Do Incognito Searches Affect Your SEO?

01 March 2021
by Archie Williamson
5 mins
Do Incognito Searches Affect Your SEO?

People turn to incognito searches to enter queries privately, with the knowledge that their search history won’t be saved afterwards.

Incognito mode is a form of private browsing that enables a user to enter a query into search or visit a website without any trace of that activity being logged on a specific device.

The main goal is to hide history from other people using a device and to minimise the amount of information that is logged when browsing the net. However, it does not offer complete anonymity from anyone and everyone.

Most popular browsers, including Chrome, offer private browsing modes. Chrome’s ”Incognito” mode does not save search history, browsing history, cookies, forms, passwords or any personally identifiable information (PII).

However, when conducting searches, Google will still be able to see your IP address, location and any sites that you have logged in to during a browsing session.

This means that search results will still be tailored to your location and IP, so local news and businesses are likely to feature prominently in SERPs. It also means that location-based keywords – such as SEO agency Norfolk – will retain their value. If you’re in a market that thrives on incognito searches, like engagement rings, remember to take this into account.

In its own guidance on private browsing, Google says it “will always estimate the general area” that searches are made from to increase the relevancy of content. It may even show a map pack, depending on the type of query.

The fact that search results are still unique when using incognito mode is an issue that DuckDuckGo explored in its own study back in 2018.

The rival search engine found that when entering the term “vaccinations” into Google, there were 73 variations of results in the private browsing mode with the user logged out, and “normal” mode.

“We often hear of confusion that private browsing mode enables anonymity on the web, but this finding demonstrates that Google tailors search results regardless of browsing mode,” DuckDuckGo noted.

Google’s Pandu Nayak claimed shortly after that the scope of indexing and ranking content is so complex that it is difficult to personalise results.

He said: “A query a user comes with usually has so much context that the opportunity for personalisation is just very limited.”

Can incognito searches affect rankings?

While there are differences in opinion about the technical aspects of incognito mode and how it is implemented, the main things webmasters and SEOs want to know is whether it actually has an impact on rankings.

After implementing an effective SEO strategy with the assistance of an SEO agency, it would be frustrating to see sites falling on to the second page of SERPs for private searches.

Google uses search and web history to deliver personalised results to users, so it may seem to make logical sense that when these are taken away, rankings for certain sites could be affected for specific keywords or terms.

However, Google has stated that click-through rate (CTR) is not used as a signal within its ranking algorithm, so the absence of personalisation, history and other data will not result in them using CTR in any way to rank content.

This means that if someone is using incognito mode, any links they click on will not have a discernible impact on ranking positions for the queries that other people enter during “normal” browsing.

Does Google use click-through rate at all?

While Google does not use CTR as a ranking signal, it will use click data as a form of feedback when trying to improve the overall quality of results. This may come in handy for Google when it is A/B’ing different variants of its algorithm to see what works best.

These clicks essentially create a feedback loop that enables Google to iterate its algorithm on the fly or make adjustments to certain rich results. If they see a map pack for a specific query is not being used, for example, they might decide not to surface a map in the future.

So, Google does use CTR to support its decision making but it is not a hard ranking factor. Merely getting a group of people to click on your listing won’t lead to that link being placed higher in SERPs.

Do cookies impact organic search?

Google collects cookies mainly to serve more relevant ads on its platforms. Cookies are text files that contain data about the pages you have visited and your general web browsing activities. They are used by sites as an identification card of sorts and to store your preferences.

Cookies are primarily used in paid ads, as they allow advertisers to target users based on this information. The inability to access cookies in this instance can impact paid strategies as remarketing tactics rely on cookies to target people who have visited a site.

This also means any cookie consent requests on your site won’t affect SEO. Google stated back in 2017 that important requests about cookies do not factor into search performance, and cookies in general are not a ranking signal on Google or Bing.

It is important to note that incognito browsing and the absence of cookie consent can make it more difficult to track key SEO metrics in Google Analytics, a platform that relies on personal information to serve relevant data and insights. Without analytics cookies, it may be more difficult to track the correct number of times someone has visited your site.


The general consensus is that incognito searches do not have any meaningful impact on SEO or rankings in search engines.

While private browsing can make life more difficult in terms of targeting ads and collecting information for data and analytics, it will not directly affect your ability to rank on the first page of Google for primary keywords and terms.

If you want to find out more about how an agency can help you to manage a SEO campaign that will improve your visibility and traffic in search, contact us today and our consultants will provide the assistance you need.


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