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Where’s the Google search result?

I had a client ask me the other day where his traffic was coming from, since he couldn’t find his listing in the top few pages of search results for a keyword that was showing up in his analytics reports. The analytics system had reported that he’d received a number of visits from users who’d searched for “Keyword X” in Google and had clicked through to his site. Problem is, when he went and searched for “Keyword X”, he didn’t see any of his pages listed in the first dozen or so pages of results in Google, and he figured it’d be unlikely that a number of users would click very many pages deep anyway.

So, how did this traffic happen?

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen something like this happen. Probably a number of people have had the experience of calling up a partner or colleague to talk about something they see in the Google search results, only to find that the person at the other end of the phone sees a very different thing when they commit the same search in Google. The listing could be shown 9 places down from the top of the page instead of 2 places down, or it isn’t showing up at all for them while it’s showing plain as day for you.

Unfortunately, this is going to become a more and more common experience for webmasters. Google’s diversity of search products and results sets are becoming more and more differentiated for different users, and as this happens, people searching for the very same keyword are going to be seeing completely different search results. Read on for more details.

Web analytics programs commonly report the top search engine keywords that bring users to a site. As the search results for different users become individualized, if you’re a webmaster looking at the analytics metrics you’ll begin noticing that your site may get traffic for search terms when you can’t even see one of your pages listed, or you may not get traffic for somewhat popular terms where you see yourself listed in the very first position in the results page. The lack of clarity in reporting is exacerbated because many of the analytics systems can lump all traffic coming from “something.google.something” or “something.google.com” as being from the Google Search engine. This wildcarding effect might lead you to erroneously assume that all your traffic comes from the US-centric web search results on Google, when in fact you may be receiving traffic from a variety of Google sites in a variety of ways.

Here’s a quick list of some top reasons why your Google search results may appear different from someone else’s:

I’ve probably neglected to add a few other routes which can result in differentiation in how users may come across your pages from Google, and this will continue to change as Google adds and alters their various products and features. But, these are some of the top ways that users may come to you from Google, and these are the primary places to look if you’re trying to figure out why some other people may be seeing different results from what you’re seeing when performing keyword searches, or when you’re trawling through your web analytic keyword referral reports.

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