If you use Google regularly, you may have noticed that when running a Google search, your search results often vary between browsers, even when the device is the same AND the search terms are the same.
Why does this happen?
It happens because Google’s algorithms return different search results based upon a variety of different criteria.
So what criteria does Google use to change search results? Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how Google determines which results from a search will display, but it is likely that a few key things influence which search results will be shown.
Searches that were previously made in the browser will impact what Google returns. Google keeps track of your searches, and if you often search for similar keywords, Google will remember this and personalize your search results for you.
So if you often use one browser to search, but not another, suddenly switching to the other browser might show different search results.
A little bit, for sure.
It’s SUPER important to remember this, however, because if you’re trying to decide which keywords are the most popular, certain results will appear more frequently for you then they will for other people.
Previous Clicked Links… And Google Chrome
Links that you’ve previously clicked on also influence which search results are returned to you. And, using Chrome will personalize your Google search results based on past search history in general because Chrome is a Google product. So, if you repeatedly click on specific links in Google searches, while using Chrome, your results change and pages that you visit more often will begin to show higher in your returned results.
In contrast, using Firefox would not deliver exactly the same results because you have not clicked on those specific links with that browser. This all makes sense when you take a step back and really think about it, since Google is trying to provide you with the most relevant results that you are most likely to click on.
Other Things That Impact Search Results
There are a host of other things that influence Google search algorithms, including:
- Which Google account you are using (if you have multiple accounts)
- Which device you are using (you will get slightly different results on an Android than you will an iPhone)
- Your geographical location
- The type of search performed
Results will also vary if you run a different kind of search, like a search for images or news, with the same keywords.
It also makes sense that results will change somewhat based on your geographical location. Say you search for “restaurants,” as an example. It only makes sense that the results will list of restaurants close to you.
Google’s Search Personalization
How widespread are the changes caused by Google search personalization? One study in 2013 found that around 11.7% of search results are different/personalized when compared against a control group. This is already a significant percentage, but keep in mind that the study was done back in 2013, and it is likely that Google has placed more emphasis on search personalization since then.
Personalized search results are a polarizing topic, with around 65% of respondents to one study saying that it was a “bad thing” because it limits the information you get online and is an invasion of privacy. 29% said it was a “good thing,” since this type of personalization gives you results that are the most relevant to you.
Where Do You Go From Here?
So what can you do about the discrepancies in search result?
Unfortunately, not much.
These algorithms are controlled by Google, and therefore will be edited by Google at their whim. If you are a business trying to get a sense of how certain search terms rank, all you can hope for is “close” results. You could try clearing the cookies and browser cache in the browser you are using, since in theory, this would mean no connection to previous searches. Unfortunately, however, there will still be other things impacting your Google search results, including location and device type.
You’re probably better off using Google Analytics to get a sense of the search terms leading visitors to your website, rather than focusing on what Google searches return on your device.