13 Aug

Google Personalized Search: Turning off Personalization and Localization

It is important for SEO and online reputation management strategist to be able to know what the base Google results are. Base results are the results you see without personalization and localization filters. Google automatically opts every Google user into personalization.

“Google sometimes customizes your search results based on your past search activity on Google. This customization includes searches you’ve done and results you’ve clicked.”

First we will look at personalization. On the surface it seems straight forward. Google even tells users how to turn this off at http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=54048

One of Google suggestions is to delete your bowers cookies however major sites such as Google have been known to use cookies that are difficult to delete and are not deleted by simply emptying your browser cookies.

There are multiple browser add-ons designed for Firefox to help aid in disabling personalized searches and deleting supper cookies:

  • Yoast search plugin – An Add-on to disable Google personalization when searching from the browser search box.
  • NoScript – This add-on allows you to decide what scripts to run from any website and “protect yourself against XSS and Clickjacking attacks” (This plug-in can be very annoying FYI)
  • Ghostery – This add-on blocks hidden tags, images that are from a list of domains known for tracking, iframes that have a source that matches a domain from the list of known tackers, and scripts. It also deletes Flash and Silverlight cookies.
  • BetterPrivacy – This add-on detects flash cookies, aka LSOs, and allows you to delete them from your computer.
  • Google Analytics Opt-out – This is Google’s add-on that allows users to opt-out of sending data collected during the website visit should not be sent to Google Analytic. This could be useful for webmasters to not count their own visits to their website if the site uses Google Analytics
  • Google Global – This add-on for Firefox adds the ‘pws=0’ parameter (this parameter tells Google not to show personalized results) to a Google search and attempts to show results from other geographic locations.
    Make sure the box labeled ‘De-personalize Google search results’ is checked.

    This will add the ‘pws=0’ parameter to your Google Global search

Turning off personalization the way described by Google seems to do the trick for turning off personal results but local results are still visible. Also Google likely is still collecting data about your search habits even with personalization turned off. The tools above help to protect against this but there really isn’t any way to stop Google from gathering data. It’s what Google does.

Despite multiple efforts all these tools do not turn off localization in organic results. One way of changing localization is to use a proxy but then the results are localized to the proxy. Changing the IP, country code, and zip parameters the way Google Global add-on does has no effect on changing or turn off Googles localization. The results are still localized to your current IP.

Your browser stores information about your geolocation. This is called location-aware browsing and there is a way to turn it off. However turning this feature off in Firefox and telling your browser not to share location information does not stop Google from returning local results.

Google looks up your location given the IP address used in the internet communication protocols it received. This means when your computer connects with Google it has to send out its IP so Google knows where to send the information back to. Google takes that IP and looks up where the IP is geographically.

Google believes that localization is an important part of returning relevant results and has no way to turn this feature off. Yet you can set it to a broader reach, such as the country level instead of the zip code level, by setting changing your Google preferences.

So is it worth it? Well personalization is relatively easy to turn off and usually the results are still relatively close to what you see with personalization enable (if you clear you cookies every now and then). Localization has the largest impact but only if you are searching something with local suggestion and/or result. Otherwise the results are pretty standard. Lets be clear: The search local results were dramatically different for generic place/service/product terms like “restaurants”, “pest control” or “cleaning supplies” but did not have an impact on non-local niche terms like “sink repair books” or “vegetable garden videos”.

2 thoughts on “Google Personalized Search: Turning off Personalization and Localization

  1. Changing the setting to Google preferences is a good idea. I do want the ability to broaden my search path. Thanks for the good idea!

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