Having completed a particularly intensive round of keyword analysis, I was struck with a certain amount of trepidation when asked by a colleague why she received a greater number of search results than I had recorded in my spreadsheet. These were big differences. For example, searching for “Vertical Leap SEO” (with the quotation marks) returned only 57 results. The same search for my colleague yielded 31,800. Whose results were right? Did I need to start my keyword analysis again? When my initial gut instinct at the prospect of having to start again (to run from the room screaming) had subsided, we set about finding why this had happened.
Keyword analysis is a crucial part of SEO and is the first step you should take when optimising a website. As part of my analysis I’d used Google Adwords to obtain a list of phrases and to determine the search volumes. I was now searching Google to see how many competing websites existed for each phrase, and how many of these were exact matches.
To look for exact matches, wrap your search term in quotation marks. For example:
“Vertical Leap SEO”
This gave me 57 results. My colleague conducted the same search but received 31,800 results – far more. She tried searching for more of the phrases in my spreadsheet but the SERPs continued to show greater numbers of results than I had seen.
My colleague flicked through the 31,800 results from her search. There were only five pages. On flicking to the final page, the total number of results dropped from 31,800 to 57. Beneath the results was the following message:
In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 57 already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.
After clicking the link to include omitted results, the number jumped back up to 31,800.
It is clear what had been happening: When I conducted my search, Google showed me the total number of results, but didn’t count the entries that were omitted. When my colleague searched, Google included these missing results. Why was Google treating my colleague and me differently?
To answer that, we need to backtrack a little. To help me ascertain where certain sites ranked without spending vast amounts of time flicking between pages, I’d set Google to display 100 results per page by clicking the Search Settings link in the top-right corner of the SERPs. This meant I only had one page of results, with the “omitted entries” message displayed at the bottom.
If the “omitted entries” warning is displayed within the first couple of pages, Google’s count doesn’t include the results that haven’t been displayed. If there are multiple pages before the “omitted entries” page, the count includes everything.
Keep an eye on this or else you may find your results are inconsistent, with some searches claiming you have tens of thousands of competing pages and some saying you have only a handful. If you decide to target a phrase that you think has only a handful of competing pages but find you’re up against thousands, don’t panic: these are probably all from the same websites and may not be highly regarded by Google (hence why it ignored them from the initial results).
While investigating this I also noticed another inconsistency: there was also a slight variation in the number of search results I received when using certain browsers compared to the number of results received by my colleagues. My searches using Firefox, Chrome and Opera returned 30,200. Using Internet Explorer I received 31,800 results which was the same number my colleagues received in Opera, Chrome, IE and Firefox. However, that’s another investigation for another blog.