January 11, 2012

How To See Unbiased Results on Google

Google search results are increasingly becoming heavily filtered and personalized for each individual. This makes it a little tricky to check where your site ranks without biasing it towards you.

I tend to always see articles written by me, and posts about my companies near the top of results – mainly because I have shared them through my various social networks. Google, through its various tracking cookies and algorithms, detects who I am and what content I have created and shared, and tailor makes search results for me. Google has become extremely smart in its algorithms, and it scares me knowing that what we see on the web is becoming an increasingly smaller fraction of the available content, tailor made by automated algorithms that detect our interests and show us what we are most likely to enjoy. What’s worse is that Google tends to skew results in favour of its own networks (such as Google+).

The changes effectively create customized search results for people who are logged in to Google. A person who searches for the term “Hawaii,” for example, might find private photos that their friends have shared on Google+ as well as public information about the islands. Overall, this is not a healthy way of exposing the Internet to consumers, since it tends to lock down and filter content that changes the way people see the world – in the same vain that the traditional media companies have been doing for centuries.

How can you counteract this? I present a few options to get filtering algorithms out of your search results and have a more anonymous browsing experience, from the least to the most extreme.

Method 1: “Porn mode”

Chrome’s Incognito feature (a.k.a. Porn mode) means that no cookies from your previous sessions are brought into your experience. You are browsing on a clean slate that is not linked to you, essentially anonymously – however if there is a service that is tracking your IP it can still link you back to you. To activate this mode in chrome, simply press ctrl-shift-n. Search for things you normally search for in this mode, and you may see quite a different set of results. This is the method I use when testing unbiased SEO rankings.

Method 2: Turn off search history personalization

You can turn off personalized results in Google, by clicking through to your preferences. Here, disable web search history at the bottom of your preferences. This may still bring in results from your social networks, such as Google+. You can turn Google+ results creeping in by clicking on the globe icon in your search results, as shown below:

Method 3: Tor

Tor is a way to browse completely anonymously with no personalization or identification whatsoever. By installing the software, it will route all websites you visit and Internet traffic through a multitude of anonymous servers around the world, essentially giving you an anonymous experience.

Check your data

It is useful to know exactly what the Big G is tracking on you. You can go to your Google Dashboard to see everything that Google knows about you – it could end up looking quite scary! Google History also shows what Google knows about sites that you have visited.

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