Not a day goes by when there isn’t something upsetting to learn about Internet scams, infiltration of personal information, hacking into financial, credit card or corporate accounts, and more. But what I am about to discuss is something different altogether. It has to do with how your search engine rankings may be affected by a number of different issues which may give you a false reading on the true picture.

As a website developer, it is my responsibility to make sure the SEO I incorporate is achieving top billing when searches are made using applicable terms. Likewise, I am sure anyone with a website, businesses or otherwise, would like to know how to tell whether their search rankings are true.

One of my clients recently added a new attorney to his firm and agreed it was a good time to address the presentation of his entire website to incorporate this new information in a long-overdue modernization of his ten-year-old web presence. Although the original site was quite informative, it lacked much of today’s necessary SEO content both visible and invisible, as well as a more technically sophisticated navigation system, etc.

As part of a regional network of available attorneys in New York’s Hudson Valley, my client experiences fierce competition to gain top billing in search results. Having come to the realization that most of his new business is a result of online searches as opposed to the older methods of yellow page listings or newspaper advertising, he expressed intense interest in our SEO expertise which became a prime focus of this exercise.

Shortly after completing the website work, submitting a site map to Google and registering his site with Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, I began to investigate how his site was appearing within search results when a variety of search terms were used to find him.

What I found prompted me to conduct a full-fledged study of three subjects of interest on a mix of the various browsers, search engines and platforms. It seems that depending on the search engine used, results can vary widely, but most especially if the person conducting the search is signed into an account with the company of which the search engine is a part. Specifically, I am shocked to say, that it was Google who was most guilty of skewing search results in favor of the person signed in to their Google account, in comparison to searches conducted when not signed in.

How did I discover this? With my husband in another room on his older Mac laptop computer’s Safari browser, I called out in surprise that when I searched “top NY advertising agencies” on my new iMac’s Mozilla Firefox, my own website came up on page one of the search results. Arguably one of the toughest, most competitive categories out there, considering that the most famous agencies in the world should come up first, I was flabbergasted with my ranking…until my husband said he saw no such listing when he conducted the same search. It occurred to me that maybe because I had a Google account or maybe because I was signed in to my Google account, my search results were affected. Sure enough, when I signed out, my position in the same search was now on page 8, as the sixth listing, among 33,900,000 results. While not an impressive ranking, it certainly seemed a lot more realistic, considering that I am a single-person agency competing with many very well-known internationally established agencies with sometimes hundreds of employees worldwide.

That made me wonder about all search engines and all search results. I decided to do a scientific study of my own using tough categories for my client and my own company. For my client, I searched “Bankruptcy Lawyers in Poughkeepsie NY.” For myself, I chose two of the most difficult categories because of so many competitors: “Web Design Poughkeepsie NY” and “Top New York Advertising Agencies.”