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3 Reasons Why You Aren't Ranking Number One On Google

By Darren DeYoung

We often get requests from companies to help them rank number one on Google for a specific term. Although keyword rankings were once a significant part of any SEO campaign, that is not the case anymore. Why? Keyword rankings are inaccurate!

Wait, what!?

Yup, you read that right. Keyword rankings cannot be fully trusted and these are the reasons why:

  1. Personalization
  2. Device
  3. Location

3 Reasons Why You Aren't Ranking Number One On Google

Personalization of Search Results

With Google’s mission to provide results that are personal to each user, 10 people could search for the same term and all 10 of them could have different results. This means that if I were to search for “smartwatch” after perusing several different smartwatch websites, Google would tailor the rankings to show businesses that sell smartwatches.

This wouldn’t be the case for someone that has never visited a smartwatch web page. In this instance, Google may tailor those results to news stories or review sites of smartwatches. This makes it very difficult to truly rank number one because the number one ranking can be different from one person to the next.

Personalized search has been around since 2005, whether you are signed in to a Google account or not. Bing and Yahoo personalize their search results as well. Personalized search is linked to an anonymous cookie on your browser which tracks your search history for the past 180 days. If you are signed in under a Google account, your search results are even more personalized. Because Google has more information about you from your accounts, your results will be even more relevant.

Google creates a personalized profile for every searcher based on their browsing history, search history, which websites they click on from the search results page, and then alters the future search results based on these interests.

For example, I searched for “bass” and got this:

Google Search results for Bass

Below the first organic result for the G.H. Bass & Co. is a number of fishing-related websites. I visited a few of those websites. I then opened a new tab and searched for “bass” again:

Google Search Result for Bass the fish

Well, what do you know, information about the bass fish is displayed in the knowledge panel. Google has “personalized” my search results based on past search behavior. Ironically, it also provided a link for more results on the bass guitar, as well.

Personalization draws information from all Google products that you use. Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Play, Google Maps, etc. all have information about you and your interests. Google uses this information to personalize your search results and to provide a better experience.

It is possible to turn off personalized search, but Google can still personalize searches based on your geographic location, which we’ll discuss later.

How Does Your Device Impact Search Rankings?

Man looking at his mobile phone with a laptop computer in the background
More people use mobile devices than desktops to access the web, so Google has made changes to its search algorithms to rank websites differently on each device. In fact, preference is given to mobile-optimized sites over websites that are geared toward desktop computers. Search queries are also interpreted differently.

A mobile-friendly website is huge! Websites that are not optimized for smartphones will not even show for mobile searches.

Today, websites need to focus on mobile versions to provide a better user experience.

Previous Searches on a Single Device

Furthermore, whether using a desktop or mobile device, Google knows all of your past searches (at least up until the point you last cleared your browser cache and cookies). If you use similar search terms, Google will remember this and provide results based on this search history.

This can lead to issues. What if you are a business owner that regularly searches for your company name or specific keywords? Repeated searches for the same terms or keywords may make your company seem favored in the search results. One way to check this is to use different browsers and search for the exact same terms. Note if the results are the same or not and you will see if the results are affected by the device's search history.

Previous Clicked on Google Links

Let’s take this a step further. Say you own a lawn care company and not only do you regularly search for your business name or keywords from the same device but you also frequently click on your website from the Google results page. Guess what? Pages that you regularly visit from the Google results page will start to show up more and more in future searches. This will be a personalized result based on device and search patterns, but it will also create a false impression that a webpage is ranked higher than it actually is.

Ranking First Based on Location

Map of the world with five colored pins on it
Years ago, a search for “air conditioner repair” would produce a list of websites that either talked about air conditioners or were air conditioner repair companies. Now, when you search for “air conditioner repair”, Google knows what device you searched from, your past search history, where you are located, and if you are on the move. All of this information is known to Google (assuming privacy settings haven’t been altered) and it will provide search results catered to the searcher’s immediate situation.

As an air conditioner repair company, ranking number one for “air conditioner repair” is great and probably expected if you are standing just outside your front door. But if you expect your website to rank number one while standing in the parking lot of a different air conditioner repair shop that is 1,000 miles away, don’t count on it. With nearly one-third of all mobile Google searches relating to a location, results will vary based on the locale of the searcher.

Why You Aren’t Ranking First

There are no consistent Google rankings or search experiences across users, locations, or devices. Although ranking number one on Google is the desired position, keep in mind that others are seeing different results. If you are ranking on the top spot on your device, you may not be in the same position on your friend’s device.

Instead of focusing on your rank, focus on creating a quality user and mobile-friendly website. Catering to the user and following the rules will not guarantee you a top ranking, but it will ensure that your website is most likely to succeed.

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