Special features of Google search queries for ranking checks

ByDr.-Ing. Erik Neitzel
Special features of Google search queries for ranking checks

The work of the search engine does not only begin when the search algorithm is called up using a search term. Google puts the incoming search query in a very special context before outputting a results page. The visitor’s request also provides this context, but this is not just about the search term itself, but about various covert parameters that we want to talk about here.

The browser headers as an enriched request

Perhaps you’ve heard of so-called HTTP headers. They belong to every request that a client (your browser) sends to the server (Google web server). The body of the request contains, for example, the search term that you are sending. But your browser also sends more information, which we will talk about in more detail in a moment.

At the context level, we can differentiate between the following header types:

  • Request Header: Headers that belong to the request from a client / browser to the web server
  • Response Header: Headers that belong to the response from the web server to the client / browser
  • General Header: Headers that belong to both requests and responses and have no direct reference to the data in the body
  • Entity Header: Headers that have specific reference to the body of the request (for example the length of the content or its data type)

There are many other criteria that distinguish headers that are not intended to be of interest to us here. The only important thing at this point is that in addition to the actual content of your request to Google, there is further information that you automatically transfer.

An example of an HTTP request header:

Accept: text/html,application/xhtml+xml,application/xml;q=0.9,*/*;q=0.8
User-Agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:8.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/8.0
Accept-Language: de, en-US;q=0.9
Accept-Encoding: gzip,deflate
Accept-Charset: utf-8,ISO-8859-1;q=0.7,*;q=0.7
Keep-Alive: 300
Connection: keep-alive
Cache-Control: no-cache

You can influence this content, but in most cases it works entirely for you. Let’s now take a look at which headers of the type request header are relevant for a Google search and what influence this has on the automated checking of your rankings from an SEO perspective.

The language of the search query

The HTTP request header …

Accept-Language: de

… which your browser transmits with every request could be set to “de”, for example. Depending on your browser settings, several languages ​​can be transferred with a certain preferred order.

Google, on the other hand, knows about the language of every website, among other things via the HTML tag attribute “lang”, which stands for “de” or “en”, for example. The Googlebot evaluates this value when crawling the website as well as the actual use of words on the respective website.

For your search, Google now uses the request attribute of your HTTP request header to only display websites as the result of your search that match the language you requested.

To put it simply: The “de” of your Accept-Language-Request-Header should match the “de” of the HTML tag attribute “lang” of the website that you get suggested by Google.

If you were to choose a different browser setting, you would potentially have different search results. Here you can see that you can get completely different search results despite entering one and the same keyword.

The user agent of your request

Just as it is with the language of your Google search query, it also works with the request header “User-Agent”. For example, it could have the following values:

  • “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/42.0.2311.135 Safari/537.36 Edge/12.246”
  • “Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10_12_6) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/72.0.3626.119 Safari/537.36”
  • “Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.12; rv:65.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/65.0”

You can see here how powerful this header value alone is. It contains your operating system, the kernel version, the browser used and the browser version. This in turn automatically indicates whether you are using a stationary computer or a mobile device.

Special case of mobile devices in the user agent

The header could also have the following values:

  • “Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 7.0; Pixel C Build/NRD90M; wv) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Chrome/52.0.2743.98 Safari/537.36″
  • “Mozilla/5.0 (Windows Phone 10.0; Android 6.0.1; Microsoft; RM-1152) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/52.0.2743.116 Mobile Safari/537.36 Edge/15.15254″
  • “Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 12_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/605.1.15 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/12.0 Mobile/15E148 Safari/604.1″

Google now also uses these header values to prepare your search results in order to put together the most suitable results for you.

In the case of using a mobile device, you will preferably receive pages that have received a better rating from Google for performance and mobile optimization. Other ranking factors, even with a website that is optimized for good rankings, may then be less considered if it is better suited for mobile delivery.

Accept-Encoding-Policies

Websites may also be preferred whose web servers responded to Googlebot during the last crawl in the HTTP response header with an accept encoding policy that enables compressed transmission.

Accept-Encoding: gzip,compress,deflate,br

This saves the data volume of mobile devices while the website is being downloaded and thus increases the user’s satisfaction with the search result suggested by Google. You can see a list of HTTP response headers requested by Googlebots here.

Hidden enrichment of search queries

Your own HTTP request headers can be changed using the device and / or the browser or via the settings of your browser. But there is also an enrichment of your requests on the Google side outside of your request headers. Attributes that play a role here are, for example:

  • the country of your request (e.g. obtained from Google via your IP address, which you could change via a VPN or proxy server)
  • your last searched keywords (obtained from Google, for example, by reading Google’s own cookies, for which you could reset your browser cache)
  • your logged in user (for example your gmail account)

There are definitely other attributes that Google consults when delivering search results. Up to this point you can already see that not only your search term is interesting for Google in order to suggest suitable websites.

What does this mean for the SERP check from an SEO perspective?

Up to this point we can state that in addition to the search term, Google takes into account a large number of other criteria in order to increase or decrease the relevance of certain websites while the search result pages are being compiled. This is also to be expected, since Google naturally takes care to understand each user as best as possible before proposing a website to them. A keyword alone is not enough for this.

Many SEO tools, including SERP Checker, do not or only insufficiently take into account the aforementioned criteria. This is often due to the fact that you want to provide the most powerful tool possible. If you want to check as many placements as possible, you can quickly use global proxy servers to distribute the load of the requests as widely as possible. Also, the use of the HTTP request headers is usually not given much importance.

A solid Google Ranking Check should always operate close to those parameters that are also expected by the potential visitor. For a German website, this means the optimization of the SERP checker for inquiries from Germany and with user agents in the HTTP request header, which also apply to those who you want to attract as a visitor. The use of most proxy servers (also based in Germany) is of course automatically ruled out.

With our SERPBOT we offer many years of know-how in querying Google placements for search terms from the perspective of German-speaking visitors. This ensures that the rankings obtained actually match what a comparable user would receive.

We hope that this overview will help you to ensure that your own ranking checks remain representative and we are happy to assist you with our free Google Keyword Ranking Tool.

Dr.-Ing. Erik Neitzel