As I was working on helping to improve the ranking of a site for a client the last couple of days, an odd thing happened. As my colleagues and I were sharing search results with each other we noticed we were not getting consistent results – the clients site was showing up as #1 for a particular keyword for one of us, #4 for another.
We were using the same search engine (Google) and the exact same keywords, however the results were varied. This struck me as very odd until I realized there was one crucial difference – I was searching Google on an Ubuntu installation, while they were searchinng on Windows (we were all using FireFox). I tried an experiment – searched for the same keywords on my Windows system, Ubuntu system, and for good measure on Google Mobile on my Blackberry as well.
Not surprisingly the results were slightly different each time. there were about 5-6 URLs that were consistently in the top 10 across each operating system and device, although in different orders, and 4-5 URLs that were not the same across each.
My only thought is that this is one of the side-effects of the new Google Universal Search that was rolled out in May. Google seems to be taking into account which operating system or device you are using when offering up search results, presumably based on what Google feels is most relavent for you (and relavence can change depending on if you are a hard-core Linux user, a casual Windows user, or someone who does all their browsing via their iPhone or Blackberry.)
Now how does this affect your SEO efforts? Plenty since before you just had to optimize your site so people could find you via Google. Now you have to worry about if you are optimzing for relavence across different operating systems and devices as well.
The news is not all bad – you just need to take a step back and come to an understanding that its ok not to be in the #1 spot in the search results all the time. Focus on your core target audience – which operating system or device(s) are they most likely to be using? Optimize for those, and don’t worry as much about the rest. The folks who are not part of your target audience are also more likely to contribute to your home page bounce rate anyway (because they realized your site is not the one they wanted and just up and leave).
Also its recommended that you have a variety of testing environments available to you so you can see for yourself where your site is appearing in the search rankings. Knowing is always half the battle!