The search results a person sees today may be influenced by the things they searched for in weeks, months, or even years on Google.
The user’s past is said to be followed on Google, where the data is used by search algorithms to provide personalized results.
If true, this means that users will likely not see identical SERPs for the same query, as the ranking locations for URLs can vary from one person’s search to another.
This chapter will investigate claims about a user’s search history as a ranking factor, and provide an explanation of how it affects results.
Claim: User search history is a ranking factor
When a user logs into their Google account, the search results are said to be customized based on their search history.
Google collects the web and app activity of all signed-in users.
You can opt out of data collection, but it is turned on by default.
The data is collected to better understand a person’s interests so that Google can provide more personalized experiences (eg search results, ads).
There are various claims regarding the degree of personalization of search results.
For the most part, it is believed that a user’s search history has little effect on results.
However, critics of Google point out otherwise.
DuckDuckGo claims that the personalization is so strong that it creates a “filter bubble”, limiting users’ exposure to new sources, ideas, and perspectives.
DuckDuckGo has accused Google of using extreme levels of personalization, saying two users can search for the same thing at the same time and get completely different results.
Is user search history as big a ranking factor as Google critics claim?
This is what the evidence says.
Evidence of a user’s search history as a ranking factor
User search history has been a factor in Google ranking since 2007 when the company confirmed the update in ad:
We are constantly trying to improve the quality of your search results. One of the ways we work around this is by personalizing your search experience.
After all, only you really know what you’re really looking for.”
Google continues to personalize search results to this day, though the company vigorously denies claims by DuckDuckGo that the effect is so strong that it creates a filter bubble.
In fact, search results are not always personalized.
And when you are, the effect is mild and doesn’t vary drastically from person to person, according to Danny SullivanGoogle Search Coordinator.
“Personalization does not happen very often and generally does not significantly change search results from one person to another. It is usually applied very lightly so that the results are very similar to what someone would see without personalization.”
User search history as a ranking factor: Our judgment
Based on Google data, we conclude that a user’s search history is a ranking factor with a mild effect.
It’s easy to test how light a customization app can be.
Simply perform a search in a new incognito window and there will be no account based activity used to display the results.
Then compare those results to the SERP from a signed-in search.
Anyone who wants to opt out of personalization with account-based activity can do so from the Web & App Activity settings of their Google Account.
Featured image: Robin Biong / Search Engine Journal