Mobile indexing as it applies to AI

Cindy Krum’s keynote at EngagePDX a few weeks ago was both fascinating and a little disturbing:

More detail can be found in this post Understanding Mobile-First Indexing (2/3): The Long-Term Impact on SEO

Mobile-first indexing is not the same as Mobile-first design and making sure your site is friendly to mobile devices. The internet is expanding to the point where Google cannot crawl everything, and crawling is in itself inefficient. Indexing is moving to a place where there are no URLs and Google (or Alexa, or a similar device) will tell you the answer to your question regardless of whether there is a URL associated with it. For marketers this means that we really need to be very clear about what question our content answers and structured data and matters again. See my recommendation to set your pages up with structured data and rich snippets and then my reversal when Google told us rich snippets were over. Tagging your content correctly will help our future AI overlords understand that we hope to be the answer chosen for voice searches and other searches.

Knowledge graph entry for Knowledge graph

Click to embiggen: Knowledge Graph entry for Knowledge Graph

For people who use the internet, this is actually already happening. When you use Knowledge Graph results, or your Google Now results, or anytime you ask any voice-enabled device for an answer you are not only using primitive AI, but you are also training the AI to understand context and relevance. The future is pretty amazing, and I’m sure there is no reason to worry about skynet. Yet.

How to unpersonalize search results

The world beyond GooglePeople often ask how they can get an “unfiltered, unpersonalized view” of their “rankings” on Google. The short answer is, you can’t.

Unpersonalizing your Google results is a useless exercise
You can remove some personalization from your results, but from an SEO standpoint, there is absolutely no reason to monitor slightly less personalized Google results. Just like you, your customer/audience is getting personalized results in Google, and unless you figure out a way to recreate each visitor’s Google SERPs, then the only real way you have to gauge SEO success or failure is monitoring visit totals from search engines to your site and a handful of other web traffic metrics. The Google Hummingbird update was so extreme that it’s taken personalization to the point where rankings and keywords are irrelevant for gauging Google success, but other traditional search engines like Bing, Yahoo, and Baidu also personalize results to varying extents. Personalization is the future of commercial search.

Getting less personalized Google results is possible

However, you may have a real need to get results that do not include the same results you already saw. For example, when you’re doing research on a topic and want to gather as much new data as possible, seeing the same top pages you already visited is not helpful when you want to know MORE, not just just reinforce your previous search choices. This is exactly how personalization fails. (This is also true for paid search — clicking on an ad increases the likelihood you will see that same ad again.)

There are many great posts by respected SEOs with step-by-step instructions on how to depersonalize your searches, as well as FireFox and Chrome plug-ins that will give you less personalized results. I haven’t ever found one that I could say with absolute certainty stripped all the personalization from my Google searches, but there may be one out there. This article on from 2011 covers some of the most basic hacks, Google’s Un-Personalized Search. Tools to Hack the Code. Searching for [disable personalized search] may give you more options (many of which no longer work).

How I get unpersonalized results

Although I know I will never see absolute rankings for Google, I do have a couple of methods I use when I want to exit my own search history echo chamber.

Most recommendations for getting less personalized results in standard Google recommend multiple steps (many of which I don’t bother with):

  1. Log out of Google account
  2. Clear your search history
  3. Depending on your browser, set your privacy settings to not personalize, etc.
  4. Wait until the full moon and at midnight shout, “GoogleJuice! GoogleJuice! GoogleJuice!”
  5. Append &pws=0 to the end of your search URL
  6. Expand or change your location by also appending &gl=us or whatever country code you want to search in, to your search URL

You will end up with a URL that looks something like this:

Here are my results:

Attempting to unpersonalize Google results with code

Attempting to unpersonalize Google results with code (click to embiggen)

All these results are local except for one. This isn’t really working for me, perhaps because I’m too lazy to change all my browser settings every time I want to get a purer search. A better method for me is to use the Google Adwords preview tool . Most likely you will need to sign in to use it. Follow these instructions to set up an account if you haven’t already. Then just input your search terms in the search field and see what you get:

Unpersonalizing Google results with Adwords preview

Unpersonalizing Google results with Adwords preview (click to embiggen)

You can adjust your results to see what people in different locations, languages, and devices might see. Here are my results:

Unpersonalized results from Google Adwords preview

Unpersonalized results from Google Adwords preview (click to embiggen)

Again, this is not useful for finding the absolute ranking unless your target audience has no search history or location but it is good for looking for other answers to questions you may be trying to answer with Google. Also, you do have to choose some personalization options to get the results (language, country, device) so it is not completely unfiltered.

Using truly impersonal search engines
The best option I have found for getting unfiltered search results is to use a truly anonymous search engine like DuckDuckGo. Because DuckDuckGo is a completely different engine, it should not be used as an SEO tool to be used to compare “ranking” against Google. It’s just a good search engine that does what search engines do best — find things on the web. Here’s my query:

Truly impersonal dentist offices on DuckDuckGo

Truly impersonal dentist offices on DuckDuckGo (click to embiggen)

The deep web option
If you really want to get not just unpersonalized, but completely anonymous search results outside the traditional web, you may want to try exploring the Invisible web, via TOR or other anonymizing networks. This is not a comparable alternative to Google searching on the Open web, but a completely different option to be approached with caution.

Google cache hack: See what Google sees

I’m pretty sure I stole this from another SEO, but because I’ve been using it as the first step of  basic SEO testing  for so long, I’ve completely forgotten where I got this. But today I was reminded of  what a great little hack it is when a colleague asked me how I  always know what Google sees when it indexes a page.  Use this hack when when people ask  “Is Google indexing this page?” or “Why does Google not index my content?” and they will think you have Google x-ray vision.

(Pro-tip: Usually when you have a page in a site with no other major indexing problems that is not surfacing in Google, it is a JS or AJAX issue and Google cache is the first step in diagnosing this problem)

Google cache is nothing new, but if you add it to your browser bookmarks you can immediately view what is happening in Google the moment someone IMs you a URL and asks “Why does Google hate this URL?”.

How to Add Google cache to your browser bookmarks to instantly view Google’s view of your page

  • Right-click in your browser shell (under your URL field, usually) and, depending on what browser you are using, you will either have the option to “Add a bookmark” or “Add a page” or something similar.  I’m using Firefox and Chrome on a windows machine in the examples below:

Chrome bookmark view

Chrome bookmark view



ffbookmark view

Firefox bookmark view



  • In the location field (Firefox) or URL field  (Chrome) enter:
  • Add the bookmark to whatever browser you do most of your SEOing in and anytime you wonder what Google is seeing on a page just enter the page in your browser and then click your “Google Cache” bookmark window and you will see when Google last indexed the page, what URL Google indexed, and what that index looked like.

Google cache FF browser
Viewing the URL in Google cache is a great way to determine if you have any weird redirect problems (self-inflicted or otherwise).  Also, I usually click on the “Text-only version” of the page so that I can actually see if Google can see the words I think this page should be indexed under.  This is another great way to diagnose rendering issues and/or text that looks like text but is actually images (basic SEO).

Text-only version Google cache

Text-only version Google cache


I’ve used a lot of SEO tools over the years, but this Google cache hack remains the standard first step in diagnosing Google indexing problems. And remember: spidering, indexing, and ranking are different things.  If you do not see a cache for a page it does not mean Google has not spidered it, and if you see a cache for a page and you are still not ranking for what you think you should be ranking for, remember all this proves is that Google has a cache for your page — no promises were made.  Also, the  ranking you see is not necessarily the ranking everyone else sees for your page.

using rel=author tags on blogs to optimize content ownership

I came across this article, AuthorRank could be more disruptive than all of the Panda updates combined, this morning and decided it was time to practice what I preach. I’ve been advising our bloggers to link their blogs to Google+ as well as work on their Google+ visibility, and this post persuaded me it was time to update my blog.

There is a great Rel=Author Step By Step Tutorial For WordPress here for people who may not be on Google+ yet and it may work for most people.

But the instructions vary depending on your blog host and your theme. I host my own wordpress blog and it just so happened that I’m using a theme that does not support menus or allow for automatically adding a bio to each post. And despite the fact that it probably is time to update my blog theme, I was not feeling it this afternoon.

So I looked for another solution. Because this post, rel=”author” and rel=”me” in WP and other platforms, went a little deeper I was able to figure out why I was getting this error over and over again:

linked author profile =
Error: Author profile page does not have a rel="me" link to a Google Profile. Learn more.

The good thing is, you can test how your snippets will theoretically show in the SERPs here as many times as you like:

Here is what worked for me (YMMV so refer to the links above for more complete instructions):

  1. I finally updated my wordpress profile to reflect my actual name and not “admin” (I know, I know…) nameWordpress
  2. I linked my “Contributor to” to field in the right nav of my Google + profile page to my “About” page on my blog.
  3. Then I linked my blog to my Google Profile. To do this I added a badge with a link to my Google profile in my sidebar. However, if you use this tool to create a badge it will give you a “rel=”author” and in my case I needed a “rel=me.” Easy enough to change, but something to keep in mind. The Google instructions for tying your blog to your Google + profile did not make that part clear.
  4. Tested it in the Rich Snippet Tester
  5. Success!

Now I can make recommendations to our bloggers with a clean conscience. And it was a good exercise for me to set my Profile up to claim my own blog posts and start tying the topics I post about to my name and increasing my ownership and hopefully future visibility in Google.

Using Ubuntu to recover files on an unmountable windows harddrive

Recently I experienced what all web workers dread: the blue screen of death (aka, the BSOD). And on a Monday morning as I tried to boot up for my 6am status call, no less.  After I tried every last trick in the book to get my laptop to boot (last known good, safe mode, etc.) and used every single curse word I knew, it was time to move onto the many stages of data loss.  I didn’t have a sense of what was in my laptop and what was in the cloud, but I did know it had been at least 7 months since my last major backup. It was bad, at the very least everything I had been working on for the past few weeks was probably lost.  So, after confirming with the helpdesk what I already knew and arranging to have a new HDD shipped next day air from Lenovo (it arrived the next morning!) I moved on to getting the data out of my dead harddrive

And this is how I came to be converted to Linux.  Randomly, in my desperate  searches I came across this article Use Ubuntu Live CD to Backup Files from Your Dead Windows Computer.  The directions are extremely clear and I was able to go to the Ubuntu site, download Ubuntu Live, use Disk Utility on my Mac to burn a disk, and then boot my Lenovo with the disk (one tip, Lenovos and Thinkpads often require you to hold down f12 to boot from a disk).

I was lucky, because I was able to access my Windows files this way and download them all onto my external HDD (and yes, it would have been great if I’d done that before my laptop crashed).

I also bought a harddrive enclosure and attempted to access my old HDD that way once my new HDD was installed, but it would not be recognized.  I imagine YMMV, so that is also an option if booting from Ubuntu does not work for an installed HDD.