Google’s Search Filter

Often our clients call us after noticing they’re ending up with different search results between themselves and friends, coworkers and family when searching for the exact same things. They’re wondering if Google is filtering their search results based upon their user preferences or profile. They’re wondering why Google is changing search results. Are they? Basically, yes.

So in Google’s attempt to provide better and more applicable search results to you, they use a smorgasbord of criteria to filter out the results you receive. Seems harmless, and does support Google’s mission of “organizing the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, however it presents a problem when you’re wondering “what other people see.” Or when you plain ol don’t want your results filtered by things like location, browser or past clicks, as you might be missing valuable content. Fortunately, there’s a fix.

As you may have already realized after racking up countless hours on social media, it’s not just Google that filters what you’re seeing. With Facebook, the people you most engage with get your updates. But not everyone else. So you may think you’re logging in to see what’s going on, but you’re really seeing what Facebook thinks should be going on based upon your activity or others’ activity with you. If you want unfiltered results with your search, you’ve got a couple of options.

Option A: Dump it

If you’re one who likes your search unfiltered, you can try using a search engine such as DuckDuckGo. DuckDuckGo entered the scene last year with the launch of their website, illustrating how Google tracks searchers. Sure, DuckDuckGo is no Google, but it’s gaining popularity.

Last year, DuckDuckGo was included in TIME magazine’s list of the best websites of 2011. And recently, it hit the million searches per day mark. There’s also Ixquick. This is an SSL-encrypted search option that touts itself as the “world’s most private search engine”. Although Ixquick doesn’t store IP addresses, it does collect and store limited information, such as search time and browser used. With a page rank of 7, 1 up on DuckDuckGo, it’s not too shabby of a solution for an unfiltered, and un-skewed, search. Ixquick also operates Startpage, that works by taking a search query, stripping out the searcher data and submitting it anonymously to Google.

Option B: Tweak it

If you’re too hard core a Google fan to consider dumping it, you may just need to tweak it a bit to your liking. Google provides the option of activating “private browsing.” Or from Chrome, there’s the option of “incognito” browsing. This option won’t send cookies, however it doesn’t solve the filtering issue. You might then consider Tor. Short for “the onion router”, Tor is intended to enable online anonymity by keeping internet activities from being monitored. Funny name, yes. But onion routing refers to the layered nature of the encryption, where it is encrypted and re-encrypted before being sent through Tor relays. And before ultimately passing the decrypted data to its destination. [The Tor Project. “Tor: anonymity online”].

If onion layering sounds more like something from a recipe book than something you want in your search routine, simply turn off search personalization. This will opt you out from your personal data being saved. Or just stay logged out of your Google account.

Sound like a lot? Maybe. And if you’re not searching for anything private, it may not matter so much. However, if you’re a business owner interested in seeing how you ‘stack up’ in search, or a marketing professional who needs accurate search data, you might want to use a search engine — or make some tweaks to your existing one — that gives you what you’re searching for, versus what it thinks you should find.

Have fun out there. We’re always here if you get stuck.

The Savy Agency Team