Keyword search ranking can be very difficult to measure. Search results usually come back very quickly. That can make it seem as if a fairly simple process is taking place.That fast response time is actually fairly remarkable. In fact, a lot goes into the list of web pages that is returned. Over 800 decisions are made to determine which pages will appear, and in what order. According to Internet Live Stats, “A single Google query uses 1,000 computers in 0.2 seconds to retrieve an answer.”

Some more obvious things considered are the query phrase itself, including word choice and sequence. The meanings of the search terms, the device, location, day of the week, and time of day all go into the formula. A search for ‘buy pizza near me’ will take into account the distance and operating hours of possible options. If that same search is done on a desktop, tablet, and phone, the results will likely differ to accommodate sites with different display capabilities.

Who Is Searching?

Everything known or guessed about the person searching is likely to influence the results. Someone logged in to Chrome while searching is probably well known to Google’s search algorithms, and those logged in and sharing search results across devices are probably extremely well known. The results are tailored to the preferences of the user.

When you do a Google search, the results you see are tailored to your search history. If you have frequently searched for your industry, clicked on a competitor’s web site, and viewed several pages over several minutes, Google might come to think you prefer the web site, and begin to show it higher in search results.

What To Believe

The point here is not to give you a creepy feeling about big brother looking over your shoulder (although you may feel free to shudder). The point here is to explain that what you see in search results is not what EVERYBODY sees for the same search. Your web site may be doing better or worse than is indicated by what you see in your won search results.

You can get cleaner results by using privacy features, but even if you somehow conceal everything possible, you still won’t know what other searchers are seeing when they search.

Fortunately, services exist that collect and report on actual search performance on Google. Our favorite, SEMRush, is a very thorough tool. The free version has limited results, but shows results for specific regions. For example, you can see how your site and others perform for search terms in your local area. You can also see what search terms your site is known for, and who your competition is in online search.

Stop Googling Yourself

Your search results are skewed to what Google perceives as your interests and intentions. Your search history and other individual details influence those results, so stop relying on them for information about your web site’s SEO health and performance.

By using tools that offer impartial and accurate views of search performance, you can know the truth about your web site. By asking the right questions, and using the right  tools, you can get real information that can be used in your SEO effort.

Then What?

SEO is always useful, but it is very difficult to predict how successful any SEO effort can be. Very heavily entrenched competitors might make it hard for your newer site to advance. Slow page load times or poor mobile formatting might reduce your page scores, leading to lower search ranking. Competitors might invest in SEO or other improvements that enhance their search position.

Our suggestion is to set up tracking reports, perform site audits, and to look for SEO opportunities. SEMRush offers those features in their subscription service, and it is what we use to help monitor and improve SEO for our clients. We urge you to explore third-party search engine marketing tools and get a more accurate picture of your web site’s search rankings.

It pays to have accurate statistics when making SEO decisions, and your own searches are not going to give you that kind of data. Professional tools make it much easier to spot changes and trends, giving you more chance to take informed actions and see more about the results of those actions. You may be pleased with the results or decide more effort is needed, but you will know more facts. We firmly believe that the facts are a better starting point for any SEO effort, and hope you will agree.