Photo: Juliana Coutinho via http://flickr.com/photos/ngmmemuda/

Go undercover to google yourself

Go undercover

If you’ve ever google’d yourself or your business, it’s important to know that the search results you see will not be the same results everyone else sees.

As a matter of fact, there is no list that “everyone else” sees, as there is no longer any one list of results that comes up when people search for anything – including your company.

Google uses everything they know about you to provide you with the best possible results – tailored specifically to you.

And what does Google know about you? It depends on whether or not you are logged in to your Google account, but it most certainly includes your geographic location, what kind of device you’re on, your preferred language, your most recent searches, and the sites you’ve visited most recently.

More likely, though, Google’s robots have access to a long list of searches you have conducted and sites you have visited, going back months or years. Even if it might feel a bit frightening, for everyday usage, it’s a good thing, as it makes Google so much more useful.

There’s a lot of information there, of course, but for now, there’s no one poring over your personally identifiable information, any more than the sanitation department spend resources going through your trash to build a profile of you. (There might be a lot of money in mining garbage data, though.)

But if you’re trying to find out what other people see when they Google you, you should know that all the data Google has on you, dramatically increases the likelyhood that you’ll see your own site on the fist page of results – even if no one else does.

So, how do you avoid getting your search results customized, and see a more generic version? The easy but imperfect method is to use the icognito feature in your browser. This is good enough for most uses.

In Google Chrome (the browser I recommend these days – ironically, perhpas), you’ll find it under File > New Icognito Window. In Firefox it’s under Tools > Private Browsing Mode; in Safari go to Safari > Private Browsing, and in Internet ExplorerSafety > InPrivate Browsing. For smart phones, the Google Chrome browser app has incignito mode, and there are other browsers dedicated to private browsing.

The reason this solution is not perfect, is that Google still knows where you are and some other unimportant details specific to you, if nothing else. Also, your Internet service provider and others may still be able to track you, and may in certain cases give you away. If you want to avoid this, too, you’ll want to consider using a proxy service. It is outside the scoope of this article to go into the various alternatives, but you can find a list of free (and often painfully slow or restricted) proxies here.

Finally, if you want to step it up to a professional level, there are some excellent, paid services, like SEOMoz, that’ll help you monitor and improve your search engine rankings.