicked through some results and then searched for “brakes”. Google is smart enough to put two and two together and figure out that you need help with your brakes for your make and model vehicle because those are the 2 searches you’ve done.
But they don’t automatically assume you want to buy brakes. Perhaps you want help to understand how to fix them. This is why you will get a mix of sites selling brakes as well as sites providing information on how to change your brakes.
They also will adjust your rankings if you visit a site more often. For example, if you use Google to search for (and then go to) Facebook, chances are you will start to see more Facebook pages in your search results if they are related.
Reason 2: Google Account & Personalization
If you have a Google account, such as a Gmail account, and you stay signed into it Google will then track even more of your activity online and use that to further refine your results. And if you sign into your Google account in multiple locations (such as work, home, your mobile device) Google takes all that search history into account when building search results for you.
Reason 3: Location
Google also alters results in part based on your location. If you provide your location (either by being signed into your Google account, or by using your mobile device to search) Google may refine results so that businesses closer to you are displayed.
Even if you aren’t signed into an account or searching with a mobile device Google can get a general idea of where you are by the IP Address your computer is using. There are ways to resolve your computer IP address to a general location and then customize results based on that.
Reason 4: Google Update
About once a month, and sometimes more, Google updates its ranking algorithms. The algorithms are used to tell Google what results should be included and what results should not.
Many times throughout the month Google may do minor tweaks to these algorithms, and usually once a month we see a major change to the algorithm.
Consider it like fine tuning your car. Google is fine tuning its results pages to make them more relevant to you based on a bunch of criteria.
So sometimes you will see different results because of that. Google is rolling out an update to its data centers and perhaps you are seeing the results of an update at one data center that hasn’t been replicated to another data center.
How to See the “Real” Google Results
There is a way to see unaltered Google results. That is to see what Google will show if you don’t have a Google account or have ever searched on Google before, but it’s not a Google setting. It is something you can do on your own computer today with little knowledge!
There is a setting built into most modern web browsers that allows you to turn off personalization and search history. On Internet Explorer this is accomplished by opening your web browser then pressing 3 keys together: Control, Shift and P. This will put your browser into private mode.
Similarly, Google Chrome has Incognito mode, which can be launched by right clicking the Chrome icon on your desktop and selecting “New Incognito Window”. While in Firefox you would right click the icon and select “Enter Private Browsing”.
Once you have entered this “private” mode of your browser you can search Google without it customizing your results by using your search or browsing history. Plus you won’t be signed into your Google account automatically. Therefore the Google results you see are the “real” results.
So the next time you find yourself asking this question, remember that you can easily bypass this Google setting and see the results everyone else sees.