Although I think too many SEO companies and those involved in SEO projects typically get too caught up in the “rankings” short sightedness, it’s more important than ever to understand how search results work. 2012 has been a major year of change in location based searches. In the past a typical search was the same that everyone would see regardless of geo location.
But have you run a search recently and seen great rankings without the traffic? While there are many possible reasons or causes for this problem, the one that is on most people’s radar these days is location based searches. If you’re like me you probably clear your cache and use a Google Chrome Incognito window to check these rankings when you’re doing it manually. If you’re using software its more of a problem now because it makes you wonder what geo location they’re set to when conducting these searches.
Let’s take a look at an example that will help clarify the issue.
Below is an example of a keyword we recently started working on. Our client is highlighted in red and even though they are a California based company they are ranked #5 for national organic keyword “Personal Injury Lawyer”. This is super awesome right!?
Answer: It’s not as awesome as it used to be
Unfortunately that type of thinking is in the past now. The way that we can tell is by Google being sneaky and adding the geo location which is auto detected now. If you look closely you will notice that on the left I manually changed my browser location to “United States”.
This little setting now makes all of the difference. So let’s change it manually to “Santa Ana, CA”, my current location and see what comes up.
This is sweet! But…
In Santa Ana I am ranked #4 with my Google Plus Local page. But wait a second… It was my organic page that was ranking before, not my Google Plus Local page. In fact the organic listing has now moved down to #8 so we occupy two search positions including the organic result at #8 and the Google Plus Local result at #4. Both organic and Google Plus Local pages are optimized differently, which I will not go into on this post. But lets look at one more example. What will happen if I change my browser location to Los Angeles? It’s a lot bigger population center, so naturally my client would love to rank there.
Well darn. We don’t show up in the top 7 results. In fact we are only ranked in the #8 position due to a Google Plus Local page we optimized around this area (So this is yet another listing). Now, why is this so important? Whether you’re using a tool or checking your rankings manually it’s no longer a guarantee that your visitors will see the same thing. With Google putting much more emphasis on local businesses within the local search it’s important that you are optimizing around geo variants if you serve different areas. If I am in Los Angeles for example but a potential client trying to find me is searching from Orange County, he is likely not to find me at all unless he knows my business name.
So how can we get around this?
Make sure that you are optimizing for the three major types of searches now:
1) Organic Results (Typical searches)
2) Local Results (Google Plus Local)
3) Local(ish) results
Pro Tip: Ever since the Venice update Google has started to show more geo specific organic rankings in the SERP’s which is new for them. While there is still a lot of speculation on how to achieve these rankings I will make it easy and let you know that I have seen some good results by building natural high quality links with geo based anchor text do the trick.
I hope this post helped enlighten you into some of the search changes google has made recently and opens your eyes to the question “Are you actually ranking well?”.