How do you know if you’re doing well in SEO? The easy answer is to see if you show up at the top in a search engine.

However, that can be misleading because the results you see are personalized just for you.

Google does this by looking at your search history, the sites you visit, the Google+ buttons you’ve clicked, your location, and so on. It’s possible the person sitting next to you will see entirely different search results. Bing also does this in the same general way.

This is called “the search bubble”. Just like Bubble Boy, you end up in a world that is customized for you. You see only the things that interest you. You won’t see other topics.

This becomes a problem when you want to see what others see. Your loyal customers may have the same interests as you, so their personalized search results may be similar to yours. But people who are not-yet-customers may see different search results, which means they may not see your link at all.

So you should look at search results with personal results turned both on and off.

By default, Chrome is set to show personal results in Google. You can change a setting so you can see both results.

How to turn off personal results in Google:

  1. In Chrome, open a Google search box.
  2. Search for something (for example, “organic cat food”, it doesn’t matter).
  3. Click the gear icon
  4. Select “Search Settings”
  5. Scroll down to “Private Results”
  6. Select “Use Private results”
  7. Scroll to bottom and click “Save”
  8. Return to Google

At top right, you now have new buttons to switch between private (personalized) and global (unpersonalized) results. Now search for something that is a personal interest, such as your hobby, your work, and so on. Look at the results. Go to the toggle and click “Hide Personal Results”. You’ll see how the results change. Toggle the button back and forth.

If you have a website, search your website and toggle the results. You may discover you’ve been showing up #1 for yourself only!

What to do about this? Turn off personalized results, search for your organization, products, and services, and print the results. See what the search engines choose for those pages.