Why Search Engine Rankings Vary

A few weeks ago I was perusing the search engine results pages of Google and putting together a bi-weekly online reputation management report to send to one of our clients. As I created the report, I was pleased to see that two of our sites that we created, optimized and have consistently been posting positive content to are ranking on the first page. I told the client that one site was in the #1 spot and another was #6, pushing two pages with negative content down to the second page… or at least that’s what I saw on my computer.

A few minutes after sending out the report I got a reply from my client. She said that she was searching the same keywords on Google, but was not seeing our sites rank for the positions that I reported.

It’s never fun when your client thinks you might be lying to them. I immediately took and sent screenshots to give her an idea of what I was seeing on my computer, and explained some of the possible reasons why SEO rankings could vary from my computer to hers. Here are some of the most common factors:

Browsing History
Our different browsing histories were most likely the culprit, as search results are personalized. Google remembers the sites you’ve visited in the past and will often show them higher in search results. This is the same technology that is used in banner ads — have you ever went to a store’s website for the first time and then suddenly everywhere you go there’s banner ads for that store?

The search engine is simply trying to customize results to give you what it thinks you may be looking for. If my client is sitting on Google all day checking out the negative comments being said about her company, Google may offer up those sites thinking that’s what she wants when she searches the company’s name.

Your Location
Google shows different search engine results based on your location. In this case, I’m located in south Florida and my client is about 1,100 miles away. Search engines will try to provide the best results based on where you are, and the results will be slightly different and the order may change. I have noticed differences in search results from my office to my home, which are less than two miles apart.

IP Address
Your search engine results can be affected by your IP address as well. Google tries to custom tailor results, so if you have a different IP address from another computer or mobile device it’s possible that you may get different results.

Twitter has been thought to influence search results for a while now, and it appears that Google Plus might be as well. The little +1 buttons you see all over the internet are similar to “liking” something on Facebook. These +1 buttons can affect what you see in search results because Google remembers what you “plus 1+ed” and will likely show these sites ranking higher. The rumors going around are that these “pluses” not only affect your search results, but having a lot of them could also help your website rank higher overall.

When discussing SEO or online reputation management with clients (or potential clients), it’s important to understand these factors that cause search engine rankings to vary. It’s good to explain to them that they may not see the same exact results as you all the time, but that this isn’t something to worry about. This will hopefully contribute to you and your client having the most pleasant and productive relationship possible.

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