You have optimized your website to perfection. It’s Google friendly, mobile friendly and user friendly at the same time. It’s perfect from a SEO point of view, with all keywords in place, and all links and schemas in order. You do a Google search on your own browser, and your website shows up on the first page. You’re happy to see that you didn’t work in vain. But when you go to a friend and do the same search, your website is nowhere to be found. You are desperate, thinking you did something wrong. Actually you did – you relied on your own browser for search results.
Google Personalized Search
Google Personalized Search is a feature introduced by the search giant in 2004 as a beta test, and rolled out to all users in 2009. It was integrated into normal Google search in 2011. But what does it do? Let me quote WikiPedia for an explanation:
All searches on Google Search are associated with a browser cookie record. Then, when a user performs a search, the search results are not only based on the relevance of each web page to the search term, but also on which websites the user (or someone else using the same browser) visited through previous search results.
To put it simply, if you search for Royal Vegas online casino as a registered user, or someone playing there a lot, it will appear further up in the search results than normal. The same goes for the website you build and optimize at home.
But Personalized Search is not the only thing with an influence on the search results you see. Today’s technology allows Google and other search engines to know your location – based on your IP address, or the fact that you allowed them to access it in your settings. This will alter the results any search engine you use will display depending on where you are, to serve you with more relevant results.
When you search for “restaurant”, “pizza”, “gym” or “taxi”, the search results displayed by your preferred search engine (usually Google) will be relevant to the place you are at. The reasons are obvious: someone in New York will not be interested in finding a restaurant in Bangkok, and a man standing in the pouring rain in London won’t want to find the number for a Yellow Cab from Brooklyn.
How to turn all these features off
To get a better idea about how your website actually ranks in Google’s results, simply do a search in a new window with a private browsing session. In Chrome, this is called “Incognito”, and you can access it by pressing CTRL+Shift+N, while in Firefox and Internet Explorer the shortcut key is CTRL+Shift+P. This way your Google account, your search history and your cookies will be ignored, and the search results you get will be as unbiased as possible.