Google Algorithm “Black hole?”

I’ve got a new one for everybody out there. Our fearless leader was doing some research on a prospect the other day and all of a sudden I hear, “Evan! Come look at this!” Grabbing my delicious mixed greens salad with carrots, strawberries, turkey and cottage cheese, I headed for his office.

Before I tell you what he was seeing, I want everyone to do something for me. Stay with me on this. Open up Safari, Firefox and Chrome. If you are logged in to Google, please log out. Once you are 100% certain you are not logged in, perform a search for the following term: Alaska fishing charters. (We think it’s the perfect search term because it is something that you’ve probably never searched before and you’ll have zero historical data for that term. And also, make sure to take a screenshot of what you are seeing.)

Not Logged In:





Ready to freak out? Log in to Google on each of the browsers and do the exact same search. Here is what I see when I perform this search now that I’m logged in:




Are you freaking out yet? If you’re asking, “What should I be freaking out about?” look at the logged-out screenshots and compare them to the logged-in screenshots side by side. Notice how there are limited to no ads when you’re logged out, but three or four ads when you’re logged in?

We tested a bunch of different terms and consistently saw these types of results.

My boss asked how this could be. I had no answer. I had never, to my knowledge, ever seen this before. I grabbed my salad and rushed to my desk to research this issue. After spending about an hour reading blogs and forums as well as posts from Google, I found nothing about this, anywhere. We were on to something for sure!

Figuring the issue would work itself out; we did more searches the next day. We saw the exact same thing.

Okay, we’re definitely on to something here. I called Google AdWords support, and I spoke a very polite and helpful young lady from Ann Arbor, Michigan (#GoBlue) and explained the situation to her. She placed me on a brief 15-minute hold to research this issue for me. She came back and gave me a beautiful answer.

“Evan? We have never seen this before, nor has anyone ever brought this to our attention. I’ve asked my colleagues, and they also have never seen this before.” What the cheese bread?

How has this never been discovered before? Personally, I’ve worked in paid search for roughly 5-6 years. How have I never seen this or had this brought to my attention? Furthermore, how has no one out there ever seen this either?

Continuing my conversation with the delightful Google AdWords rep, she didn’t have much for me. She mentioned that because I’m not logged in, Google doesn’t know me or what ads would be relevant to me as a searcher. Isn’t that kind of the point of signing up for AdWords? I select keywords that I want to target, and when someone searches for those, Google shows my ad regardless of if they’re logged in. It seems pretty straightforward to me. I even checked and asked, there isn’t a setting in AdWords for showing to logged in and non-logged in searchers.

Her next statement is what really interested me. “I don’t want to say it’s a black hole, but possibly it’s a black hole in the Google algorithm.” Excuse me? A black hole? In the Google algorithm? Did I hear that correctly?

As advertisers, we’re always working to “impress” the Google algorithm and increase our ad positions and AdWords performance. To hear that there may be a “black hole” in the algorithm makes me question all of my life’s choices.

So what’s the answer? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how as advertisers we are supposed to beat the beat the potential “algorithm black hole.” What I think we do is we go on about our daily business and check our keyword performance. Add negative keywords based upon the search term history. Look to add device targeting bid adjustments. Look to add ad scheduling. Constantly write and test ad copy. Use that beautiful ad diagnosis preview tool to see where we rank amongst our competitors.

We just all need to keep in the back of our minds that searchers may be at corporate jobs and may not be logged in to see our ads. We need to remember that maybe Google isn’t all-powerful and all-knowing like they try to sell us. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a “glitch” in the system.

I’m not saying this happens all the time. It truly may be nothing, but it at least is good for all of us to know and keep in the back of our minds.