Why Google Search Results Can Be Different

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 2, 2009
Updated • Dec 10, 2012
Google, Search

The results that Google search is displaying to a search engine user can be different depending on several factors including the web browser, geographic location, web history or or data center that is serving the search results. Search results can be different for the same user on the same computer depending on several factors that will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

Data centers and location:

Google operates several data centers that serve Google search results. The main reasons for this are load balancing, access speed and better manageability of the infrastructure. Date centers are updated with new search algorithms and it can happen that some serve data based on the old algorithm while others already use the new algorithm to display data. The location of the data center in the world can also play a role in the search results that are displayed. It is also important to note that Google tries to serve country specific results to a user unless that user switches to another Google search engine (e.g. from co.uk to com).

Web History:

Users who are logged in while using the Google search engine will see different results than if they are logged out. This can be attributed to the fact that Google is monitoring search engine usage of logged in users. One purpose of this is to serve search results based on previous web searches by that user. This means that it is possible to see completely different search results if a user is logged in or not.

Recent searches:

Google may change the search results based on the searches conducted by a user in a period of 30 minutes. This feature is called recent searches. What it does is that searches are stored in a cookie for about 30 minutes giving Google access to recent searches. These recent searches may then be used to create custom search results pages based on these searches. These recent searches are displayed to both logged in and logged out users. Closing the web browser or clearing the cookies will remove the specific cookie so that Google will not have access to these recent searches if the user is not logged in.

We take into account whether a particular query followed on the heels of another query. Because recent search activity provides valuable context for understanding the meaning behind your searches, we use it to customize your results whenever possible, regardless of whether you're signed in or signed out. In order to customize your results and show you the customization details, we keep recent searches in a cookie on your browser for approximately 30 minutes. After approximately 30 minutes, this cookie is removed from your browser. Completely closing your browser will remove this cookie immediately.

On rare occasions, recent searches may be kept on your browser for a different time duration as Google experiments with improving quality. In all cases, recent searches are not kept on your browser for more than 24 hours and the link to the search customization page will not be accessible after approximately 30 minutes from the time of the search.

Verdict: Google tries to provide custom search results to users of their search engine whenever possible. This raises a few concerns and some problems for users and webmasters. Users might not like the fact that Google is recording their search behavior. It is possible to reduce the amount of information that Google can record by searching without being logged in and clearing cookies regularly. Webmasters on the other hand have a harder time evaluating their website's position in the search engine.


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  1. Guadalupe said on December 15, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    I say that the limitations on research results is both helpful and yet not so helpful as well. Since Google is providing limitations on results it may take a while to find the answer your looking for longer or shorter than others. Google should at least give us the option choose weather or not if we want to be limited on our research results.

  2. Dave said on December 26, 2011 at 3:11 am

    Thanks for your informative article! You have explained well the inconsistency of google search results. It does make it harder to evaluate one’s rankings in the search engines.

  3. webbrewers said on June 16, 2011 at 12:42 am

    I think there’s more to it than that. I can enter a search and get one result and then clear cookies and the #1 site from the previous search is nowhere to be found.

  4. qwertz said on September 2, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    It’s a old news.
    I see this behavior since more than a year

  5. Rarst said on September 2, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Language (domain) of Google page is huge factor. Depending on query localized versions of Googel can give top results completely different from main English version, even for queries in English.

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