As all SEOs know, these days Google (and Bing) “personalize” searches, providing different results for everyone, based on what the search engine already knows about you, your search history and preferences. According to the Wikipedia entry for Google Personalized Search:
When a user is logged into a Google Account, all of his or her searches on Google Search are recorded into Google Web History. Then, when a user performs a search, the search results are not only based on the relevancy of each web page to the search term, but the service also takes into account what websites the user previously visited through search results to determine which search results to determine for future searches, to provide a more personalized experience. The feature only takes effect after the user has performed several searches, so that it can be calibrated to the user’s tastes. [my emphasis]
(I won’t even go into the subject of how Personalized Search results in everyone inhabiting their own little “Search Filter Bubble” of information.)
Personalized search is the default setting in both Google and Bing, to the chagrin of both SEOs and those fretting about the Filter Bubble.
So how can those who provide Search Engine Optimization services, or those who simply want to get an unfiltered view of how they’re ranking or what they’re seeking, do a search without the filtering?
Search Tools to Provide REAL Search Rankings
Fortunately, both Google and Bing provide the ability to disable search filtering, so that your results aren’t biased by your previous search patterns, etc.
Verbatim: Google’s Unfiltered Search Results
Google rolled out the Verbatim Tool in November 2011 to address user complaints about not being able to use the “+” operator to constrain search results to the exact terms searched. In its announcement, Google said:
Since then, we’ve received a lot of requests for a more deliberate way to tell Google to search using your exact terms. We’ve been listening, and starting today you’ll be able to do just that through verbatim search. With the verbatim tool on, we’ll use the literal words you entered without making normal improvements such as
- making automatic spelling corrections
- personalizing your search by using information such as sites you’ve visited before
- including synonyms of your search terms (matching “car” when you search [automotive])
- finding results that match similar terms to those in your query (finding results related to “floral delivery” when you search [flower shops])
- searching for words with the same stem like “running” when you’ve typed [run]
- making some of your terms optional, like “circa” in [the scarecrow circa 1963]
In essence, Verbatim both disables personalized search and constrains your search to the exact words searched.
However, you should know that this doesn’t include disabling Localized Search. The search engines use your IP Address (your computer’s Internet address, associated with your physical location) to determine your location, so that searches for location-based services return results in your neck of the woods, further skewing your search results. More on how to use this Location feature below….
How to Enable the Verbatim Search Tool
To enable “Verbatim” click on the “Search Tools” button:
After clicking “Search Tools” you’ll see “Any time” “All results” and your location setting:
Once you have selected the Verbatim Search Tool, your search results will be unfiltered.
How to Turn Off Personalized Search in Bing
Microsoft’s search engine Bing finally, of course, got around to adding personalization, and Bing also makes it easy to disable personalized search filters. At the bottom right corner of your browser screen on Bing’s home page, you’ll see:
Just click “Turn off” and your search results will not be personalized.
On Bing you can only disable personalization on the home page, not on a search results page (SERP). Google lets you select the Verbatim option on any of its search results pages, but not on the home page.
Using the Location Feature to Check Rankings for Different Locales
Another search filter you don’t want to ignore when checking your search-engine rankings is the Location feature where the search engine determines your location based on your IP Address and biases results in that locale.
To modify your Location settings, for both Google and Bing, just click on the gear icon at the top right of your browser window.
For Google, select “Search settings” in the dropdown, and then “Location” in the left column of the landing page:
For Bing, after clicking the gear icon, enter your location on the Bing Search Settings landing page:
You can enter a very specific locale, even a zip code. However you can’t opt to have no location setting; but you can just have a country, which should be sufficiently broad for your purposes.
Disabling Google’s Social Results
If you are logged in to your Google account, then Google knows a LOT more about you as you use its search engine, including your social network. If you’d really not like to include your “friend’s” opinions in your search results, you can opt out of the “social results”:
While you’re logged in to Google, on any Google search-results page, you’ll see this in the upper right corner:
Just click the “world” icon to see only results from the “public Web”; click the “person” icon to NOT see “things like pages, photos, and Google+ posts from your friends,” as Google describes them.
NOTE: Opting out of the social results is “session specific” so personal results will remain disabled only as long as you’re signed in to your Google Account.
Personalized Search’s Effect on SEO
Unfortunately, from an SEO perspective (and cultural, due to the Filter Bubble), personalization is the default setting in both Google and Bing. And it’s likely that most users won’t bother to disable it, even if they are aware that filtering is being applied to their results.
Of course, this presents quite a challenge to SEOs, as searches on the same terms are different for each user, at least to some extent. I think it’s better to have totally neutral results, if only to get some baseline idea of how you’re performing in searches. It won’t reflect exactly what others will see when they do the same search, but it’s probably as close as you get!
As Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land warns:
[T]he idea of “regular” results is … continuing to die. With Google doing extensive reranking based on location — not to mention on prior searches, fewer are really seeing the “normal” results that overriding customization can produce.
So there it is. Let me know what YOU think in the comments.
- Bing Results Get Localized & Personalized (Search Engine Land)
- Google Location Settings in Search : Google Support
- Google Verbatim Search Tool: Google Inside Search
- The Search Filter Bubble – Wikipedia
- Bing Personalized Localized Search: Bing Blog
- Google Announces Verbatim Search
- Turn off search history personalization : Google Support
- Turn off social results : Google Support