When you think of the most important SEO ranking factors, you likely think of the amount of quality content, quality backlinks, or keyword distribution. While these are all incredibly important, people often overlook the extent to which location affects search ranking.
There are a number of location-based ranking factors, and this set of off-page factors can sometimes make or break your optimization plan. Google search results are all about providing the most helpful websites possible. In many instances, location is a necessity to deliver high quality results. Your country, state, city, zip code, and mileage away from the search location each have their own effects on your ability to rank, and the extent changes depending on your search query.
Location is more than just another ranking factor that sometimes matter. Searches with local intent actually use a totally different algorithm, and locations in different countries can drastically shift expected search intent. These will be explained more later.
How Google Determines Location Relevance
There are a number of factors that search engines consider relating to location, and multiple ways that Google determines a page’s location. Understanding each of these signals allows you to properly optimize your site, and is vital for anyone hoping to rank locally.
Location in the Page Topic
One location relevancy signal that search engines would use is including the location in the topic of the page. This would include optimizing around a keyword like “SEO Services Burnsville”, where the location is clearly defined. This is the best way to utilize location factors for places where your business isn’t located, and allows you to target surrounding locations.
This way of determining page location is well known, but Google has many other ways of determining location without having to spam your location in the keywords.
Company Location on the Website
The most straightforward way of showing your website’s main location is including an address in the footer of the website (or even just on the contact page). This is read by Google and generalized to the entire site, unless pages depict a different intended location.
It also helps to utilize structured schema on your site to make sure Google is reading your page correctly.
If your site represents a traditional “brick and mortar” business that does business face-to-face, including locations on your website is critical to ranking for your main keywords.
Google My Business Profile
Another way that Google specifically uses your location is through your Google Business listing. If you have a listing associated with your website, both the listing and the site will be tied to a given address.
This can provide a major boost to your local ranking, and will also ensure your listing shows in the most relevant local 3 packs.
In the past, server location was a possible location factor, particularly in instances where the location of the site wasn’t clear. This is mostly outdated as users aren’t solely tracked based on IP’s anymore, but it still has an effect on page speed. Optimizing your server location is unlikely to help you at all, but could help you increase speed and user experience.
A less focused-on concept, Google will always take user experience into account. If the majority of site visitors come from one particular location, or if one state responds much better or worse to a page than others (based on click through rate, bounce rate, etc.), rankings in that region could change accordingly. Numbers would have to be significantly different for this to be the case, and this is best seen on city keywords.
For example, if you search “roofing contractor Apple Valley”, you might find sites based in Minnesota or California (two states that each have an “Apple Valley”). If Minnesota users have a high bounce rate on a site that is based out of California, that site is understood to not be relevant to Minnesota even though it mentions Apple Valley.
When Does Google Show Location-Relevant Rankings?
All SEO’s know that local organic searches vary from non-local searches, but that doesn’t mean that location is irrelevant to non-local searches. Simply put, location always has at least some effect on what you’re seeing. This is especially true when comparing across countries.
From country to country, your search results for the same exact query can be completely different. Take for example a Google search for a common name, Steve Smith. In the United States, you get information about former NFL wide receiver, Steve Smith. When searching the exact same query from Australia, you get information about a cricketer named Steve Smith. The format of information changes, the total number of search results change, and the type of information presented is different.
Taking this one step further, the American Steve Smith is not mentioned even once in the Australian search (looking at the top 100 results), even though he commands the top 8 spots in the United States. The Australian cricketer is mentioned in a BBC news story, but no organic positions in the top 100.
You can see effects that are just as strong with other searches too, and it isn’t always based on country differences. Rankings can change drastically whenever a location creates a different search intent.
Location-Based Search Intent
Just like any other search, Google uses AI to understand the most likely search intent. Whenever Google thinks location is important, location-based ranking factors will be weighed more heavily. If Google thinks close proximity isn’t important to you, it will show you a wider range of results.
The most obvious instances of search intent affecting your search results is searching for brick and mortar businesses. If you’re looking for lawn care services or someone to fix your air conditioner, it doesn’t help to find quality companies 500 miles away. If you search for something like this, you’ll find two things: A local 3 pack which quickly highlights close businesses, and search results filled with companies close to you.
In terms of the 3 pack, Moz has found that distance (in miles) from the address is the #1 overall ranking factor. In terms of the organic results, factors such as city and zip code are among the most important ranking factors. Even if your site is almost perfectly optimized for other factors, it will be nearly impossible to rank on the first page for some of these local-intent keywords.
If you’re not sure how heavily location is weighed for your target keyword, try searching it for yourself. See which websites come up in Google, and how close they are to your physical location. If you’re finding results from another state, chances are you can rank in a variety of locations as well.
Other Ways Location Affects Search Ranking
There are two other things to know about how location affects search ranking: The local pack and country domain extensions.
The local 3-pack is an information box that pops up for most local searches, and displays 3 nearby business listings. As alluded to previously, the 3-pack uses a different algorithm to determine location relevancy. While ranking in organic search positions is the main goal for search engine professionals, you can’t ignore this useful tool. The 3-pack appears before any organic search results in the majority of local searches, resulting in a large number of clicks.
The local pack gives most weight to the following factors: Mileage away from search position, Google My Business Category Associations, Product/Service Keyword, and completeness of Google My Business profile. The website is considered in factors as are ratings, but location is #1.
You also need to consider country domain extensions. If your site uses the “.us” extension, it could make it more difficult to rank in other countries. In general, it’s best to stick with the most common domain extensions and avoid location-based ones.
Steps You Should Take
In order to get the most out of location search factors, there are a few things you should be sure to do.
- Create a Google My Business page and fill it out completely fill your website, services, and service area(s). Try to get as many positive reviews as possible.
- Make sure your location is in the footer of your site (even if you don’t do business face-to-face), and make sure it is easily readable by robots.
- Consider locations pages for your services by including a city or state in the keyword. This will only help if people include the city in their query.
- Keep your Business profile updated as things change, and utilize their posts feature.
All of these should help you improve your local rankings. If you gain more local traffic, that can eventually help you rank in nearby locations or nationally.
Location affects search ranking as much as any other ranking factor, yet it doesn’t get the same glamour as factors such as backlinks and content quality. You can’t forget about this highly important ranking factor, especially if your business focuses on local work!
If you need any assistance ranking for local searches or are a national company that isn’t ranking outside of your nearby market, we have plans for each of you. Our Best in Market program is designed to create a website that performs in local search, while out Best in Industry design is perfect for nationwide businesses. Whatever your SEO needs, we’re ready to help. Get started with a free competitive analysis to find out how your local competitors are taking advantage or local searches, social media, and other digital marketing channels.