Actually, there hasn’t been for some time.
Google and other major search engines have been moving toward more and more personalization and localization of search results for years now. Major moves like Google “Search plus Your World, ” which brought Google+ influence front-and-center to logged in Google search, just made more people aware of this.
These moves have caused a lot of hair tearing by careful SEOs who like to track rankings. How can you track a ranking when it’s different for every individual?
You can’t. But you can do the next best thing.
You can go “incognito” to try to de-personalize your results as much as possible. This will give you as close to a “pure” ranking result as you are going to get these days. Caution: That doesn’t mean these are exactly the results any real individual sees (unless they are also searching incognito at the same time). But…this is as close as we can get to an “average” result, and in many cases probably does reflect what a majority of users do see. It is the best view we have of the relative ranking strength of different results for the same query, all other things being equal.
So what is incognito search?
By incognito search we mean performing a search after clearing every possible “clue” to the search engine that it could use to personalize your search results. It is searching as anonymously as possible.
How to perform an incognito search
Merely switching to non-personalized search mode (if you have Google “Search plus Your World” enabled), or even logging out of Google is not enough. Google will still access cookies to get your search history, and use that to alter your results.
I’m going to give you two methods of going incognito: the Quick and Dirty(?) Method, and the Paranoid Method.
Quick and Dirty(?) Incognito Search
Most of the major browsers now have an incognito mode, though they call it by different names:
Firefox: Private Browsing
Internet Explorer: InPrivate Browsing (under Tools menu)
Safari: Private Browsing
Opening a new window in those modes allows you to operate with no influence from cookies or search history, and all history and cookies created during the session are deleted when you close the window.
Paranoid Incognito Search
You know what they say, “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t still planting cookies!”
If you want to be absolutely as pure as possible in your results, put your browser into incognito mode and do the following:
- Go into the browser’s settings or options and clear everything that can be cleared in the privacy settings: cookies, history, etc.
- Change your location (in the left sidebar on Google) to “United States” (or whatever country you’re in) to eliminate geo-local influences.
- You get a fresh plate every time you go back to the lunch buffet, so open a fresh incognito browser window for each new search. Even in incognito mode, the search engine will begin to accumulate a history of your search habits that will eventually effect what you see in results.
- Fashion a hat out of aluminum foil and secure it snugly to your head.
One of those is probably not necessary; I’ll leave which one up to you!