SEO Questions - Why do I see different Google results than my clients?

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, itís not that I

forget, itís just that I assume that everyone else in the industry has the same knowledge level as I do.

So when I get a ďnewbieĒ asking a question like ďWhy are my Google results different than my clientsĒ I have to

take a step back and realize that we arenít all equal.

Therefore in this article Iím going to answer this one seemingly simple question. While it may be simple to

those of us ďin the knowĒ this isnít always the case with others.

One of the scariest things you can do as a new SEO is talk to a client. Thatís because you are always worried

that they are going to ask you a question thatís 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 SEOís usually know more then their clients so you donít often have to fake

an answer. Of course I would never advocate faking it. When I donít know, Iíve found the best thing you can

say is ďI donít know, let me find out and Iíll get back to you.Ē

And thatís just what happened the other day. A new person came to me and said ďI had a client who saw different

Google results than I did, and I didnít know what to tell them.Ē

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 Googleís 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 arenít 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 siteís 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. Itís not necessarily

because of one single event. Like SEO itself, itís a culmination of smaller events which causes the noticeable


Rob Sullivan is a SEO Consultant and Writer for

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