Battling the Ranking Confusion of Personalized Search

Checking your rankings every day is a love-hate relationship. You love it because after months of hard work you wake up one morning and finally see yourself in a top position. You hate it, however, because Google’s personalized search results may mean the rest of the world might not see you in that top position. And optimizing for that can make no sense.

After quickly clearing your cache, cookies, search history, and signing out of your Gmail account, you see the real results, and come to the depressing realization that many other people are not seeing you in that same spot. Once this realization sinks in, you will likely appreciate the following audio clip from the one and only Nacho Libre:

Thanks to Entertonment for this great clip.

With Google’s personalized search results, several factors are at play, including:

  • location
  • search history
  • cookies
  • cache

Understanding that these factors are at play and that they affect search results for everybody differently, we have to ask ourselves; is there really a number 1 position anymore? Number 1 for you could easily be number 4, or 7, or 9 for someone on the other side of the country.

So what should SEOs be focusing on?

The truth is that there are still national ranking placements to be gained, and SEOs should still be focusing on obtaining these positions for their clients. It is also true that SEOs need to help their clients optimize their sites for location-specific terms. Doing this may require some additional research, but can help bring them targeted traffic, and fight the personalization factor.

How to Check Rankings without Seeing Personalized Results

There are a few things you can do to view search results that are not affected by your personalized search history and location. Some of these include the following:

  • Clear your search history.
  • Clear your cache.
  • Clear your cookies.
  • Search from your mobile phone.
  • Search from a different IP address than where you normally do all your searching.
  • Add &pws=0 to the end of your search query URL and search it again.
  • Have a friend, who lives in another part of the country, search that term (you might get results based on their personalized search, however).
  • Sign out of any Gmail, or any other, account you use frequently while searching.

I personally don’t like personalized search results for times when I want to learn something new. I want to see the results that apply to everyone. How are you supposed to research something new if you’re just getting results which are mostly from your own search history? To me, this is a cop-out. It’s like the search engines are just being lazy and saying, “Eh, just show him the usual stuff he always searches and don’t worry about computing something new.”

I do understand that personalized search can be useful in many situations, but I personally don’t care for it most of the time.

How Do We Optimize For Personalized Search?

We need to do more extensive keyword research. We need to be more aware of trends that people are following while searching. Understanding these trends may help us “predict” people’s personalized search history. You can use tools like Soovle to view suggested terms throughout all the major playing search engines, or read great posts like, 3 Ways To Use Google’s Search Results For Keyword Research.

In the end we have to understand that personalized results only impose upon us for some search results properties, but not all. Stick to the long tail terms and the very relevant power terms and your efforts will remain effective, and it will not “suck to be you.”


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