How Google's Local Search Results Affect Keyword Research for SEO

by on February 01, 2013

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You may have noticed a subtle change to Google’s search pages in recent months. In fall of
2012, Google shifted their ‘advanced’ search tools from the left sidebar to the top of the page as a drop down menu. Design wise this was a nice update, freeing up the search page to look a bit cleaner. However, there was another change in search tools that might have gone unnoticed, and its occurrence coincided with the search page redesign.

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Go ahead and do a Google search for water testing. Check out the results. You’ll notice Google has conveniently identified seven (at the time of posting) organizations that offer water testing near you, complete with a map of their locations. Google didn’t ask you where you wanted to search; it assumed you were looking for local search results. 

Now click on the Search Tools button. You’ll see that Google has already labeled your search location with an auto-detect. Click the location and you are given the option to type in a location manually. Say I was working with a client who did water testing in Wisconsin, I could type in either ‘Wisconsin’, ‘Milwaukee, WI’ or ‘Green Bay’ (this format works best with unique city names) and get localized results based on that location. Generally, city based searches is the best option as this is how search locations are setup by default with auto-detection. 

*Side note: search from ‘United States’ to get national, non-localized search results. 

So how does this information change how we research and apply keywords for SEO? Well let’s try to do this same type of search with the old-school (yup its officially old-school!) method of including the search location in the keyword. First, do a Milwaukee, Wisconsin based search (using Search Tools dropdown menu) for water testing and look at the results. As of this writing the SERP appeared like this:

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In this search we see the local listings for seven water testing companies in or around Milwaukee. If I offered the same services, my company would want to be listed on these results. 

Now let’s do the same search, but add Wisconsin to the beginning of the search. Here is the SERP for Wisconsin water testing:

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Quite the difference. Here we see the SERP is dominated by sites dealing with government regulations and departments responsible for water quality. An individual business has almost no chance of making it to the top of this SERP. 

While the water testing industry will have different types of pages (like .gov and .edu) in search results than others, what’s important to note from this example is how Google displays results. When we type a search term related to a type of business in the results (example: contractors) we get localized results for the webpages of nearby contractors. However, when we qualify this search with a location (example: California contractors) we get more informational/authoritative results. Google has undoubtedly done this in response to search patterns and has picked up on a relationship. 

It should be noted that there are exceptions to this shift. If you type Los Angeles contractors into the search, and are searching ‘from’ Los Angeles in the Search Options, you will get nearly identical results. So city based keywords are still relevant, however, they are NOT necessary. 

As more people realize the redundancy of including their home city in search, the less will use it (having HUGE implications for Paid Search and PPC keywords). Furthermore, by targeting location-free and broader keywords (whether through link building, content or site optimization) you can improve ranks in national searches, as well as any other cities your client’s business may be located in. Instead of tracking huge lists of keywords for every city and state, you only need to track the one core keyword. To accurately see the rankings for each city you now need to measure the SERPs for each target location by manually selecting the desired city under Search Options as the search location. 

This subtle change to localized results is just one step further in Google’s efforts to further personalize search. And for those of us working in and around digital marketing, it is one we can’t ignore. 

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Google Places is Now Google+ Local: The 5 Biggest Differences
Category Bug on Google+ Local Pages You Should Know About
Google+ Local Pages vs. Google+ Pages 

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