Frequently Asked Questions about Search Engine Results

by cj Advertising | October 3, 2013

This blog post was written by the cj Search Team.

In our post, “How Search Works,” we discuss search engine result pages (SERPs), how Google produces answers to user questions, and factors that determine where your website appears in the results.

If you read that post, you may have some questions about how your brand fits in the picture. Here are the answers to the four most common questions we receive about your search marketing strategy:

1.Aren’t all results the same?

No. Due to personalized results and other ranking factors of search algorithms, placement of any given website in the SERPs is always in flux.

Every day, search engines learn something new. According to Google Fellow Ben Gnomes, “16 to 20 percent of the search queries performed (each day) have never been asked before.”

This means that every day there are new opportunities for your site to rank for keywords that no one may have believed were relevant. Even familiar search terms can yield different results depending on who is doing the searching. It is part of our processes to monitor Google Webmaster Tools for these opportunities. We focus on opportunities that have relevance and volume.

2.What happens when I search to see where I rank?

When you search for yourself, Google takes into consideration your personal search history with a certain search phrase, such as “personal injury lawyer.” Depending on how you’ve interacted with the results in the past, the sites shown may differ from those shown to unique users—users who have never searched using the term or interacted with the websites in the SERP.

Example: You search “personal injury lawyer” and never click on a site.

Over time, Google will alter the SERP to show other sites on the first page because you never interacted with the first batch of sites. This also happens for sites you visit and immediately leave.

SERPs are based on a number of user-centric factors including, but not limited to:

  • Geographical Location
  • IP Address / MAC Address
  • Sign-In Status
  • Search Settings and History
  • Term(s) Searched

3.How will I know where I rank?

We know high ranks on the SERP are important, and we understand your concerns with ranking well. In many cases, the terms optimized for you by the search team may differ from the ones you feel you should rank for.

We optimize for relevant keywords that have traffic. Often, there is a “sweet spot,” where a great keyword gets lots of local searches and is relevant to the content on a website.

Our team uses a number of programs, such as Raven Tools, to identify success and, yes, ranking. But we often turn to the source—Google Webmaster Tools—to understand ranking averages.

Google doesn’t specify exactly where keywords will rank, but instead it gives us tools to show the average position where your website should rank.  We then use this information, along with on-site Analytics and conversions, to identify clear successes and opportunities for your website.

4.What about SERP trackers and scrapers?

Many SEO tools offered ranking information at one time or another. This information was provided via screen scrapers. Screen scrapers would run computer-controlled searches and record the results as displayed on a computer screen. The data these scraped results provided was the basis for SERP tracker tools.

In 2012, Google told businesses that used scraped data in their SERP tracking tools that Google would not allow access to other Google applications—such as Google’s API—if the businesses and their tools were found using scraped data.

There are still services that use scraped data, but the data is often inaccurate or a misrepresentation of what actual users see. The scraper systems don’t read like users because they avoid many of the technical elements mentioned above that are associated with user searches. As a result, the search results they scrape are not the same ones a user will see.

These are answers to four of the most common SEO-related questions our search team receives.

We hope this post has answered your search rank questions. For answers to other questions about your rankings, search engines, or SEO, please contact your Client Services team.