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Personalized Search Results and Image Captions

October 3, 2012

Hi Jill,

My website was recently found at #1 in Google by a man in England who searched using a specific keyword phrase. (I was delighted; he hired me to retouch 5 photographs as a result.)

My first question is about the personalized results that Google serves up on any given search. When I searched for that phrase on my computer, I did not come up at all. I asked 4 friends to do the same search. For 2, I was the first listing after the ads. For the other 2, I was nowhere to be found. How does it work? What determines the results, especially when it is not related to a local search? Is there any way for me to check the effectiveness of my titles if I don't get the same results as someone else?

Second Question: For each image in a slideshow I have a caption. Is the first image and caption the only one that is indexed? I'm particularly interested in this because a particular phrase is in the body copy but not in that title of the page that came up for the man in England who found me through Google. Are all the captions, save for the first one, invisible to Google?

Thanks in advance for your help. I want to share also: I watched your video on It was excellent.


Personalized Search
++Jill's Response++

Hi Martha,

Personalized search results go well beyond the location of the searcher and whether they're looking for a local company or not. While someone searching for a local company may certainly be shown pages from websites that offer products or services in their same geographic area, much more goes into the positioning of any given page in the search results.

Every site has tons of traffic from keyword phrases where they don't appear to rank highly in Google. This is why I cannot stress enough how futile it is to use rankings as a measure of success. Yet it seems that no matter how many articles I write saying this (most all of them!) or how many times I tell companies that it's a futile exercise, many people just can't be convinced of this. (And many SEO companies are the worst culprits.)

You have to remember that every single person (or browser) has their own browsing history that gets recorded by Google. In fact, if you do one search in Google and then do another, Google often mashes them together to try to get a better feel for exactly what you're looking for. You can imagine that no two people do the same two searches in a row, which can make everyone's search results somewhat different. There are probably hundreds of different factors that go into anyone's personalized search results. Even something (or all the things) that one person searched upon last week might factor into the search results they see this week.

You don't need to see rankings to test the effectiveness of your titles. It doesn't matter whether you see the same results as someone else or not. Like most ways of measuring your website's effectiveness, you have everything you need within your web analytics program.

I covered measuring your success through Google Analytics recently, so I won't go into it again, but basically, you'd look to see if your organic search traffic for specific landing pages and keywords has gone up or down after a title tag change (or any change). Just be sure you've waited a sufficient amount of time and have a good amount of data before you make any determinations.

As to your question about your slide show images and captions, it depends on how it's set-up and what you mean by a caption. Some captions are words on the page and would certainly be seen by Google and the other search engines. Others might be alt attribute descriptive text (alt tags), which are seen only when you mouse over the image (and only in certain browsers).

While Google does see and index the information in alt tags, if the image isn't a clickable one, Google may or may not weigh it the same as they would weigh text on the page. To see if Google even sees the captions of the images beyond the first one for your page, view the page via Google's "text cache." This will usually show you what Google can see and what they can't. To do this, replace with your own URL using this link:

That should show you what Google sees on the page. Look for the words that are contained within your captions and see if they're visible or not. If they're not, then you probably want to change the way you display your images, assuming that you feel it's important for the caption words to be indexed.

Also, if your captions are created using alt tag descriptions, the fact that they're not clearly visible on the page doesn't mean that you can or should stuff them full of keywords. They need to describe the image and/or the page that the image points to, in the case of navigational images.

Hope this helps!




Jill Whalen has been an SEO Consultant and the CEO of Jill Whalen High Rankings, a Boston area SEO Company since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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