One of the most common questions I get from readers who are tracking negative content in the search results is:

“Why are are Google search results different when I use someone elses computer?”

When you’re trying to track the visibility of a negative search result (anxiously watching for it to go away), it can be maddening to watch its position arbitrarily shift around each day. The negative link may appear at the top of page 1 on your laptop in the morning, but show up on page three at the library internet terminal the same afternoon.

The reason for the fluctuation is that Google automatically customizes the search results for you. Google records all the information about what you search for and which links you click on — stores it all in a secret database somewhere — and uses it, in part, to determine which web pages and ads you would mostly likely be interested in clicking on. If you’re always clicking on your own company website, it can start to show up as #1 on your screen (but no one else’s). If you’re always clicking on a negative article on page 2, Google “thinks” its your favorite site and will move it up to the top of your search results.

If you are logged into Google (through Gmail, Android OS, AdWords, etc.)… then by default it is recording your web history. Even if you log out of Google, it tracks your searches through your IP address and a cookie stored in your browser.

How to Turn Off Google Personalization in the Search Results

  1. Sign out of your Google Account. When you’ve done this, you shouldn’t see your Google Account or e-mail address at the upper right part of the screen anymore.
  2. Search for what you want. After you see the results, click the tab that says “Web History” in the top right corner of the search results page.
  3. Click “Disable customizations based on search activity.” This should remove most of the personalization slanting, according to Google, but I don’t know if it is reliable and absolute.

After experimenting with this, you can follow Google’s instructions for permanently deleting your web history.

Two Additional Tricks to Stop Google Personalization

  1. After each search, add “&pws=0″ to the end of the URL in your browser’s address bar, hit enter and run the search again. This is a command that means “personalized web search equals zero.” Here are more instructions for disabling personalized search in Firefox and Chrome.
  2. Clear your cookies and use a proxy. A web proxy is a remote computer that you can use to mask your real IP address. Clear all the cookies from your browser, choose from this list of free web proxies, use one to connect to Google and then search from there. Your results should definitely not be influenced by your past search history.

Following these instructions should show you how the Google results appear to others, uninfluenced by your previous clicks and searches.

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If your site is poorly optimized, it may only take up one space on the front page of Google’s search engine results page (SERP) – leaving the rest of the page “up for grabs” by your competitors and customers. However, a professionally optimized and marketed site can take up more visual space – and you can dominate the upper, “above the fold” area where most people look first.

In the example below, the pay-level domain *.apple.com takes up 5 spaces at the top of the page:

Here are some tips for maximizing control of the home page with your official domain:

  1. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements. Search engines make money by selling placement ads. If you bid high enough on your brand name, you can appear near the top. If your business name is trademarked, you can prevent other people from buying ads for it. You can file a trademark complaint with Google (note: must be logged into a Google Account) to prevent competitors from buying ads for it.
  2. Official home page. After your site has been around for several months and picked up some links, it should appear near the top of the search results. It should at least rank for your exact domain name (i.e., ExampleWidgets.com should rank for “example widgets”.) If it doesn’t, there’s a problem and and need to consult a professional.
  3. Sitelinks. Sitelinks are a sign that Google considers your site to be the number one, most-trusted destination for a particular search phrase. You can’t buy or ask for sitelinks, they are automatically granted to some sites. If you get sitelinks, you can manage how they appear inside Google Webmaster Tools.
  4. Link-rich Internal Page. A popular page or article with an abundance of internal links (i.e., linked to in a sitewide menu or sidebar) as well as external link citations can show up below the home page in the search results. Try to create a piece of flagship content that will be a link magnet for your visitors, and promote it heavily – both on and offsite.
  5. Link-rich subdomain. In my personal observations, I have often seen subdomains like “locations.example.com” or “store.example.com” show up in the search results – if they have lots of links and other signs of activity. Note: You usually won’t get more than one subdomain to show up unless it has hundreds-of-thousands to millions of links.
  6. Local Business Listing. If you put an official mini-site, subdomain or directory on your main domain – listing all your organization’s regional locations… and register them with Google’s Local Business Center – you can get a Google map in the middle of the search page – pointing to your official site and taking up a lot of screen “real estate.”

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This week, a Turkish ship full of Pro-Palestinian activists tried to break a naval blockade of the Gaza strip. When the Israeli Navy tried to board the ship to inspect the cargo, violence broke out and 7 Israeli soldiers were wounded and 9 activists were killed. Israeli officials calaimed that the Gaza Flotilla was a pre-planned negative publicity stunt – a conflict designed to provoke Israel into a defensive reaction that would harm its reputation in the media. Flotilla organizers blamed entirely Israel for the violence, and the media generally sided with them.

Israeli activists hit back with a comedy PR video combining slapstick humor and video evidence that their soldiers were acting in self-defense… mocking the weapon-wielding flotilla passengers who called themselves “peace activists”:

This video went viral and got over 3,000,000 views within 10 days. It caught the attention of the pro-Israel and anti-Israel crowd… and humor was able to help Israel partially neutralize some of the damage and explain its case better than a long and passionate defense.

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Why Negative Pages Rank: Link Neighborhood Diversity

May 20, 2010

Google’s PageRank – the algorithm that decides which pages show up when someone searches for your name – is an incredibly complex and nuanced algorithm. Every time you hit the “Google search” button – it runs millions of possible result pages through a detailed mathematical equation and displays the highest-ranking results on the first page. […]

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Setting Up and Safeguarding An Online “Alter Ego” Identity

May 10, 2010

Not too long ago it was fashionable and normal to go by a pseudonym like “CyberBabe” or “Warlord” – even on professional blogs or forums. Around 2008, when Twitter started to take off, a critical mass of people became more aware of the branding advantages of using your real name. While using your real name […]

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Online Sabotage on Complaint Sites

March 29, 2010

You can’t belive everything you read online. This is especially true if you read it on a trashy, anonymously-registered “complaint” site. These for-profit sites, like Rip Off Report, ComplaintBoard and Pissed Consumer – make big money by running huge blocks of ads alongside, over, under and inside the anonymous, negative “reviews” of companies. Some charge […]

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Making Online Reputation Management Look Natural

March 15, 2010

Making your online reputation management (ORM) campaign look natural isn’t easy. It takes creativity, an eye for diversity, and the ability to step outside of yourself and get inside the head of the average (hurried & skeptical) web user. This 5-minute video will give you some tips on creating a natural online identity: Do you […]

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LastPass – An Excellent Online Identity Management Tool

March 8, 2010

LastPass is a high-quality online password manager for all popular web browsers. It lets you toggle between multiple online identities and brands (personal, business, client #1, client #2) at the click of a button – and it remembers all the passwords without getting any of the details mixed up: The most complex and crucial part […]

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The Danger of Stealing People’s Content, Images & Identities

March 3, 2010

Recently, an Iranian arms smuggler was assassinated in a Dubai hotel room. The suspects used forged passports bearing the names and photos of real people in Israel and other countries. These innocent people woke up one morning to find out they had been framed as killers: their name and reputation was “assassinated,” ruined in the […]

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Traditional PR vs. Search Engine Reputation Strategy

February 22, 2010

There are major, fundamental differences in how traditional media and search engines serve up news and information. The public also consumes, evaluates and remembers info they see in search engines differently from what they see in print. PR pros who are getting deeper into online reputation strategy should consider these fundamental differences: Traditional Media Is […]

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