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Is Google Personalizing My Results When I'm Logged Out? Hmmm?

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
Today, Gord Hotchkiss posted about his recent interview with Ms. Mayer of Google over at Search Engine Land. If you haven’t yet read up on Google’s new personalized search strategies, Danny Sullivan’s definitive post on the subject will teach you all about exactly what personalized search is and how it will affect you, the Google user. May I also suggest reading my recent post about industry experts’ reactions to Google’s new personalized search policies? These resources will get you current on what’s going on with this, and make the rest of what I’m about to write here make good sense to you, I hope.
What is Google doing to my SERPs?
As readers will know, my husband and I are birders when we’re not sitting at our computers. Actually, we’re often birders then, too, and our idea of fun on a rainy afternoon is to browse birding websites together. No doubt, Google would see this habit of ours if they examined the data they collect each time we use Google to perform a search for something birding-related.
Google’s official statement, so far as I can understand, is that they will only use this collected data to configure my SERPs when I am logged into my Google account (adwords, adsense, gmail, etc). So, why is it, then, that every time I perform a search for the big broad term, bird observatory Google keeps showing me the bird observatory that is located nearest to where I live?
Is it personalization, localization, the fact that I’ve visited this website a bunch of times? Or is the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, prbo.org truly the world’s best bird observatory? Logged out of any Google account items, they are at #1 for me.
I try to do a little deeper digging
Using Jim Boykin’s Cool SEO Tool (one of my favorite things) I can see that the Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory is no slouch, as far as the things Google deems to be important where rankings are concerned. The domain has been in use since 1998, they’ve got 2810 pages indexed, 2520 recognized domain backlinks and over 200 .edu links. Pretty impressive!
However, it’s not nearly as impressive as the stats of many of the other observatories in Google’s Top 10 for this broad search term. I see equal or greater domain age, more pages, more backlinks and tons more .edu links on a number of the other Top 10 sites. So, why is Google picking my local bird observatory as #1 for me?
Thoughts and Questions
I have visited the Point Reyes Bird Observatory many more times than I have visited the other organizations in the top 10. Has Google decided I like this best (even though I’m logged out of my Google Account) and this is why they are serving it up to me?
If this is the reason they are doing this, doesn’t Google get the logic that if I search multiple times for the same keyword, it’s likely that the previous searches didn’t yield the results I hoped for, so showing me the same results over and over again is only going to annoy me and inhibit my ability to find whatever I’m actually looking for?
Is this some type of localization filter at play? *Note, I am not typing in any location in this search. In my opinion, someone searching for a term this broad is more likely to be looking for a dictionary definition of bird observatory that for a place to visit. Oddly, the Top 10 doesn’t return me anything like a Wikipedia result for this very undefined search. Is Google confused by my query and in trying to narrow it down, is serving me up something local to try to ‘make up’ for the deficiency of specifics in my query? Would they use an IP address in this way?
Something Very Odd Indeed
My husband and I recently conducted some research, via Google, on bird observatories because we are trying to locate bloggers in other areas of the U.S. who might be interested in creating a resource with us. We did research about this in 9 U.S. locations. Very, very oddly, ever since I did this, these same 9 locations keep appearing in the SERPs whenever I search for anything birding-related now.
Were they there before? I don’t honestly know, but I really don’t think it could be a coincidence that the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and Mile Hi Canyon in Arizona are relevant to any old thing I am searching for in regards to birding. I call this creepy!
Are you studying personalized search?
If so, I would so appreciate your comments on this. Have you noticed anything like this going on? Are you seeing the Point Reyes Bird Observatory at #1 when you search for the broad term bird observatory? If you sign into Google, and click on the PRBO website a bunch of times for a few days, does it then show up for you in your logged-out SERPS? Have I lost my marbles? Am I being a bird-brain when it comes to this, and missing the obvious explanation for this queer circumstance? Any thoughts, advice or speculation about this would be of greatest value to us!