In addition to all the SERP elements that we discussed already, Google further modifies the SERPs based on localization and personalization indicators.
For localization, Google looks at the IP address of your computer to get an idea of where you are (or if you’re using your phone, Google has much more precise data about exactly where you are). When you search for certain terms that Google thinks have local intent (like “pizza shops” or “dentists”) it tries to show you results within your area. You can also manually set your location in Google’s Search Settings. Because of this localization a user searching in one city or state will not always see the same results as someone searching from a different city or state.
In addition to localization, Google also tries to deliver personalized search results as much as possible. For personalized results Google mostly relies on your search history. If you click through to certain sites and spend some time there, Google will make a note of it and in the future might deliver those sites higher in the results than they would otherwise deserve to be.
I’ve had many panicked clients think their competitors were passing them by only because they had spent time on the competitor’s site and as a result Google started showing them those sites higher in the rankings. We’ll discuss all the ways you can get non-personalized results in Rank Tracking.
In addition to your search history, Google also personalizes search results based on +1s. If you click the “+1” button on a site, Google makes a note that you like that site and might deliver that site higher in your future searches. Similarly if people you have in your Circles on Google+ (Google’s social network) it might rank sites that they have +1’d more highly, or shared on Google+, in your results.
In the world of SEO, we pay attention to non-personalized rankings, but we also have to be aware of the impact of personalization. In short: the better experience that users have on your site the more likely they are to stay a while, which will give you a boost in their future searches.
This all comes back to the concept of whether you deserve to rank: the better your site, the more easily you will be able to rank well, because you’ll be able to accumulate the various ranking factors more easily.
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SERP Click Distribution