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How to Check Website Rankings: Turn Off Personalized Search

Geoff Kenyon
Keyword rankings are often used used to measure the success of an SEO campaign as the top spots in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) get the most traffic. Clients tend to focus on rankings because it is intuitive and easy for them to check.  It is important to remind clients that rankings mean nothing without traffic, and the overall traffic from search engines is a more holistic indicator of how well an SEO campaign is doing.  Since clients will always want to check their rankings, I will outline in this how to correctly check your keyword rankings: by turning personalized search off so your clients can at least be more accurate when they check their rankings.

The problem with going to a browser and searching for your keywords is that your web history can skew the search results.   Personalized search can cause keywords to rank differently when different people check keyword rankings.  

Personalized search takes into account several different factors including:

Whether or not the user is signed into a Google account
Geographic location
Which data center is being accessed
Web browsing history
The factors above can trigger what is called personalized search (in Google); personalized search tailors the SERPs rankings in an attempt to provide more relevant search results for users.  Since users have different web browsing histories, their search results will be different causing a difference in rankings.  

When a user frequently visits a site, Google interprets this as a preference for a website.  If that website has content that relates to a keywords that particular user is searching for, the content will be more likely to rank higher when that user performs the search.  This is often where many discrepancies in keyword rankings appear (especially when working with clients).

In order to get an un-personalized ranking, personalized search must be turned off.  There are two primary ways to check keywords properly, by turning off personalized search.  The first way is to add “&pws=0” to the end of a search query URL.

For example, a search for mountain bikes would have the following URL:

To make this URL return non personalized search results, append “&pws=0” to the end, so there URL would look like: 

If multiple keywords need to be checked at the same time, SEObook’s Rank Checker tool is the best option.  This is a free FireFox extension that allows a user to check multiple keywords across multiple domains in one pass.  There are several options included in the extension, including the ability to not use personalized search.  Registration (free) is required to download and install this extension, but the hassle is well worth the benefit.

Get Rank Checker

While there are other software packages that will check rankings, it is important to make sure that they utilize non-personalized search if this will be used for any kind of reporting.
Geoff Kenyon

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