About Google Personalized Search and How to Turn it Off

Google Personalized SearchEver get the feeling that the search results Google displays seem to include the websites you often frequent? Ever wonder how that is possible with trillions of web pages and billions of websites? Can your special corner of the Internet and your search topics be that small? Welcome to Google Personalized Search. Think of it in similar fashion to the shopping behavioral algorithm that Amazon uses for their shopping “Recommendations” when you are logged into your account. However, there is one major difference. Google provides this feature for users that are logged into their account and users that are NOT logged into their account. Yes, Google is tracking your search activity and based upon your activity tailors the search results of future search queries.

This certainly is not a new feature, but is not widely known amongst the public. I have mentioned Personalized Search to many Social Media and Digital Marketing experts and they had no clue about this. So I decided to crank out a quick summary about Personalized Search and how to turn it off.

If you are logged into your Google account and search using Google your Personalized Search results are impacted by your Web History.  If Web History is turned on then Google collects exactly that; your web history. They know the sites you are been on and the search queries you enter into Google. In order to stop Personalized Search you need to turn Web History off.

You cannot simply log out of your Google account to avoid Personalized Search. Google also accomplishes this feat for non-signed in users by analyzing the last 180 days of your search activity that is recorded by an anonymous cookie in your browser. I bet you did not know about that little nugget of knowledge (Privacy experts love this feature; it is one of their favorites).

There are two ways to stop Google tracking your activity when signed out. You can delete all your browser cookies, but this is a massive pain and inconvenience. The other way is quite simple:

  1. Go to www.google.com
  2. Enter a search query and search
  3. Locate the gear icon in the upper right corner of the search engine results page
  4. Select Web History
  5. Then select “Disable customizations based on search activity

Turn Off Google Personalized SearchMy preference is to turn off Personalized Search. I do not want to see the same websites in my search results. I know there are billions of websites out there and I want to see the very best sites for my query. I like diversity and discovering new websites. Personalized Search does not impact every result in the first 10 results displayed, but impacts enough that I turn it off. I never go beyond page one so I want the first 10 results to be untainted or skewed by my Web History.

3 thoughts on “About Google Personalized Search and How to Turn it Off

  1. Good solution, but there is an even easier (and automatic) way to do this in Google Chrome.

    Check out my post over here: Disable Personalized Search Permanently with Google Chrome

  2. Garth: I was very upset by the privacy implications of Google Instant, and touched on this personalized search issue in a Blogger blog I published out of sheer pique, and which ranked well in the SERPS until everyone else got on board: Switch Off Google Instant

    The suggestion you have given here – to turn off customizations under Web History – was Google’s advice when Instant came out. My understanding at that time was that if you also deleted all cookies using browser tools, customization would automatically be turned back on. So I’ve never been confident there was a permanent way to stop them from snooping.

    Today, I don’t see a Web History option in Google Search. If I want accurate, non-distorted results, I use Scroogle, which taps into Google through a back door but doesn’t spy on you.

  3. This is a great article Garth. I’d no idea that Google gathers info about your search even when you’re not signed in. Turning off the personalised history is also useful for being able to monitor the performance of your websites, so that their results are not distorted by your own searching queries.

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