Showing up at the top of a Google search made by the owner of a company does not mean that the company’s site has is set up properly to attract customers. Gone are the days when Googling “medical spa” would bring up the site with the most mentions of the words “medical spa" stuffed into its pages. Now, Google search is heavily personalized, and conducting searches on just one person’s computer will not reflect whether or not a site has search visibility that will reach prospects.
Unfortunately, this method is still a common practice: many company owners and marketing directors still can't help themselves from doing "just a little bit of Google searching" themselves to try to "eyeball how we'll they're doing." This approach, however, only leads to an inaccurate understanding of your actual marketing performance, which can lead to potentially disastrous strategy decisions down the road. Let's look at 6 specific reasons, with examples, of why "Googling your keywords" can lead to such a wildly inaccurate understanding of your marketing effectiveness.
Ten years ago, all Google search result pages looked the same: there were links to ten different web pages, with paid ads at the top. But more and more, layout changes and other "widgets" have made their way into the search result pages. There are map widgets, local listing/review widgets, knowledge graph widgets, news widgets, Twitter widgets, image search widgets, long-form reading widgets, movie listing widgets, app install widgets, and more. Here are two search result pages as examples (click for larger images):
In both of these examples, three-quarters of the search result pages are filled with display widgets that don't follow the standard "1-10 web page rank" of traditional keyword ranking. In fact, having a traditionally high-ranking web page for queries with large numbers of custom result widgets like this isn't even useful, because even a well-ranking web page still gets pushed halfway down the page. And on the flip side, having good visibility in these custom widgets that don't follow a "1-10 keyword rank" system is even more valuable for exposure and click-throughs than those search results that do follow a traditional keyword rank system.
These days, Google’s search results are keyed in to the searcher’s location, browsing history, social data, type of device (e.g. laptop, tablet, or smartphone), and even the searcher’s OS. In fact, there are more than 200 factors that Google looks at as the user is typing in a word or phrase. This is why someone in Denver who searches for “Joe’s Plumbing” will get a different result than someone in Des Moines – and why a husband and wife using different computers will get different auto-complete suggestions while searching for laptop cases. Using just one computer does not provide objective data.
One of the factors Google looks at is whether or not a user is signed in, either to Google Chrome or just Google itself. In addition to tailoring search results based on a person's location, Google searches also increasingly tailor their results based on that person's past browsing and social history in their Google account. Personalization runs deep in Google’s search results.
Additionally, search ranking often does not reflect what people actually are searching for. Companies will often choose a list of keywords that they think their customers are using, but their customers are using something entirely different. For example, a medical spa may list “medical spa” as a top keyword that it wants to be found under, but it's possible that its prospects are actually searching for the names of individual procedures. Sprinkling an arbitrarily chosen keyword throughout a website that users are not searching for does not help SEO.
Most of the time, the only thing a particular keyword search will do is point the business owner to what they want to see, rather than the reality of their website’s search visibility to their target audience. And the reality is that not only is Google highly personalized but also that customers and prospects are searching for things that are not necessarily what the business owner thinks they would use. In fact, according to Google’s own engineers, 20 percent of search queries every day have never been searched for before.
You can see some examples and read the rest of this blog on the ClearPivot website.
Chris Strom founded ClearPivot in 2009 to address an increasingly urgent need for businesses: the increasing importance digital marketing channels, and the confusion and lack of understanding in many businesses of how to harness the new opportunities brought on by these changes. Bonus fact: Chris is fluent in written and spoken Mandarin Chinese.