Just as zebras in the zoo don’t behave exactly like their counterparts in the wild, so it is with Google search results.
You have your search results, and then there are those found only “in the wild.”
You may not realize that the results of what you google are not the same results that your next-door neighbor sees when googling the exact same words. (And if you run your web site’s keywords through a SERP-olator, they’ll probably rank higher or lower than your own Google search.)
Google is trying to help you. Google knows what you’ve searched in the past, and what you’ve selected from your searches, and it wants to deliver the experience it believes you’ve come to expect.
For example, Google knows that when you search for hardware stores in your town, you usually select a Mom and Pop, not a Big Hardware Store. It knows that when you buy tank tops, you order from a certain retailer on line.
This doesn’t mean that Google will put your typical selection at the top of the page. There are other factors afoot, even when you’re buying socks. Google is nothing if not mysterious. And Google still wants you to have a selection among the relevant search results it posts for you.
This Google capability is called “personalized search results.” Google first announced PSR in 2005, and implemented it for Google account holders. Then, in 2009, Google made personalized search results that affected everyone, regardless of whether they were signed into their Google account. (Note: this is a Google-only feature. You know, the 400-pound gorilla in the room?)
Used to be that you could turn this feature off and on in your browser. These days, you have to clear your browser cache and possibly your history. If you use Firefox or Internet Explorer, you can download a browser plugin that disables personalized results.
Anyway, as a result of PSR, there are no consistent Google search results anymore.
Sure, your web site’s keywords are still important, but these days there are additional factors weighing at least as much: off-page optimization, Google local, and social media visibility that includes Facebook and email campaigns among many other factors.
- Guide to Personalized Search Results (Portent)
- How (and why) To Turn Off Google’s Personalized Search Results (Forbes)