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Way too often have I had conversations start with the client saying “when I searched for ___, we didn’t show up where I think we should be.” If you have ever tried to identify your rank for as specific search query by conducting a common Google search, you’re guilty.

Anecdotal searches send shivers down the spine of every SEO and Internet Marketing Consultant out there. Anecdotal searches aren’t themselves inherently evil, but rather the importance they are given by business owners when making important decisions is.


  1. (of an account) not necessarily true or reliable, because based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.
What’s the big deal?

When trying to learn anything related to keywords for your site, or what you see in the search results, the research should be conducted on as level of playing field as possible, which most of the top SEO/SEM industry tools provide (more on this later). An anecdotal search is nowhere close to a level playing field, making it an inappropriate place to gather trustworthy information.

Personalized searches

Since 2009, Google has been “personalizing” every individual’s search results. By seeing what you click on in the search results, Google learns your search habits and specific sites that you may prefer. As a result, Google gives those sites you prefer a boost to their rankings, specifically when you search. This leads to you seeing those sites more often, and in different positions than someone else would.

Another aspect of search that makes your results unique is your geographical location. Even if you aren’t doing a specific localized search (e.g. “restaurants near me”, or “… in Rochester”), your physical location factors into Google’s search results. When one customer searches for your product in Pennsylvania, it’s highly likely they will see your site in a different position than someone searching from New York, where your business is located.

The following is a list of other factors Google considers to further personalize your search when logged in.

  • Device
  • Operating System
  • Browser
  • Email/Calendar (Google pulls in data from here for specific things like upcoming reservations or flight info)
  • Bookmarks

For those of you who think you have been avoiding all of this personalization by searching via Google Chrome’s incognito mode, I’ve got some bad news for you. Even when you’re trying make conclusions about keywords or search results when using incognito mode, your location and device will still be giving you a somewhat personalized result. And if you continue to search in the same incognito window, your searches become more and more personalized. Here is a math-heavy article breaking down the limited difference between logged in and incognito search results.

Ok, so how do I know where I rank?

If you are fortunate enough to have one of Cazbah’s knowledgeable Internet Marketing Consultants at your disposal, they will be able to provide accurate analysis of keyword rank, and more importantly, keyword performance. We use Google Analytics and other top industry tools to give you a much broader and accurate view of keyword rank and performance. If you don’t, there are a few free tools worth exploring:

  • Google Search Console
  • SEMRush
  • Google Analytics (to see how users interact with your site after searching for specific keywords)
  • Moz Keyword Planner

As you can see, the amount of personalization that goes into each and every anecdotal search truly makes it a place where substantial conclusions should not be. My hope is that I have been able to convince you to stop your anecdotal searching ways, and resort to one of the more trusted and proven research tools/methods.

Remember, friends don’t let friends search anecdotally.