SEO under scrutiny: Reasons your Google search results are different than mine brought to you by META Q

Reasons your Google search results are different than mine

Google seeks to provide the best results for individual users. This means that they want and expect search results to be different from person to person and that people searching in the same office may see different search results.

This also means that the same person may see different results between his or her work computer and home computer.  Here’s why two people in the same room may (and probably will) see different results when running the same keyword search using Google.


Google attempts to automatically detect a user’s location and provide customized results based on that location. The factors for auto-detecting a location are based on IP address and Google Toolbar’s My Location feature (if you use it). Users can also specify their preferred location, using a street address. Manually-set locations are saved in a user’s browser cookie.

Location factors manifest most prominently when searching for things that have desirable geographically targeted results. Try searching for “chinese food” using Google and you’ll likely get a map of nearby Chinese restaurants on the right side column as well as some local results appearing at the top of your list.

Related, but different: Google country-specific Search Engines have been around for a while and display results targeted to those countries. You can experiment with different country’s search results by searching for “yoga” on (U.S.), (Britain) and (Ireland), or any other country-specific version of Google.


Google provides personalized results based on previous searches. When you’re signed in to any of Google services, Google personalizes your results based on your account’s web history. For example, if you often click on Amazon’s links in your search results, Google will see that as a preference and start to show you Amazon links more often and in higher placements in your search results.

In addition to results based on your web history, Google now shows “Personal Results” when you’re logged into your Google+ account. These are linked from the top of a standard search results page and are based on your personal search history as well as searches from your Google+ connections.  So if your friend likes a particular Chinese restaurant, it’s likely to come up higher in your search if you’re logged into your Google account while searching.

Even when you’re not signed in, Google still provides personalized search results based on past search information accessed via browser cookies. Google stores your non-logged in search queries and clicked results for up to 180 days via cookies.

Data Center

Based on a user’s location, a keyword search is performed by one of Google’s many data centers. Google doesn’t say exactly how many data centers it has, but there are at least three dozen reported data centers (and likely several more) around the world.

While sharing the same search algorithm, Google’s data centers may have some variance between them during updates. One data center may already have the newest search algorith while other data centers still have the older one running while propagation takes place.

And no, you won’t always have your search performed by the same data center, even if you search from the same location every time. Google routes searches between data centers with their load balancers. While the out-of-sync algorithms are not as common of a factor, it does occur and can cause results to be different for hours or potentially days between data centers as the algorithm update occurs.

Algorithm testing

Google is constantly testing algorithm changes on search users. Potentially up to 40% of all searches on Google are testing some algorithm variation. The way users respond to the search and subsequent browser history will factor into how such algorithm tweaks are used, understood and adopted.

If you’re the subject of one of these random “bucket tests,” you will see different results than your coworker – even if you both are logged out of Google, have just cleared your cookies, and are searching from the same IP address.


While you don’t have control over which of Google’s data center your searches are run through and if your search results are part of their algorithm testing, you do have control over your location and personalization – you can change your location settings and even turn off of search history personalization


Photo Credit: Jon Candy

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Susan Snipes

Owner and principal of Q Digital Studio

Susan Snipes is the owner and principal of Q Digital Studio. While her old nicknames of Susie Q, Miss Q or just Q may not have stuck, that infamous letter Q became the namesake for Susan's dream job: her own business. Q Digital Studio was founded on principals of sustainability and integrity, values that are near and dear to Susan's heart. Follow Susan on twitter @SusanSnipes.




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What others are saying

Alex Mason

My god, the times I’ve been asked this! Only slightly beaten by my other fave is “why aren’t my PPC ads showing up all the time?”

How about different results based upon browser device. (I’m not sure if that happens although it damn well should!)

Steve Anson

In the absence of any personalization data on a user, do you think Google uses IP location data to identify a users location down to zip code level?  We used to wrk with Net Acuity and they claimed G uses their IP data for user location detection and that zip level detection is 60% accurate.

Susan Snipes

@Steve Anson That is a good question. My understanding is that Google strives hard to know as close to an exact location of a user as they can so they can provide the most targeted search results. I don’t believe that the standard Google keyword search makes use of Google’s “Location Detection Service”, but this is used when searching using Google maps. More info on location detection service: And relatedly, the My Location feature, could be in play:

I would theorize that, in the absence of more exact location data via one of the methods above, Google would extrapolate zip code data from an IP address if they can.

As far as IP addresses matching to zip codes, I’m not sure how accurate it is, but 60% sounds reasonable. I believe a lot of physical addresses that are associated with IPs are the address of the provider (e.g. my IP address points to Comcast’s Denver zip code). So even though a zip code is associated to my computer’s IP address, it not the zipcode of where my computer is.

Rick Middleton

I’m glad someone else has relised these are the reasons! so many people do not know why they get different results, I created a video for my customers in the UK that covers most of the things above, let me know what you think!

Also really like the design of your website, the typography and usability is spot on!


You wouldn’t believe how many conversations I have about localisation with new clients. They simply can’t get their heads around what Google is trying to do and why different search queries from different locations deliver different results.

Nice post :)



my query here is , how come same page meta vary to same ip from day to day. Sometime it took exact meta and another day it takes data from content. Where i dont change login setting, ip location and preferences?


Hello Team
I am not able to find my site or any thing on the search , all what I need to make my site in the top of the list

David Percival

I was very interested to see your comments on different results on Google for different computers.

For example if I go to Google on one computer and enter acne scars I will be shown at #2 which will lead to my website but on the other computer nothing at all.
I have over 50 keywords that are on page 1 of google on one computer and nothing on the other. The keywords are only shown when I use the Internet Explorer browser.
My question is whether anyone can see my keywords?


David Percival

Susan Snipes

@subodh - You could be seeing different descriptions in your search engine results if you are searching on different keywords. Google usually chooses to show a description that matches the keywords you searched on, even if that is *not* what is in the meta description. (I believe Google also still uses descriptions from for some results.)

@David Percival - If you use Internet Explorer as your main browser (the computer that shows 50 of your keywords on page 1 of Google search results), Google is presumably tailoring your results to show you those rankings higher because you search on them a lot and visit that site/those pages a lot.

As far as anyone else seeing your site in Search Engine Results Pages:
Probably others are seeing them, however, they’re likely not ranked nearly as well as they are showing up for you on your Internet Explorer browser.


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