I am amazed by how many people still ask this question. Moreover, I am astonished by how people still get surprised when they learn that Google personalises their search results even when they are logged out or in private browsing mode.
The first thing to realise is that it’s not possible to use Google in any capacity and at the same time entirely avoid personalised search results.
The Jaguar example
The Jaguar example is my favourite one to use. This is how it goes: I open my browser, go to google.com and show it on the projector for everyone in the room. I then ask everyone to use their own devices and open google.com. I ask them to write Jaguar, and everyone involved googles Jaguar at the same time. Almost everyone gets different search results. Some get ads from travel agencies suggesting a trip to Tanzania; some get images of cars, some get car dealership ads, etc. Most involved see results unique to them regardless of being logged in to their Google account or not.
Download the Jaguar example presentation in PDF or in PowerPoint format use it and to present it to your colleagues:
Google returns some links on the first page that is not shown to others and results in the news, image and video boxes varies.
The differences are results not explained by changes in location, time, or by Google testing algorithm changes.
Sources in the news carousel are usually entirely different even when users search precisely at the same time.
So contrary to what some people still believe, browsing in incognito mode does not provide users with anonymity in Google. Google is creating a more and more complex "filter bubble", due to that they are filtering peoples' search results, keeping them in the bubble based on what Googles algorithms think a user is likely to click next.
So what is Google today?
Three alternative questions (and possible answers) come to mind;
- A search engine or are they just selling advertisement space?
- An unbiased search engine or a filter bubble?
- A filter bubble with a search function that sells advertisements?
So the answer to "Why are we not top 3 on Google?" is that since all search results are personalised today, it is not possible to be top 3—in any objective meaning—for everyone, all the time.
What do you think? Let's discuss and feel free to book a meeting with me.