SEO Questions - Why do I see different Google results than my clients?
By: Brad Callen
Having been in this industry for as long as I have, I often forget some of the basics. Well, it’s not that I
forget, it’s just that I assume that everyone else in the industry has the same knowledge level as I do.
So when I get a “newbie” asking a question like “Why are my Google results different than my clients” I have to
take a step back and realize that we aren’t all equal.
Therefore in this article I’m going to answer this one seemingly simple question. While it may be simple to
those of us “in the know” this isn’t always the case with others.
One of the scariest things you can do as a new SEO is talk to a client. That’s because you are always worried
that they are going to ask you a question that’s over your head. And while you can fake your way through some
questions when you are new, there are some that just stump you.
Of course even the greenest of most SEO’s usually know more then their clients so you don’t often have to fake
an answer. Of course I would never advocate faking it. When I don’t know, I’ve found the best thing you can
say is “I don’t know, let me find out and I’ll get back to you.”
And that’s just what happened the other day. A new person came to me and said “I had a client who saw different
Google results than I did, and I didn’t know what to tell them.”
So let me give you the answer I gave him.
Google, like all the other engines, is comprised of literally tens of thousands of servers. Each server is part
of a larger cluster of computers. Each cluster forms part of a datacenter. Each datacenter then acts as an
independent branch of Google.
These datacenters are found all over the US. For the longest time Google only had about 13 data centers that
served all the results to the world. Now the number is estimated at around 80.
While some of these data centers are used for pre-testing results (for example, testing a new algorithm out
before moving it to the main data centers) most are used just to deal with the load that Google receives every
These data centers are dispersed throughout the US in geographically specific areas. They have done this so
that queries are served to the data center nearest to the user.
For example, while there are a large number of data centers on the eastern coast, a person searching from San
Francisco will likely be served their search results from a data center near them, such as an Oregon or
California data center.
It is because of the differences in these data centers that someone searching in New York will see different
results than someone in Los Angeles.
It is reasonable to think that each data center acts somewhat independently of the others. That means that their
update schedules are different as are their crawling schedules. One can even assume that the algorithm changes
which affect the index happen at different times as well.
This accounts for why there are differences in search results. Because of Google’s perpetually updating index,
the results you see near you may be similar to results in other data centers but ultimately different.
This could be due to how the crawlers retrieve sites - a crawler may find a site closer to it more easily and
therefore add it to the index sooner than a geographically far away crawler would find the same site.
For example, a site in Vancouver, Canada may appear in the California data center days before the eastern data
centers. Because this site would be added to the west data center sooner, it will have an impact on the search
results returned sooner.
Consider it like the ripples you see in the water when you drop a rock into a pond. If you drop just one rock,
you see the ripples move out from where you dropped it. However, if you drop 2 rocks close to each other and at
slightly different times you see how the ripples interact with each other when they meet.
The index changes reflect this type of interaction. One site can have a subtle but noticeable effect on the
index. Yet the effects aren’t noticed across all data centers at the same time. We can also see the changes in
the index grow over time, so that one Vancouver site’s effect grows over time, but the effect is different
across the data centers because changes happening with other sites also has an impact.
As you can see, this is why you will see different results across the data centers. It’s not necessarily
because of one single event. Like SEO itself, it’s a culmination of smaller events which causes the noticeable
Rob Sullivan is a SEO Consultant and Writer for http://www.textlinkbrokers.com
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