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One of the most frustrating things about measuring keyword rankings is that Google serves “personalized” results for every user.  This means that when you search for something like “The Prime,” you may get one series of results from Google, while someone else may get a very different series of results.

For example, look at the screenshot below. Both searches were conducted within moments of one another by two marketing pros who were in different locations.  Both searched for the keyword “the prime.”  Notice that everything highlighted in red below varied significantly from search-to-search.  Out of 17 search results, 9 changed substantially in between searches, and remember that both were conducted within seconds of one another.  If the CEOs of all the companies represented in the searches below had paid an SEO firm to optimize for that keyword, the only CEO who would have been somewhat happy would have been Jeff Bezos, as Amazon ranked #1 for one search, and #2 for the second search.

Why Does Google Do This?

There are actually two very simple reasons why Google does this, and they both boil down to A/B testing:

  1. First, Google does this because they want to see which links get the most clicks, and in what position they perform best.  One of the most under-appreciated ranking factors is “click through rate,” which is a calculation of how many people click on your ad after seeing your ad.  If 100 people see your ad (or organic search result, in this case) and 10 people click on it, you have a 10% CTR.
  2. The second reason Google does this is that some keywords are inherently more ambiguous than others.  If you search for “The Prime,” you may be looking for an apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, or you may be looking for a book by Kulreet Chaudhary. Or you may be a slow typer, and so your keyword “The Prime” is actually an unfinished thought for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”  Google doesn’t actually know what your intent is, in any of those cases, and so it needs to test things out.  If it finds out that 90% of people who type in “The Prime” end up clicking on the Wikipedia link for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, then my guess is that Google will start replacing some of the other links with topics related to that.

The trend of personalized search is not going away, and it is a good idea for you to use the screenshot below as an example of how Google changes things up from person to person in fairly dramatic ways, even when two searches occur moments from one another.

Screenshot 2016-07-06 19.31.41

Will Marlow is a search engine marketing consultant who loves helping high growth companies optimize and improve their PPC results: and he holds seven certifications: Google AdWords Search, Display, Mobile, Shopping, and Video Certification, Google Analytics Certification, as well as certification as a Bing Ads Accredited Professional.

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