Google sees all, knows all, and remembers all. (Until you clear your cache, at least.) So you’d think it could at least come up with consistent search results from device to device or browser to browser, right?
It’s actually that omniscience that produces the varied results. Google’s ever-changing search algorithm uses all of the information it’s collected from your search and other online activity to tailor search results specifically for you. That’s nice when you’re looking for a gluten-free sushi restaurant within walking distance of your office, but it can present a challenge when you’re trying to push your practice’s website to the top of the search results.
So why does the same search return different results on your laptop, your phone, and your patient’s desktop across town? Here are five factors that make a difference.
1. Your History
One of Google’s best sources of information about you is your search history. Google uses your past searches on a given device to determine which results will be the most useful in your current search and pushes those closer to the top.
So if you’ve ever Googled your practice and let out a cheer at your apparent SEO mastery, know two things: One, your PA doesn’t like startling noises while she’s trying to draw blood. And two, those results are influenced by all the times you’ve Googled yourself in the past.
Google also keeps track of your clicks, or the links you choose to visit from the pages of results it offers, and gives them priority when you search for those keywords in the future.
Try clearing your cache and cookies, switching to a different browser, or going incognito in your browser, and repeat the search—you’ll get a better idea of what results look like with less helpful personalization.
2. Your Location
Google has its search capabilities honed all the way down to neighborhood level based on your IP address or GPS location when you perform the search. So of course when your location changes, your results change, too.
Sit at your desk and search for your specialty, and you may well be in the local three-stack on the first page of results. Try the same search again when you get home at night, and you could find that four other endocrinologists located closer to your house have bumped you down to “More places.”
3. Your Google Accounts
Remember how Google sees, knows, and remembers all? In part, that’s because you tell it all. If you use Gmail, Google+, Google Maps, Google Drive, Google Voice, or anything else starting with “Google” (and YouTube, too), Google is collecting information from your various activities that it can use to provide more personalized search results. And considering how many accounts you might have linked, and how many devices you might be logged into at once, that can add up to a lot of information. To see the search without the benefit of all of that information, log out of your accounts—all of them—and search again.
4. The Device You're Using
Searchers use different devices for different purposes, so it makes sense for Google to provide different results. Your phone or tablet is likely to turn up dramatically different results from those on your laptop or desktop. For instance, Google is more likely to rank mobile-friendly pages above other pages if you’re searching on your phone. Or more specifically, Google is more likely to rank your mobile-friendly page above your competitors if your patients are searching on their phone.
5. The Type of Search You're Performing
Doing a News search? Google is going to prioritize news stories. Image search? Google will organize results based on pertinent images. Obviously, Shopping searches are going to turn up shopping-related results, but you also might get results like that from a standard web search if your search terms sound like products a person might shop for online.
Even though the search results pages may vary, your SEO work to stay at the top of the organic search results remains more or less the same: Keep your Google My Business account complete and up to date. Claim your profile on sites like Yelp and Healthgrades, and make sure they’re complete and accurate. Build links, stay consistently active on social media, and generate worthwhile content.