Why Do Search Engine Rankings Vary?

Brendan Egan

Why Do Search Engine Rankings Vary?

Did you know that your search engine rankings vary based on things like your location, your IP address, Google Plus, and sites you’ve visited?  Well they do — and most people never even notice this.
Search engines such as Google try to custom tailor search results to what they think you’re looking for.  They do this by learning about you and your search habits, your location, and other factors.  They get it right most of the time, sometimes they don’t, but this article will explain what they do and how it effects search engine optimization.

Location Based Rankings:

Search engines like Google show different search engine results based on your location.  Now this is obvious if you travel, for example I was in the Dominican Republic a few months ago and I was automatically redirected to Google Dominican Republic where my website didn’t show up for my keywords.  But on a more important level this can effect searches in Chicago vs. searches in Detroit.  For example, in Chicago we rank for keywords like “Chicago SEO” and “SEO Chicago” but if you were to search for this from another location the results would be slightly different and the order would change.  Search engines try to give you the best results based on your location and your search results will vary just based on where you are.

IP Based Rankings:

Your IP address can effect your search engine results as well.  For example, I have a different IP address on my mobile phone vs my computer and when I Google certain keywords I get different results on my phone vs. my computer.  This is because search engines try to custom tailor results on your phone assuming you are on the run vs. your computer when you are stationary.

Google Plus:

Perhaps you’ve noticed little ” +1 ” buttons popping up all over the web.  This is Google Plus, which is similar to “Liking” something on Facebook.  These buttons however have an impact on what you see in search results as Google remembers what you have “plused” and will show these sites higher in search results.  It’s also rumored that these “pluses” not only impact your search results but websites with more “pluses” will overall rank higher.

Web History:

This is the most obvious and impacts everyone.  Google remembers what sites you have visited in the past and will show them higher in search results when you search for things.  This is the same technology used in banner ads — you may have noticed that yesterday you went to a website for the first time for “Diamond Earings” for example and now today everywhere you go there’s banner ads for that same site for those same diamond earings.  Google remembers where you have gone, and tries to customize banner ads and search results to fit what you’re looking for.
Now that we know how Google and other search engines customize results, it’s important to understand how this effects SEO.  In short, it effects SEO because when you search or your potential customers search, you might not all be looking at the same results.  That’s why we developed our rank tracker tool which takes an average of search results and shows where your site currently ranks.  In reality, if our rank tracker says you’re #5, you’re likely #1 for some people, and #8 for other people, but the average position that your site shows up is #5.  As we do more and more SEO, our SEO efforts outweigh professionalization efforts and location efforts, which means the search engine rankings will vary much less across the board and your site will consistently show up at the top of search engine results.