How to Go Incognito for International Search Queries – and Why

Search Button On Keyboard SEO

Kaitlin McMichael Aug 5 2014

The first thing to do when you’re starting out your quest to be the master of international search is to go incognito. You can’t just search on Google.com for your product/service and expect to see the same thing that everyone else in the world will. Google personalizes search results according to your location, your search history, your Google+ social circles, and more. You have to de-personalize yourself in order to see results that are closer to what your audience might see.  Let’s take this one step at a time.

How to unGoogle Yourself:

I used to manipulate the search query string itself in the URL bar to make it do what I wanted. Now, I’m too lazy for that, and there are ways to automate the process. But first, let’s look at the search query bar to learn what all the moving parts are:

International Search Query URLYou could technically just play around with this search bar until you get the results for the country and languages you’re targeting. But not everyone knows what the country and language codes are, and so here are some work-arounds.

There are a few methods to manually set this up:

  • Sign out of all your Google accounts
  • Clear your browser’s cache and cookies
  • Change your location in Google using the Search Tools box. Note: you have to set your location according to the country-coded top-level domain that Google is currently using. So if you are on google.com, you can only select a location within the USA.
  • Use the Incognito Browsing mode in Google Chrome. When you fire up Chrome, click the icon on the far right of the search box that looks like three horizontal bars, and then select Open New Incognito Window. You’ll know you’ve done it correctly when you see:

Incognito SEO Search

One of the easiest ways to automate this process is to go to http://www.impersonal.me, put in your site, and then select one of the presets that matches the country you want to target, or select Options in order to change the interface language, the TLD, and the location of the search. Then impersonal.me does the rest. An alternative is http://isearchfrom.com.

A more advanced option is to use a proxy, or alternatively, a VPN. Make sure you are using a trusted proxy, not one of the freebies.

Let’s Just Talk About Daniel Day-Lewis for a While

Why the British Daniel Day-Lewis was the unbelievably perfect role for Abraham Lincoln, my American brain will never understand. Anyway, I did some digging around between the US and UK Google search results to find some interesting results on my favorite actor.

The first thing I noticed is that, regardless of whether I was signed in or out of my Google accounts, nothing in the search results changed. This means that no one in my Google+ circle cares about Daniel Day-Lewis and hasn’t shared anything about him that Google thought I might like to see. In other words, my Google+ friends need to focus more on what really matters in life, like fine method acting.

The second thing I noticed while searching on Google.com, is that the 11th result (below the in-depth articles) was an article from the http://www.dailymail.co.uk titled “Daniel Day-Lewis to receive a knighthood,” which shouldn’t have surprised me because if Sir Elton John is a knight, Day-Lewis deserves to be one too.

international seo result

This search result is puzzling because the rest of the first page results all come from US top-level domains, but not too puzzling when we remember that Day-Lewis is British so there’s bound to be some British articles that float to the top, even in the US.

Sure enough, when I switched over to GB (Great Britain) as my location, the dailymail.co.uk result was #2, behind the British newspaper The Guardian, which had also made an appearance at #7 in the In-Depth Articles section on the US results. The Guardian is a bit of an interesting exception because they recently migrated from .co.uk to .com, so I am assuming that Google thinks they swing both ways.

So, the 2 British sites that made it onto the first page in the US also dominate the search results in the UK. But other than those two results (and the resource box on the right), there is no other overlap in organic listings.

The US results:

De-Personalized, Signed-out DDL

The UK results:

Signed-out, UK DDL

The most important thing to notice here is that if you are searching from the US, you get a fairly different set of search results than if you search in the UK for the same thing. Also, it appears that in the US, search results are more oriented towards Daniel-Day Lewis as an actor, while in the UK, the search results are more oriented towards him as a person. Intriguing.

Tools for Tracking Keyword Rankings Globally

There are some great tools for tracking keyword rankings in different locations across the globe. Advanced Web Rankings and SEMRush are two that come to mind.

In Advanced Web Rankings, or AWR, you can use their online web app or their desktop tool to create custom reports. You can create a project in which you can designate websites to track, such as your website alongside your competitors, your targeted keywords, and specific search engines.  You can target search engines by country or by region, such as Google Organic USA (loc: salt lake city, ut), which means that AWR will look at keyword rankings specifically as if they were located in Salt Lake City. You can also select different languages for the search engines. For instance, German search results in Switzerland as opposed to French results in Switzerland.

In SEMRush, when you login to your online account, you can view the organic positions report and then click through the different country tabs to view your rankings in those regions. But you can’t select different languages, so you don’t have as much flexibility as with AWR.  SEMRush has 26 countries to select, while AWR has hundreds, including major search engine indexes in the main regional languages for each country. Besides, in AWR you can select multiple search engines per project, while in SEMRush you have to create a separate project for each search engine you want to track. So AWR wins this battle.

Parting Thoughts

People all over the world might be searching for your product or service and are probably seeing very different results based on their location. It would be a false sense of security to think that your global rankings are as good as the results in your neighborhood. In order to determine what your customers are most likely seeing on Google, you need to go incognito. This is just the first step in evaluating and tracking your SEO success on a global scale, but it’s a crucial one.

tags : GoogleincognitointernationalSEMSEO

7 Comments

  1. Heads up, the impersonal.me link has a trailing space within the URL.

    • Kaitlin McMichael

      Kaitlin McMichael

      Thanks for pointing that out, Nate!

    • Kaitlin McMichael

      Kaitlin McMichael

      Hi Eli, thanks for mentioning the Adwords Preview Tool!

  2. Phil Wade

    There’s a handy (free) Firefox/Chrome plugin that will automate this for you, without the need to visit a third-party site every-time you run a search.

    It’s by Red Fly Marketing and called Google Global.

  3. Very interesting article, Before reading this article, I don’t know about impersonal.me. Thanks to note this in your post.

  4. Great post Kaitlin! Thanks for the information and in-depth analysis. On another note, this “impersonal.me” tool is awesome. I’ve used it the past couple of days and I must say I’ve been losing! Now that I’m winning again, all is well.

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