When you perform a search on Google, you may get results back that are different to if someone else performs exactly the same search. This is known as a Google Personalised Search or a Web History search and in Google's own words is "based on the things you've searched for on Google and the sites you've visited".
When does this happen?
By default, whenever you are logged into a Google account and perform any web search, Google will store what you searched for and when you searched for it. They'll also look at what sites you visited from this search and analyse how often you visit those sites. Any relevant future searches will take this history into account and the order that the results are returned in, and in fact some sites that may not have made it into the list at all, could be altered so that they appear (in Google's eyes) as more relevant to what you are looking for.
Why is this important?
It's important for a couple of reasons:
- As the user actually performing the search, you are getting results that Google thinks you will be more interested in viewing. These results may just be in a different order but the idea is that you'll find the better matches towards the top of your results. This could actually work both ways though; it may be useful as you find familiar content quicker, or it may be harmful as potentially you miss out on resources that could have given you better information.
- As a web design and SEO company, your search engine rankings may not actually be as you would expect. You may or may not appear in the rankings depending on who is actually doing the search!
Can I see an example of this?
Yes, let's take one of the key phrases that we want to rank well for:
Website Design Darlington
First of all, let's see the results from when I search using my main iGoogle web search (which means I'm logged into a Google account and will therefore get a personalised search):
Now, ignoring the "local business results" that appear with a map, you can see that MDS Solutions appears as the first result (which is what we want!). However, if I log out of my Google account, or use another browser where I am not logged in, this is now the results for the same search:
As you can see, we are now in the number #2 spot (which means we have a bit more work to do, but as a fairly new company we expect this type of work). So, what is important to learn from this is that as a web design company you really need to check your search engines rankings based on a non-personalised result set. Obviously not everyone who does a search will be doing so on a clean, non-personalised search, but I'd say that you could probably say that the results for these searches are more in sync with what the standard user would see.
Can they be disabled?
Yes, quite easily. There are a few of ways to achieve this:
- Log out of your Google account before doing any searches
- Use a dedicated browser for searching that doesn't ever log into a Google account.
- Append a querystring value (pws=0) to any search URL's to tell Google you want to search without using a Personalised Web Search e.g. http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Website+Design+Darlington&pws=0&hl=en&num=10
If you choose to use method #3, you may also want to have a look at this Plug-In that allows you to automatically append the value when performing any search from the search box in your browsers navigation toolbar.