SEO and Why Search Rank is Relative

POSTED ON September 27, 2013

Marker Seven is asked frequently about how to build websites that are search engine optimized. Usually, the question goes something like: “Will my site show up on the first page of Google?” The answer, however, is a little tricky.

In an effort to try and provide users with the best-matched results set, search engines try to anticipate the needs of each individual and will return results based on those preferences. Many factors control this, such as:

  • Browsing history – collected by IP address, through a signed-in user account (e.g. user is signed in on Google), and browsing history of the computer being used.   
  • Location – based on IP address, browser region setting, ISP location, and location keywords (e.g. London hotel, Oakland coffee shop).
  • Language setting – based on the computer’s language setting or a signed-in account.
  • Browsing preference – based on the type of computer or device, browser, time of day, and points of access such as the browser search bar or through the search engine’s website.
  • Social – based on shares and preferences of people in the searcher’s social networks.
  • Search trends – based on observed trends in all searches (e.g. if many people are searching for “cruise” and clicking on vacation websites, fewer people will be offered results for the actor Tom Cruise)

In a nutshell – determining search rank for a website is difficult because search results are going to be different for each user. A searcher in Maryland who frequently types searches about investments is going to get different results than the searcher in California who likes wakeboarding websites.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t solid SEO techniques for getting a site in front of searchers. Marker Seven recommends building sites with a strong organic rank target. This means a search rank foundation that is separate from the personalized factors listed above. Marker Seven uses a variety of different tools to determine a site’s organic rank, including paid services and ongoing monitoring.

For a quick and dirty method for testing search rank, site owners can open a private browsing session (i.e. log out of all search engine personal accounts) and perform searches directly from the search engine’s website instead of from a browser toolbar. There will still be differences because of location and possibly browser types, but by eliminating the user’s browser history, you can see results that are closer to your organic rank. Just don’t be surprised if those results are still a bit different from a colleague’s in another city. There may be a lot of Tom Cruise fans there.

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