How to manually check your rankings on the search engines

One common mis-perception in checking rankings is that you can just go to Google, or Bing/Yahoo and search for a keyword and count your position on the rankings page (SERP 1). This is UNTRUE!  All the search engines keep track of sites that you have visited before from previous search results by means of a

set of cookies that they track.  This way, if you visit a site frequently, they figure that you really like that site, and want it to come up higher.  Likewise, the results will vary if you conduct a search  google or bing while logged in to them or their associated products.  Like GMail, or Yahoo/Mail .   This fact skews the data and gives people false impressions of what they are seeing.

So it is probably best that we explain what a typical Google search screen looks like and what each section is:

Google Search results explained

Basic layout of google SERPs

Starting at the top left, we have:

  1. Number of search results:  This is the number of pages found for your search query
  2. Adwords:  Notice there are two sections.  One on top, and then the right-side bar.
  3. Right below the adwords, there  is a single organic search result returned in this example.  This will vary depending on your search.
  4. Next we have Google Local/Places.  More on this below
  5. The rest of the organic search.
  6. Related search terms.  This is often useful as it gives other popular searches
  7. Page of organic search

One key point here is that this search returned a Local section.  Yet if you look at the top right, you see that we are NOT logged into google, so how did it know we are in the Atlanta area?  The short answer… Cookies & your IP address.

Here are the cookies that are set on this browser.

google cookies

Cookies that google sets to provide custom search results

These cookies allow google to provide custom search results based on a number of factors.  These include things like location, previous websites that you have visited, plus many more.

How do I get accurate Search ranking results?

It is usually easier to use a second browser for this. One that you do not use everyday. We typically use Chrome for the default browser, and then Firefox for generic search testing. This way you can delete your cookies in the second browser and not loose all your personalization for your normal sites that you frequent in your primary browser.

  1. Open your second browser.
  2. Be sure you are not logged into any site
  3. Clear you cookies
  4. Clear you cache

The two preceeding steps vary depending on your browser & OS.  To clear the cache using firefox on a Mac, it is Preferences->Advanced->Network->Clear Now under “Cached web content”. For cookies, it is Preferences->Privacy->Show Cookies->Remove all Cookies.

Now when you search, the search engines will not have any cookies set, and you can get fairly accurate results from the SERPs.

A couple of points to note:

If the site you are looking for shows up in a Google Local/Places section, that is NOT an organic search result.  That means that the site has a listing in Google Local/Places, which is a good thing, but is irrelevant to organic search results.

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PING is an internet company based in Atlanta.  We specialize in Search Engine Optimization, Web Marketing, and Cutting edge website designs.

1 Comment

  1. Good post, John. Not many people think about this when checking their rankings.

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