7 Reasons Google Search Results Vary Dramatically

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Like many people you may be a regular Google search user. Over time you may have noticed a strange phenomenon: Google search results vary, even on the same device, using the same browser and using the same keyword phrase or search term.

Users who are not well-versed in Google’s mysterious and ever-changing search algorithm may attribute this to simple error. However, these changes are actually quite intentional. While occasionally inconvenient for users, these search results variations can prove much more problematic for businesses and marketers.

Ranking first on page one in the results Google returns on a desktop computer for a given keyword phrase and somewhere in the middle of page three in the search results on a smartphone for the same keyword phrase can have a significant impact on your business’ online business visibility and sales.

Understanding How Google Search Results Vary

What causes Google’s search results to change? Will you ever know where your business ranks for the keywords you use on your website?

The answers to these questions, unfortunately, are not quite as straightforward as most searchers, marketers and business owners would like. There are many different elements that determine what the results from a Google search displays, including:

  • The type of device used for the search (desktop, laptop, phone, tablet),
  • Your personal search history
  • Whether you are logged in to a Google Account while searching
  • Your geographic location
  • What type of browser you are using
  • The number of Google-generated ads on the page
  • What type of search you are doing
  • The phase of the moon (not really, but with Google you never know).

Here is more information on seven known factors that can play a large role in the results Google returns for your searches.

1.  Previous Searches On a Single Device

Do you remember everything you’ve searched for with Google in the past? Probably not, but Google does, or at least up until the last point you cleared your browser cache and cookies. If you regularly search for similar keywords, Google will remember this, offering you results based on prior searches.

This can be especially misleading for businesses used to searching their own company name or specific keywords on a regular basis. Repeated searches for a given keyword phrase may make a given company or webpage seem particularly favored in the results pages and slowly move higher in the results that a given search returns.

One way to check on this variation is to use a different browser (Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer) and search for the same exact keyword phrase. Results may be the same, or they may differ slightly or even significantly.

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2.  Previously Clicked Google Links

If you’ve searched Google using the same keywords and phrases, and repeatedly clicked on specific links from the results Google returned your results will start to change. Pages that you visited from the links in the results Google returned will start to show up more and more in your results, frequently moving higher on the page and occasionally creating a false impression that a website page is ranked higher than it actually is.

Want to try it for yourself? Google a phrase, then select a link on page two. Repeat the action a few or perhaps several times. You may be surprised how quickly that link will make its way up the rankings on your specific computer, tablet or smartphone. However, this will only be true for your searches, on your computer or smartphone, using the same web browser.

3.  Your Geographic Location

Google relies heavily on location services, meaning that your search results will generally reflect the location settings on the device you are using. If you search “plumber,” the first listing returned will likely be a plumber close to you. This can be a benefit for local businesses who are only seeking customers in close proximity, but can stymie national firms working to achieve broader visibility.

The next time you go on vacation or travel out of town give it a shot. Do a Google search for the keywords you usually use to reach your company’s page or other common searches that you do and see how much the results change from what you normally see. The farther you travel the more pronounced the differences are likely to be.

4.  Google Account Use

Millions of people have Google accounts, using them to access Gmail, Google Drive, Google Voice, and dozens of other related services. A Google account can be used simultaneously on multiple devices, creating a large web of user data that Google can collect and use to refine search parameters for a given Google account.

If you are logged into your Google account while doing a search on Google this store of data will be used by Google to help refine your search based on past behavior. If you want to experiment for yourself, search for something common that you research frequently, and then log out of your account and search again. In many instances your Google search results will vary.

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5.  The Device Used For Searching

Google changes its algorithms hundreds of times over the course of a year, but only few are significant enough to warrant warning. Google Panda was one such change, in which mobile rankings were altered to put responsive and other mobile web design strategies higher than sites with only desktop pages.

This change mainly effected how website performed on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. If you have a great website without a mobile alternative or a responsive design, your Google ranking will more than likely vary from device to device, and often not in your favor on mobile devices.

6.  The Type of Search You Perform

As is to be expected, what you’re searching for will have a big effect on what results you end up with. If your keywords include products that are commonly shopped for online, your results may include more shopping links and results for e-commerce pages.

Within Google you can perform different type of searches including Image search, Video search (YouTube), News searches and more. In each instance the results returned will vary quite a bit for the same exact search phrase.  Changing a word or two in your search can alter the results you receive, especially when it comes to Google’s delineations between the different kinds of searches.

7.   Google Ads (AdWords) Present on the Page

It’s no secret that Google places ads from its AdWords PPC advertising service on its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Some ads are at the top of the first results page, while some show up off to the right-hand side. Sometime there are ads at the end of the ten blue links.

These ads can dramatically change the appearance of the results you see, especially if any of the factors mentioned previously are also at play. A search that has your business website ranked number one for a keyword phrase on your home tablet may look very different on your office desktop computer or on your smartphone as the number and the position of ads will change.

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Conclusions and A Couple Google Search Tips:

Checking the rankings for a given keyword phrase for your business is not as easy as it seems and Google search results vary for many different reasons.

The factors described above are not the only elements that impact the results Google returns for a given search. With so many factors making up Google’s algorithm, how is it possible to know where a given website or web page actually ranks for a specific keyword phrase?

Keeping in mind that rankings can shift many times a day naturally, there are ways to get a more objective view of where a website ranks for a given keyword phrase.

  • One way to take a fresh look at the rankings for a keyword phrase is to clear your browser cache, cookies, and history, turn off location data, make sure that you are logged out of any Google account. After all this cleanup re-run the Google search.
  • Another way to do this is to use a completely different browser from the one you use every day. In this new browser (Firefox Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari) be sure not to log in to a Google account and don’t click on any links that are returned in the SERPs. Giving yourself a clean slate on a new browser makes it easier to see where or if your website truly ranks for a keyword phrase while avoiding any actions that might artificially inflate the rankings for your keyword.
  • A third method is to use a browser’s “private” searching mode. Internet Explorer provides an “In Private” mode and Google’s Chrome browser provides and “Incognito” mode. These modes must be select when you launch the browser.

Rank Tracking Services:

There are also a number of online tools and services that provide regularly updated information on search rankings for specific keyword phrases. Costs and functionality can vary based on the given service provider and the number of keywords you want to explore and track.

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About Mike McEvoy

Mike McEvoy has a strong and successful history in the technology business world. With more than 25 years as a technology, marketing and Internet professional, Mike has also been a small business owner since 2002.
 
The primary focus of Mike and his team is on helping small businesses build a stronger web presence using digital marketing, search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, social media and email marketing.
 
 Connect with Mike on Twitter - @Mike_McEvoy and @WebPresenceBiz