4 minutes read

How well does your websites pages rank on Google? Google Personalised Search has gone the next step, introducing personalised search results even for not logged on users. When you are manually checking your websites rankings on Google, if you often click through onto your website via Google, your site is likely to rank higher than it would otherwise.

As an SEO Consultant, I want to make sure that I turn off all search personalisation so that I can see the true rankings on Google for a client.

I need to make sure that I am firstly logged out, web history turned off, and I have http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?answer=54067, even when I am logged in. Then I need to set a cookie on my browser, telling Google not to record search history via that browser. At the top right of the search results when you are not logged in, is a link “Web History” where you can “Disable customizations based on search activity”.

However, if you at anytime clear your cookies, you need to add back that search preference.

So be warned. The search results that you see might not be the “actual” search results for casual users.

What is stored

When you are not logged in, you have a cookie on your browser that is linked to your search history data stored on Google. Up to 180 days worth of search data is stored on Google. It only records your signed out search data and results clicked on, not general web browsing history.

When you are logged in with history enabled, your web history is stored indefinitely. Both details of web pages visited, and search history is stored.

I have just created a new test account on Google, and was pleasantly surprised that the search history was disabled by default.

How many people will be logged into Google?

With so many different reasons to be logged into Google - gmail, youtube, analytics, webmaster tools, adwords, picassa,… many people will be logged in most of the time.

Since disabling search history is something you have to actively do, my guess is that few people will disable web history in either logged in or not logged in status.

Search Personalisation Effect on Traffic

If someone has history enabled via either logged in or out, there are two effects:

  • Customised query suggestions - see Google’s query suggestions
  • Customised search results

For your websites result to be higher on Google, or for a competitors result to be higher, they must have previously visited that site. Therefore for people who are searching for a topic for the first time, the search results should be clean.

But…

The Benefit of a Large website

It is likely that searchers will have visited review websites more frequently than individual commerce websites. If you are searching for hotels, you are more likely to have visited ezibed, wotif, or tripadvisor in the past when you were finding information on other hotels. These results are likely to be therefore ranked higher than individual hotel listings that you would only likely visit once.

On the other hand, hotels that have establishments in many cities are likely to see a benefit. If you have stayed at Heritage Auckland, then search for Queenstown Hotels, you are more likely to see Heritage’s Queenstown listing higher.

If you have a website that is ranking well for long tail searches then people are more likely to have visited your website for related searches. When they make a purchase related search, your website is likely to rank higher and you are more likely to be clicked on as you will have brand recognition.

But is there an actual effect on rankings?

If you clicked on say one website for 8 separate searches, would there be any difference in the results between history enabled and disabled.

Google.co.nz - searched for phrase, noted position, clicked on result for 8 searches, turned search history off, repeated searches and noted results.

Yes, when I was logged in, there was a time shown of when I last visited those pages. But no other personalisation effect.

So while in theory search personalisation should have some effect, as at the moment there is little noticeable change in the search results for a specific searched for website.

Be aware it is possible that rankings could be effected. But as at the moment there is little effect seen for non logged in users.

Google resources:

What are your experiences with Google Search personalisation?