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Proximity to Searcher: The Latest Local Search Ranking Factor in 2021

Proximity to Searcher

Did you ever notice that most of the local pack results do not make much sense nowadays? Well, the local search results on Google has often left me wondering, “How these businesses find a place here?”.

Take for example, the search results I got for “eye hospital near me”:

Now, have a quick look at the basic ranking factors for this local pack:

  • Rank
  • Content quality
  • Claims
  • Citations
  • Linking domains
  • Reviews

Considering these factors for the above ranking, I found that:

  • Only two of them have a website
  • One of them has just 2 Google reviews
  • Few of these have not verified their Google listings

Now, on adding another factor of “proximity” to the searcher, I found that these eye clinics are so close to me that I can reach there within a half-an-hour time.

From the above research of local search, it can be figured out easily how proximity has become more important than website content, links, reviews, citations in the local pack rankings. Google no more values the old trends of local search ranking parameters while placing businesses in the local 3-pack. Additionally, the recent Possum update has changed Google’s intention of ranking local businesses. It is now focusing more on the local search area than other basic factors.

Confirmation for the proximity-based local rankings

To get a confirmation for the proximity-based local rankings, I asked 3 of my friends to conduct a survey with me. Four of us searched for the same keyword “eye hospitals near me” from different places and the results were really surprising. We noted that each one of us got different search results with the nearest eye centers from our place.

Now, let me tell you the secret behind this. Actually, Google is not aware of your exact location, it just tries to track it from your IP address, mobile data or WiFi. So, you will notice that you get the results for eye clinics clustered close to your search place. This is evident to the proximity-based local search ranking.

For more surety, we included both geo-specific and non-geo-specific terms for local search. Even you can try this yourself. Just carry out a survey with your friends and make a search for a common keyword. You will be amazed at the results!

How proximity effects local organic results

Below the local pack, the blue links displayed are the localized organic results that show directories, businesses, etc. On closely analyzing these results, you will find minor differences but consistent local organic ranking throughout the city.

Usually, these organic results are uniform regardless of your city. This strongly indicates that the old ranking factors like reviews, content, reviews and citations are still followed by Google. These basic factors dominate proximity in case of local organic results.

From our survey on local organic results, we made the following observations:

  • Non-geo-modified search shows results from neighboring cities. Yes, when you search only with normal keywords, proximity to searcher remains unaffected by the city you are located in. Rather, it is based on the radius of the searcher. On the contrary, for geo-specific terms (adding the city name to the search), the physical address in the searched term may be ignored, that is, showing wide results focusing to the city in the search.
  • Results are sometimes clustered together. No matter if there are various businesses near the searcher, mostly Google prefers to pick the businesses clustered together for its search results page.
  • Google prefers to display a smaller pack than showing 3-pack in case the business is located far from the searcher. To understand this, consider my situation when I got just a 2-pack search result even when I knew that there were a few more businesses matching my search term.
  • Google sometimes shows a broad set of results from across the city. It happens when there are not many businesses matching the search category.

What is Google’s intention behind this?

You must be wondering why Google is prioritizing proximity as the local search ranking strength. Well, the clear answer is to sell more ads.

I could find three ways that might be helping Google achieve greater ad revenue:

  • If getting on to the local organic search result pages becomes difficult, companies will happily pay more to appear on the paid local packs.
  • Earlier, one local pack was created for each city but now, there are numerous local packs across the cities. With the creation of each new pack, Google increases its inventory availability for selling ads.
  • When you are unable to find the information you want in the 3-pack search, click for “more places” and you will see Local Finder where Google has already displayed ads.

By conducting a practical experiment on your own, you can see how the factor of proximity is changing the world of local SEO.

How Proximity affects local SEO strategies?

It is not that Local SEO is dead, it has just become more competitive these days. The new inclusion of proximity factor has made it little harder to get better outreach for your local business. You need to modify and develop your local optimization efforts. Here are some tips to improve your local SEO strategies:

  • As local search experts, if you find the traffic and rankings falling down, you now have a valid point to explain it to your clients. It is not you to be blamed, but Google. The search engine has reduced its radius restricting it for your business to be displayed in the local pack results.
  • If you want your business to get a place in the Local Finder, you must make modifications to your present local optimization efforts and strategies.
  • You need to reach out to the local organic factors (links and content) to get a place in the top organic rankings. So what if local pack results have become difficult to achieve, you still have the opportunity to get on the organic SERPs with the localized city.
  • Note what the businesses do which are ranked within the local rankings even when located far from the searcher. What is special in their ways of doing reviews, content and links that they get a place in the local rankings?
  • You should expand your local optimization efforts and take them beyond Google. Ensure that you are on BBB, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc with an optimized claimed and improved profile having all the necessary information. Also, try uploading reviews on these sites apart from Google as for when the users will not find anything substantial in the local pack, they will check out these sites for sure.

Note: Restricted search radius indicates less local search results for dominant businesses around the city. But, don’t get upset. This new addition has opened doors of opportunities for more businesses to drive local business from their neighborhood. So, even you can get more business if you design and start the game right.

I hope I helped you get your confusions sorted by giving answers to your growing curiosity regarding the new trend of proximity to the searcher as the latest local search ranking factor.

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