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Discrepancy in Rankings Between Webmaster Tools and Browser Searches

Trying to track results can be a difficult part of SEO – you put a lot of work into optimizing your page, but then you have to look through many pages of search results for different keywords to see where you rank. Google’s Webmaster Central is an easy way to track what search terms visitors are using to find your site, and monitor them. Sometimes, though, you do not see your site when you search for those same words. In a great video on the Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel, Google’s Matt Cutts explains several reasons for these differences. Basically, Google tries to personalize search results for each individual person, based on how much information they have about that user. He also lists three specific types of personalization which might affect your search result. The first is localization – Google automatically attempts to adjust your web results for your location, down to the metro area. For instance, if you are an SEO company in one location optimizing a site for a dentist in another location, then when you search for the keyword dentist, you will get local results, and won’t be able to see the results that would be shown to a user in the dentist’s local area. The other reasons are that Google personalizes search results based on the data they have about your personal search patterns and history, and also that the rankings may change over time, so your site may not be ranked as well now as it used to be. Basically, just know that if you can’t find your site in the search results for keywords that you know you rank well for, that is because you are getting differently personalized results than some of your users. One very important point brought up in the video is that seeing different results can, in a way, be a good thing. If you know that people are finding your site using a particular search term, and you can’t, then you know a term that you should work on optimizing – your site can rank well for that term, but it isn’t (yet). Because of Google’s secrecy around their search algorithms, we’ll never know exactly what factors determine search ranking, or what makes it different form one person to the next. If you are experiencing discrepancy between Google’s Webmaster Tools and your own browser searches, then just know that it is because of personalization, and that that keyword is one which you should spend more effort optimizing.

Dan Petrovic, the managing director of DEJAN, is Australia’s best-known name in the field of search engine optimisation. Dan is a web author, innovator and a highly regarded search industry event speaker.

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