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How to Ghost-Google: Searching Google without Google to Know about You

Ghost googleThere can be several reasons why a search marketing professional would want to be “ghost-googling” (i.e. searching Google without Google to know you are searching it):

  • He/She may want to see absolutely “fair” results (not influenced by his/her recorded browsing preferences, territory, etc);
  • He/She may want to be served “non-targeted” Google ads;
  • He/She may want the competitors to be unaware they are being watched (have you ever noticed any [] type of Google referrals? This is quite enough to suspect someone is after you).

So here are a few steps to take to ensure some preferred level of Google privacy:

[Btw, I do see the irony behind trying to make our sites visible to Google while getting invisible ourselves :)]

1. Use Google Privacy Greasemonkey Scripts:

GooglePrivacy is a cool Greasemonkey script that is claimed to work the following way:

  • It replaces all tracking cookies with faked data.
  • It disables the script sending Google your browsing records:

Normally each link on a google search page has an onmousedown script that sends a request to their servers telling them what you clicked on, it’s an invasion of privacy and it slows down your connection.

Remove Google re-directs: I’ve listed three Greasemonkey scripts turning Google tracking re-directs within SERPs into direct link for privacy and usability purposes.

Google anonymizer

2. Configure Your FireFox Browser:

Try accessing this page to see how your browser is passing your referrer string. You can configure FireFox to hide your referrer string (hat tip to Distilled) by following these easy steps:

  • In the Firefox address bar, type about:config
  • In the “Filter” box, type “referer
  • Double click the line named ‘network.http.sendRefererHeader
  • In the dialog box, enter 0 and click “OK
  • Click referer checking page to check that Firefox isn’t passing your referer string (make sure that the first line is blank).

About:Config Hide Referer

3. Disable Google Web History

Obviously you are well aware of the fact that unless you opt out, Google will be saving your search and browsing history to “improve the search quality” and show you personalized results.

Web History uses the information from your web history or other information you provide us to improve your Google search experience, such as improving the quality of your search results and providing recommendations. In addition to enabling the Web History functionality, the information we collect when you use Web History may be shared among all of our services in order to provide you with a seamless experience and to improve the quality of our services.

You are free to pause the feature as well as remove items already stored.

Obviously, you can turn off personalization of search results by simply signing out of Google account.

4. Configure or Uninstall Google Toolbar

That’s never been a secret that Google is using its official toolbar statistics:

Any time you use the Google Toolbar to contact Google, such as by sending a search query to Google, the Toolbar sends standard, limited information including your machine’s IP address and one or more cookies. This data is retained in Google’s server logs and protected according to our general Privacy Policy.

There’s almost no definitive way to tell how much this influences the search results returned to you personally but to be on the safe side, you may want to block this leak too.

You are given the option to disable the user stats via Google Toolbar settings:

  1. Go the Toolbar’s settings ( wrench icon).
  2. (Firefox) click the Search tab.
  3. Deselect the “Send usage statistics to Google” checkbox.
  4. Click Save.

Google Toolbar: Disable sending usage statistics

Alternatively, you can just uninstall the toolbar. Here are a few addons for you to perform its most useful features:

  1. SearchStatus (which displays Google PageRank), though it has been slower than the official toolbar;
  2. And this post of mine lists two alternative addons that offer quick access to Google services (like Gmail, image search, etc).

addon: multiple Google services

5. Anything Else?

Did I miss anything? Add your tips in the comments!

Post imageby striatic

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  1. 33 Responses to “How to Ghost-Google: Searching Google without Google to Know about You”

  2. Great article. Thanks.

    I’ve been using of late and have been pretty happy with the results.

    I kind of like the domain name, too! :)

    By Dave on Sep 4, 2009

  3. Brilliant!

    I’ve got two questions:

    1) How about using proxies to make your search?
    2) On the toolbar issue, if you use a third-party toolbar service that uses Google Search, is that sending your IP address just as if you were using the Google Toolbar? What would be your suggestion for “ghosting” then?

    By Allen Taylor on Sep 5, 2009

  4. Thanks for this brilliant post.

    regarding 5)

    I would want to add, that you could use a set of proxies to send your queries over.

    After all it’s your (offices) IP which leaves the most important trace.

    I know that Google does co-relation of accounts via IP addresses, and the only way to avoid that is to get DISTINCT own private proxy IPs for each google account or session
    (in addition to clearing cache/cookies)

    Obviously this is more advanced/expensive – and I would NOT recommend to go with cheap/”free” proxies

    Best Regards

    By Christoph C. Cemper on Sep 5, 2009

  5. Could you apply these methods to other search engines?

    By Richard Teahon on Sep 6, 2009

  6. I know for me, I’ve simply kept a separate browser installation (on my Mac, it’s Safari) that I use without ever logging in to Google. This can take care of a lot of the issues for privacy with cookies and details, although it still does not prevent Google from tracing IPs.

    I’ve found that staying logged out tends to show much more “raw” results with that browser than my other searches through my main browser (Firefox) when I’m logged in. That, and it’s a pretty easy fix, if you want to just check unaffected listing results without having to adjust things.

    By Eric Gesinski on Sep 8, 2009

  7. @eric – yes this is what i have done. Its easier than turning everything off each time and messing on. I use IE8 for personal stuff, Google Chrome for clean search (personalised all off), and firfox for all the extensions.

    By SEO-Doctor on Sep 10, 2009

  8. Thank you for the post, some great ideas for retaining your privacy also very useful if you are looking for fair results.

    By Mandy on Sep 14, 2009

  9. Hi Ann . . . I read a lot of your stuff at Sphinn as well. This article is great, and I can already see some other applications for some of these tools you suggested. I bookmarked this one, because I for sure need to read this a few more times. Nice work!

    By Eric Rudolf on Sep 19, 2009

  10. I protect myself against Google spyware.
    I’ve set Opera to NoCookies NoReferrer NoPlugins NoImageAnimations.
    And then i allow settings only for those sites
    that really need them. RightClick,
    Overall faster and safer web 😀

    The HUGE problem is that i cant properly
    protect friends and families computers
    (n00bs are screwed)
    as startpage helps. And EmptyCookiesOnExit.
    And ad-blocking.

    By u64 on Sep 22, 2009

  11. I think reading is a very important topic. I read tons of blogs in my niche to come up with ideas and topics that I haven’t covered or that I need to cover more of. Great list here

    By Abhishek SEO on Oct 24, 2009

  12. Google search for sites with content-spesific articles and the concept of SEO site..please, visit the selebrity information in

    By Fandi gala on Oct 29, 2009

  13. Hello, Annie!
    Thanks for brief and importnat information about making search without Google “SpyGlass”… Annie, I need you help. Please refer me where to find those setting of Google toolbar as shown in your post? I can’t find that at all :-(
    Referrer in FF I am already disabled, but situaution with finding toolbar things is confusing me.

    By Vitalka on Nov 4, 2009

  14. I knew Google was after my Data with the Toolbar. The reason I never used it and tried to get all people I know to deinstall it.
    Thanks for the guide to erase the other tracks Google uses.

    By Flüge on Nov 16, 2009

  15. Excellent post. Very rare to read such informative publications.

    By Adnan Ahmed on Nov 19, 2009

  16. Great tips!

    For SEO professionals abroad or who’s proxy IP is registered outside of the US and who need to access, the (No Country Redirect) is handy to bypass the country TLD redirect.

    By Jeremy Kuo on Dec 3, 2009

  17. Try also running Vidalia/Tor with proxy turned on (which you can speed up a notch with custom scripting), using FF without GTB installed.


    By Jessie on Jan 1, 2010

  18. Don’t use the Greasemonkey scripts myself but have already:
    -turned off the Web History (you do need to remember to redo this if you clear your cookies)
    -turned off usage in the Google toolbar
    -turned off the referer in Firefox

    Thanks for the reminders Ann!

    By S Emerson on Mar 13, 2010

  19. Great post, I never even thought of doing that. Probably good to do if you use SEO tools…

    By Brent on Mar 14, 2010

  20. Some pretty cool tips for sure, but I still think for absolute protection – using a proxy server is the way to go.

    And no, it doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. I set one up in less than 20 minutes for free, and it works like a charm.

    By Pavlicko on Mar 21, 2010

  21. Nice article on protecting privacy thanks for sharing

    By tyrone on May 8, 2010

  22. Thanks for the article.Nice article on protecting privacy

    By marketingseo on Jun 30, 2010

  23. Block Google and Youtube AutoSuggest spyware.


    # * doesnt work

    Privoxy (local proxy for Browsers in the LAN)
    { +block }

    By u64 on Jun 30, 2010

  24. Great article. I do have one question that I’d love to get your advice on though pertaining to the topic. How do you find tweeps who are more on your level of popularity?

    For instance, many of the people I follow are business men or tech writers, or even celebrities. While I find their tweets interesting and do try to interact with them, these are not always the best people to build these “meaningful relationships” with.

    So how do I find the “smaller” or less popular people on twitter who are interested in the same topics I am and, more importantly, willing to build the same meaningful relationship with me? Thank you for sharing :)

    By Ayırma Büyüsü on Aug 23, 2010

  25. A good and easy solution for Firefox
    users is the GoogleSharing addon.
    It’s a Google search proxy.

    By u64 on Aug 24, 2010

  26. I had no idea you could filter out the referrer with Firefox, great tip! I’ll have to look more into the scripts as well.

    By Chris Miller on Aug 25, 2010

  27. Thank you for the tips. I also found that searches are specific to Google Data Centers and while you may see your keyword terms as #3 on Google in one data center, it can be off the first page on another data center.

    By Paul T on Sep 28, 2010

  28. That sound’s perfect. I’m sure this will be used by everyone, because it’s really helpful for all. Thanks for all the great info.

    By Tulsa Internet Marketing on Oct 21, 2010

  29. Thanks a lot! I’m very happy for the Info!

    By Toni on Dec 4, 2010

  30. Why would you want to block them? Resistance is futile.

    By alec berg on Dec 4, 2010

  31. I love the variety of options you lay out. I personally just make sure i am logged out of any Google accounts and things seem to be fine.

    do you think i should be doing more?

    By Tulsa SEO on Dec 28, 2010

  32. Had no idea that you could do this – thank you so much – love not having big brother looking over my shoulder! 😀

    By Tulum on May 7, 2011

  33. I always use Scroogle if I want to see realistic search results and no ads, SY

    By hospitalera on Oct 14, 2011

  34. Annie – this is such a good post. I worked out a lo9ng time ago that result were very different from SE to SE depending on what tools and accounts were plugged in. So for all ranking enquiries I have used a stripped down version of firefox that tracks NOTHING! But I like the other ideas in your list and will put them to the test. Thanks for sharing – it gets a tweet and a share!


    By Snap-Marketing | Website Design Basingstoke on Nov 8, 2011

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