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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.

Searchers logged into Google accounts may see slightly different results based on their past search history and the geographic location they have saved in their Google account – e.g. searchers who have a Google account registered to a Swindon postal address will see Swindon based businesses above non-Swindon based businesses in most cases.

What causes Google’s search results to change?

The answer to this question, unfortunately, is 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 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
  • Your personal search history
  • Whether you are logged in to a Google Account while searching
  • The phase of the moon (not really, but with Google you never know).

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

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