As digital marketers working toward those big-picture SEO results, we get this question pretty frequently: “Why do I see a different Google first page than you?”

The answer, as you may have guessed, is nuanced thanks to Google’s search algorithm complexities and extensiveness. Upon searching for a certain keyword or phrase, you may see a set of links on your home computer that differ from those on your smartphone or tablet. The same can be seen when comparing results between your location in, say, Las Vegas and your pal’s home in Reno.

While these subtle differences on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) might appear like a jumbled mess—for businesses pushing their brand, it can undoubtedly be inconvenient—we assure you that everything is working as intended…for the most part.

SERP Results Different

Different Google Search Page Results: Contributing Factors

Remember when keyword rankings were cut and dry? Oh, how times have changed! A decade ago, you would likely see the same results for certain keywords no matter your location or device. Now, Google considers a variety of factors that influence the first page, including:

  • Device (desktop, mobile, tablet)
  • Location by IP address
  • Browser
  • Search history (cookies, cached data, bookmarks)
  • Google account access
  • Ads shown
  • Keywords
  • Interpreted intent (micro-moments)

This SERP personalization has arguably been beneficial to users, but it can be an SEO headache for brands and marketers looking to make waves past local geographic borders. Because we’re such nice people, here are a few SERP tips and tricks to help you navigate these somewhat nauseating waters.

Unadulterated Search Pages with Google Ad Preview Tool

First and foremost, stop Googling yourself! Your browser search history, cached data, and Google account may influence what is displayed on a SERP, so you won’t always be getting an accurate snapshot of your keyword rankings.

Plus, if you’re running an AdWords campaign, a Google search that pushes an ad but doesn’t result in a click can degrade your quality score, impression-to-click metrics, and overall KPI.

Instead of a standard search, you can run through a VPN or proxy. But for the majority of us, using the Ad Preview Tool provided by the Goog is the best option. This tool is immensely useful to:

  • Search paid ads and organic results from a specific location.
  • Change languages without adjusting your browser settings.
  • See what the SERP page looks like on desktop, mobile, and tablet.
  • Alter the Google domain (from .com to .whatevs).
  • Share your search results with clients or other marketing gurus.

Other options include using a different browser, clearing your history and cache, or searching in an Incognito or Private window. But the Ad Preview Tool is the go-to, and we recommend it 11 times out of 10 (the extra one is for safe measure).

Mobile vs. Desktop SERP

Mobile vs. Desktop SERP

Recent data suggests that a wide divide exists between desktop and mobile keyword rankings. Search Engine Land conducted SEO research on 25 million keywords; nearly 80% of those keywords achieved a different page rank on mobile devices and computers. Keywords within the first two pages of Google ranked differently 47% of the time. Staggering.

There’s no way around it—mobile is the future, for better or worse. That said, mobile SEO still follows the basic tenets of general SEO, so follow user-friendly tactics to ensure you’re ranking well on both smart devices and computers.

Tips for SEO:

  • Per Google, you should always build for the mobile device using a responsive theme.
  • Consider improving site speed, utilizing AMP, removing pop-up ads, and leveraging an above-the-fold UI.
  • Before building landing pages, perform advanced keyword research, separating your voice and mobile keywords from your desktop keywords.
  • Analyze metrics and heat maps for mobile/tablet and desktop to understand where opportunities for improvement may be.
  • Long-form content is more likely to be read on a desktop, while quick articles are for phones.
  • Test your site’s mobile-friendliness using Google’s mobile tool.

Local SEO Dictates Most Search Results

Google is like the Einstein of the internet—it knows just enough about its users to make decisions on their behalf. When they search for a keyword phrase, the behemoth search engine know-it-all will pull together all influencers, such as browser version, Google account details, search history, intent, and IP address or GPS location, then serve up a warm plate of “here you go.”

For instance, even a search for a generic, non-localized term like “basketball” will produce local results (Indianapolis, in this case):

Local SEO Basketball

Opposed to the same search from San Diego, CA:

Local SEO Basketball San Diego

Now, let’s compare the generic “basketball” search to the following geo-targeted search:

San Diego Basketball Search

As you can see, the generic search mixes both global and local results, while a geo-targeted keyword phrase keeps things kosher. Rankings change dramatically between the two, and new pages are even popping up on the first page of Google when adding a location to the search.

Tips for SEO:

  • Include the geo-location in your meta title when able. If you serve customers in a specific area, it’s always a good idea to include this in your home page’s meta title.
  • Don’t waste metadata characters on useless information. Stick to the terms that work and drive traffic, along with a geo-location.
  • Claim your local business listings through Google My Business! Many small businesses still aren’t taking advantage of this simple technique to get found. (If you need assistance with this, contact our local SEO marketers at Opportunity Max.)
  • Align your Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) across the web.
  • Add structured data markup to your key landing pages.
  • Spend time getting to the top of the local map pack. Doing so may help you achieve success for the generic search terms as well as the geo-targeted ones.

Understanding Search Intent & “Micro-Moments”

Where you rank on Google depends on myriad factors, but perhaps none are as intriguing as these mobile micro-moments. In essence, when users perform searches on their tablets or smartphones, Google identifies their intent of “wants,” broken down into the following moments:

  1. Want-to-know
  2. Want-to-go
  3. Want-to-do
  4. Want-to-buy
Google SERP Intent


Depending on the identified search intent, the SERP layout will change in an effort to offer up the best resources that may answer their query. You may even be fed photos, news articles, YouTube videos, and other links if Google deems it necessary.

Tips for SEO:

  • Identify your own micro-moments by stepping in your readers’ shoes. What do they want to know, and how can you help get them that knowledge?
  • Consider adding a structured timestamp (date) to the front of your meta description. This is especially important if the search topic is timely, such as car sales, events, or holidays.
  • If you can get inside a Google Knowledge Card, do it! You may have to focus on a niche topic or keyword, but it’ll all be worth it.

Pop quiz time! See if you can identify which of these Google results page matches up with each micro-moment above (bonus points if you can guess the search query):


Micro Moment #1


Micro Moment #2


Micro Moment #3


Micro Moment #4

Post your answers in the comments section. I look forward to flunking everyone as payback to my college Calculus professor who shall not be named (hint: it was Professor Clarke Smith III).

If you need any help understanding how to gain more online visibility, either with local SEO, a robust PPC campaign, or general site optimization, get in touch with OppMax. We’ll be happy to lend a hand and get you better results. Contact us online.



Sources & Photos: