Your Google Search Results May Not Be As Good As They Look

By Chuck Munson

We sometimes talk to small business clients who tell us that their search results on Google are good for their industry or compared to their local competition. That may be truly the case, but it’s possible that you are seeing results that don’t reflect what everybody else gets based on the same searches. Most people don’t understand how search engines work. These days search engines customize results based on factors such as your location and your past search history. The search engines do this because they know that most people want search results that are more precise because of these factors.

If you are a small business or organization and want to really understand how people are finding your site this personalization doesn’t help you see what other people are getting for search results. Search engine personalization is interfering in the following ways:

  • Geolocation — The search engine delivers results based on what it knows about your location. It knows fairly precisely where you are when you search from your office or home computer. If you search via a mobile device, it knows even more precisely thanks to GPS. If you run a Mexican restaurant, for example, the search engine may display your restaurant website higher in the search results, if you happen to be searching from a location close to the restaurant. Meanwhile, similar restaurants may be appearing higher for most potential customers in your city, but you can’t see this if the search engine is delivering results based on your location.
  • Past search history – Search engines also will deliver results based on your past search history, based on the idea that you are interested in sites that you’ve already visited in the past. If you are also visiting your own website often, this will be reflected in the search results.

So, how do you get a more accurate take on how your website is faring in searches?

  • Test your searches from a public location, such as a coffee shop or public library. So many people will have searched for similar things from those locations that you should get a better handle on where your website is appearing in searches.
  • Ask a friend or family member to search on your website (or keywords) from their computers (and mobile devices). Have them report where your website is appearing in search results. You might want to consider asking a friend in another city to the same thing.

Talk to your web developer about strategies to improve your search engine results.