We were recently asked by a customer if it’s possible for two people to perform the same exact search in Google and get two different search results. The answer to this question is undoubtedly yes. By now we’ve all noticed how advertisements are directly related to our search history and Google’s search results aren’t any different.
Google aims to provide relevant results for individual users and they expect search results to be different from one computer to the next. One reason why search results for the same keyword can be different is because of a user’s geographic location. Google tracks IP addresses to determine where you’re searching. For example, if you search “restaurants” in one part of town and try it again in another, Google may suggest different restaurants. Google also has the capability of personalizing search results based on your internet history.
What is Google Personalization?
Personalized search was officially introduced in 2005 to users with Google accounts. In 2009 Google launched the feature to everyone who used their search engine, including those not signed in with Google accounts.
According to Google, personalized search gives them the ability to customize search results based on a user’s previous 180 days of search history, which is linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser. This is how Google personalizes results when you’re not signed in under a Google account. When you’re signed in, Google stores your Google web history and search is personalized even more.
By tracking search results Google attempts to provide the most useful and relevant content based on your search. For example, if you start searching and clicking on links from Target, Google will learn that you prefer to shop with Target and may provide more search listings by Target.
It is possible to turn off Google’s personalized search, but Google doesn’t make it easy to do so. For users signed in to Google, visit your account’s dashboard and scroll down to Web History. Click on “Remove Web History items” and then click on the gear symbol near the top, right of the screen. Select “Settings” and then click the “Turn off” button.
Although you can turn off personalized search, Google can still personalize searches based on your geographic location and other factors.
SEO and Privacy Complaints
Naturally personalized search results affect search engine optimization and the “organic search results” that individual users see. It’s an all too common complaint from customers that SEO’s have to respond to and there isn’t a straight answer to the problem. Another concern for personalized search is that it may be too personal – decreasing the chances of finding new information and also conflicting with privacy issues. Hopefully this helps explain why two people searching for the same keyword can generate different search results.