It’s not a silver bullet, but stripping away personalization data can give you a clearer idea of your baseline SEO situation

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Googling oneself is considered a narcissistic activity in personal life, but in digital marketing, it’s virtually a requirement.

However, as Google has grown more sophisticated in the amount of personalization data it incorporates into your search results, it has become correspondingly more difficult to get a clear idea of what, exactly, is going on beneath that data.

To wit, if you and a friend were to both search for ‘restaurants near me’ on Google Search right next to one another at the same time, you on your phone and them on their laptop, you might (and almost certainly would) get radically different search results.

That is to be expected. However, for SEOs like me (who remember when PageRank was an absolute and incontrovertible fact, and not one piece of a larger, much more sophisticated puzzle), it is a bit frustrating to not have as clear a picture of what is worth what, when it comes to websites.

Cue incognito browsing.

I once made the mistake of explaining this to a client by saying that it was (natch) originally used by pornography fans (pornographans?) to cover their tracks — digital footprints — when viewing x-rated material.

In retrospect, that was a mistake; the client spent the rest of the meeting alternatively inquiring about its particulars and reassuring his wife (also in the meeting) that he had never used it, had never watched porn and had no idea what I was talking about. It was counterproductive in that instance, but the underlying point is true: incognito browsing is used to strip away all the bits and pieces of your information that Google uses to improve the search results it serves you.

On the left, an incognito Google Maps search and on the right, my personalized Google Maps results for the same query: ‘restaurants near me’

Take a look at the two desktop Google Maps results above for ‘restaurants near me.’ They both came from the same laptop, in the same location, seconds apart (because I was the one who searched them both, while sitting in a local Whole Foods eating lunch), using the same WiFi, same device, etc. The only difference is that one was generated using my personalized data and one was generated in incognito mode.

Like the article title says, it’s not a silver bullet, and searching in incognito doesn’t magically reveal an objective page rank, but it can help you triangulate or deduce some objective truths if it’s part of your search toolkit.

To really get an idea of your SEO status, you should get into the habit of searching for your business or company often, from a multiplicity of devices, locations, times and browsers — including incognito. While you can’t treat the results it generates as gospel, it can help reveal pieces of information or trends that may be helpful as you seek to improve your overall SEO situation.



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