Stasia Avet
Oct 10, 2018 | 10 min read

Search engine’s primary task is to provide a user with the most relevant results quickly and efficiently.

To make it possible, Google gathers user’s data and customizes the results for each user. It’s called personalization. That’s one of the reasons why the rankings you see while checking the positions in the Rank Tracker differ from what you see in Google SERP when entering your search query manually.

This article aims to explain the reasons behind this phenomenon and give you recommendations on how to make Google give you non-personalized search results.  

What factors affect search results?

1. Location. Search results depend on a user’s current location

People located in different cities and countries will see different results for the same queries. However, it depends on the particular query how sensitive search results will be to a user’s map coordinates. For example, if it is a question of finding a local service (such as “dentist near me”), localization will significantly affect the results.

Rank Tracker can show results for any geographic region: for a country, a city, a district, a state, a very small municipality like a borrow, etc. These results are accurate, but they may differ from the output obtained directly from Google.

Main reasons:

  • Filter bubble made of language preferences, browsing history, search history, and other factors (we’ll get into details in the next paragraphs).
  • While setting up a Rank Tracker, a user selects rank checking for a country and gets average results for a country. But while googling manually the user receives results for a city or even a particular city district. It means that geographic areas of monitoring rankings don’t coincide. So users can see different rankings for the same keywords in Rank Tracker and in the Google SERP.
  • SERP storm. Read more about it below.

2. Search history. Search engines take into account a user’s previous queries

Search results depend directly on what we’ve googled today and what we google usually. It means that the search engine takes into account both our short-term and long-term search history. You can trace how personalization works by looking at the search suggestions (a drop-down list that appears after entering the first letters) and in the SERP.

Each user’s search history is unique. That is why two people sitting at the same table may see different results for the same queries.

However, the Rank Tracker shows pure results that are not influenced by a user’s prior history of googling.

There are other factors that define SERP – let’s talk more about it.

3. Browsing history. Websites we prefer become more relevant

We all have websites that we visit pretty much on the daily basis: news platforms, professional blogs, social networks, e-commerce services, etc. And the search engine knows about it and given to that, ranks your favorite sites for you higher.

If a user has a personal account in the search engines’ mail services (e.g. Gmail), the collected data about him will be even more accurate. The engines take into account not only direct site visits, but also how a user interacts with a site: the time spent on the site, a number of visited pages, how often the site is visited, and so forth.

In comparison, Rank Tracker shows the ranking data for an imaginary user that has never used Google before. It’s the only way to see an actual SERP – how relevant the websites are for a query according to search engines’ estimation.

4. Language preferences. Search results vary depending on a language of the queries and a browser setting

The language of a query, a language of a user’s browser, preferred l versions of the websites in terms of the language preference – search engines consider all of those factors when personalizing search results.

For example, you are an English native speaker but sometimes you need to find information in German. You also read German-language news resources on the regular basis, choose German as a preferred language when visiting some websites or reading articles in Wikipedia. Make no mistake, search engines made a note of this behavior and picks German websites for you much more often than for other users.

Google takes into account language settings of your Gmail-account as well.

5. Social signals. If a search engine has access to user’s social connections, this info will be used  

Google first began experiments to attract social factors in order to form search engine results. The first attempts were unsuccessful. In 2008 users were given the opportunity to vote for the sites, and then remove uninteresting addresses or add the sites you like with comments. However, this project – SearchWiki – was closed a half of that year later on.

In 2010, they tried to vote for your favorite sites with asterisks, but this idea did not stick. But users of Google Chrome browser were able to make their own search engine results, just blocking unwanted sites (these statistics with blocking sites was collected for general rankings).

Finally, at the end of 2011, the social network Google + was completed, and they chose to vote for sites with the button +1. In January 2012, Google announced the function «Search Plus Your World» and all registered Google users got search engine results with the statistics of their interests, as well as the recommendations of their friends. Everything can be customizable, but a personalized search was turned on by default for all Google users.

Google makes it no secret that if you are an active Google+ user the system uses your profile data such as your interests, profession, contacts, even demographic data (gender, age, location) when generating the results for your query.

Even preferences of a user’s friends can affect the SERP – Google increases ranks of the websites that are preferred by a group of people united by social signals.

Google has long ceased to be just a search engine. It has become our online habitat with its browser, mailbox, and social platforms, maps, aggregators, and many other services. But all these extra services only make work of the search engine better allowing the system to collect a complete data package to provide better response to your request. However, that is why the results we see in the Rank Tracker can sometimes differ from what we see in Google.

However, with all being said above, personalization is not the only thing that affects the SERP.

6. Other factors

SEARCH FILTERS

The search results can be occasionally transformed by filters that user set some time before and completely forgot about. So make sure that you are turning off the customized search: timeframes, language settings, SafeSearch.

safe search

LATE DATA SYNCHRONIZATION BETWEEN DIFFERENT GOOGLE DATA-CENTERS

Google uses lots of servers located in different parts of the world. The data between these servers is of course properly sync but in some cases, the synchronization might take some time. So if you see different results in the SERP and in the Rank Tracker, just give it a bit more time.

ALGORITHM UPDATES

Each of the Google new search algorithms shakes the SERP dramatically. So don’t check your rankings right after the new algorithm is announced. Keep calm and try to monitor your site’s rankings in a couple of days.

TYPOS

If the query is misspelled, the results will be different. So when you create a project in SE Ranking, make sure you download a list of keywords that are spelled correctly. And of course, proofread the keyword for which you want to check rankings manually.

SEARCH RESULTS ON DIFFERENT DEVICES

Mobile, tablet and desktop search results may differ significantly. In the SE Ranking Rank Tracker, you can view the results both for the desktop and for mobile. Keep this in mind when comparing the results you see in SE Ranking and those of the SERP.

In general, these are the main reasons why SE Ranking data may differ from what you see in the search. Now let’s take a look at ways to neutralize personalization and get more accurate data from the search engine.

How to turn personalization off?

Incognito mode

The first thing you can do to avoid personified search results is to open an incognito tab. In Google Chrome, you can do this with the shortcut Ctrl + Shift + n or ⌘ + Shift + n for Mac OS. Search in the incognito tab does not take into account the search and browsing history.

incognito search

But even when we use an incognito mode, Google knows our location and a language of a browser we use. The same is fair for any other search engine (e.g. YouTube). Remember how you opened PornHub in an incognito tab and the service offered you videos popular in your country? Well, this is not a coincidence.

Stop search engines from using your private data

Open your Google account and go to the search settings. In the section Private results choose the option Do not use private results.

private search

Deleting search history, clearing cache and cookies

Each browser has its own algorithm of deleting cookies and clearing cache. In Google Chrome you can do it this way:

  • Click the menu and select “More tools” → “Clear browsing data”.

clear browsing data

  • Indicate the period you want to clear the data for.
  • Choose “Browsing history”, “Cookie and other site data” and “Cached images and files” fields and click “Clear data”.

How to see Google’s results for the other region?

Google shows the results strictly based on the user’s location (the search engine determines it by IP, location and search history). You can see how Google defines your location at the bottom of any Google SERP.

If Google defines your location incorrectly, you can update the information following the instruction.

Formally, Google has the option to configure the search region. You can select the country for which you want to get results. To do this, log into your account, go to the settings on the Google homepage and select the country:

search region

However, this opportunity is called “formal” for a very good reason – Google will still localize the SERP based on search and browsing recordings, especially when it comes to local queries.

To help users who want to see Google’s results for other location, we’ve developed a tool called Google Location Changer. It enables users to see search results provided by the main search engines for any country, city, county, for any location and municipality.

Just  enter a query, choose a language and a location (an ip code for example).

If you want to see the SERP for different devices, mark the Google ads preview for devices field and choose which device you want to see the results for. Ultimately, you’ll see a current SERP with paid and organic results for a chosen location and for a particular device.

google location changer

However, even when we use the Location Changer, Google sees our browser’s language. Nevertheless, the tool gives results that are more accurate than the ones you get using VPN.

Remember! The key to an efficient rank monitoring is to be attentive to details. Make sure that in the Rank Tracker settings you have chosen a correct location and a needed search channel: desktop or mobile. If all the settings are correct, the chance you’ll get wrong results is minimized.

Summary  

Personalization significantly affects the search results by tracking several groups of data. We know the following:

  • Search history (both the short-term and long-term).
  • Browsing history (search engines take into account both the short-term and the permanent user’s interests).
  • Language preferences (of the queries, visited websites, browser, etc.).
  • Social signals (behavioral metrics in Google+ and other subsidiary services).
  • Location.

One can try to neutralize such “filters bubble” by using incognito mode, clearing the cache, deleting search and browsing history, and by using Google Location Changer tool from SE Ranking.

Important! If you still get results that differ from the ones in the Rank Tracker, check the analysis parameters (region, device, keyword spelling, search engine choice, etc.).

And keep in mind that:

  • Google does not reveal full information about the ranking algorithms used. There are search factors that we do not know about.
  • There are SERP randomization factors that can not be controlled. For example, search results change after algorithm updates, due to slow synchronization of data between servers, etc.

So, do not be surprised if the results in Rank Tracker slightly differ from the rankings you see in Google. There are multiple reasons for that, and personalization is just one of them.

This is why we love SEO – it always has a place for mysteries. 🙂

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