If you have looked in your Search Analytics in Google’s Search Console and see a really high position for a keyword or keyword phrase that doesn’t match up with actual traffic, there are two reasons why – either personalization or universal search results are skewing those positioning numbers.
The question was brought up in the last Google Webmaster Office Hours where someone was asking about seeing high position numbers for a search query that didn’t seem to match what they were seeing in the live search results. John Mueller commented that it was likely personalization that is affecting the search position numbers or a case of universal search.
Universal Search is how Google will show multiple parts of a specific keyword on the initial search results page. This could be things like image results or news results that are impacting those particular search queries.
Here is John Muller’s response about where the data for the positioning comes from.
Okay, so we don’t make it up. It’s essentially data that we’ve seen when we show the search results to people. So its not that this is like a theoretical ranking where your site would be ranking or the impressions it would be receiving, but rather actually what we’ve shown in search and how it was ranking at that time.
So that can include things like personalization of course, which could play a role there. It can include things like the location of the user, the search settings that they used to search there.
One thing I use to try and figure out is is this a general ranking or is this a maybe kind of exceptional personalization type issue is to look at the number of impressions that I see there. And if it’s a query where I think the impressions should be high but Search Console says it’s a very low number of impressions, then probably it’s something around personalization. So if it’s like a one word query and I’d imagine the number of queries should be in the millions, and I see a couple hundred impressions, then maybe it’s just from personalization that we showed it there.
The other thing that also plays a roll there is the universal search results where we show things like the images on top, and if your site has an image that is shown in the universal search results on top, then we would count that as the web results as well. Because it’s not just limited to looking at the rankings on the webpages themselves, but rather in this kind of not specific to images or video or whatever, your site was showing up in one of these high positions for that specific query.
As a side note, some SEO companies are known to take advantage of some client’s lack of knowledge around personalization and can get away with delivering lowered search rankings because their clients are seeing their site so high in the search results based on personalization.
This also means that because Search Analytics is showing the positioning much higher sometimes due to personalization that it could also appear that sites are ranking much higher than they really are.
But bottom line, if you are seeing high positioning for amazing keywords but can’t replicate it in the search results, check the impressions to see if universal or personalization might be playing a role.
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