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I apologize if this article has been posted, but I found it to be a fascinating experiment for local search. The Martindale blog (a legal marketing network) produced this article:

Search Location Drastically Affects Local Rankings

coffeeshop.jpg

Which matters the most? Do they all hold equal weight? Is “distance” the most important? How exactly does Google determine “prominence”? How can you improve your “relevance”? These are questions that we ask ourselves every single day as we drive ourselves crazy optimizing websites, creating local listings, and building strategic links, hoping to crack the code of improving local rankings.
We personally set out to find the answer to the age-old question: “How do I improve my local ranking?” Or, as a client would say, “Why am I not showing up in the map section at the top of Google?”

Our research was prompted by a client who sent us an email: “I’m sitting in the courthouse; why am I not showing up when I do a search for injury lawyer?” It would make sense that someone in or near a courthouse would be seeking legal representation, so this attorney obviously wants his law firm to show up. Why, then, doesn’t his firm’s local listing show up in the 3-pack rankings when he performs a search from the courthouse when the firm does show up in searches conducted seemingly everywhere else across town? The firm shows up when searching for “injury lawyer in [city]” and the courthouse is in the same town and has the same zip code. The firm shows up in organic results as well. So, why doesn’t the law firm show up in local searches from this location? Why are they not in the 3-pack near the courthouse?

The results were astonishing. The physical location where the search was performed and its proximity to the local business mattered tremendously — much more than we had expected.

(Their Takeaways)

Our goal in field-testing was to test our hypothesis and see if search results actually do change based on where you were standing throughout the town — and if so, how much.

Well, the results do change — a lot. We found out that location & distance are huge factors when Google is providing you with results. You can be standing at different points throughout the town and get different results, even when searching for the same thing. Along the way, we found out that other elements play a role in local rankings, such as density, device connection, and search phrase.

Density mattered tremendously in the Lawyers Row example from above. In this area, there is a clear saturation of divorce lawyers, so the results Google provided were limited to a small radius around the searcher rather than the entirety of the town.

We also found out that searching from a mobile device (as opposed to a laptop on Wi-Fi) will give you different results, because Google is basing these results off the location of your precise device connection.

While doing this testing, we also found out that tweaking the search phrase changes the results as well — even if the search intent was the same.

This is only a few selected portions from the entire article, but it illuminates some very interesting aspects of local search. Their real world experiment shows that most virtual software cannot provide reliable data within 250-500 feet, which would make it difficult to come to any conclusive results for your SEO in hyper local spaces with high density of businesses within a given industry.

Has anyone run into the challenge of trying to get into the three pack in high density locations? Is it a hopeless endeavor?

How do these high variance results based on minute location changes impact how you approach local SEO?


coffeeshop.jpg
 

Linda Buquet

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Thanks for sharing Garrett! You are a mind reader today!

I had a draft post barely started, so you save me all the work of writing it up.
Here are a couple things I wanted to point out...

1st off, if you are a pro, don't let the 1st few Google 101 paragraphs throw you.
There is some meaty research further down if you skim til you hit screenshots.
The screenshots really tell the tale!


I was going to title my piece: "Accurate Local Rank Tracking? This is Why it's Almost Impossible"

I believe it was Mike Blumenthal that 1st pointed out that the user is the new centroid. Especially on mobile. And the data and screenshots in this post certainly confirm that.

That's one of the reasons rank tracking these days is so difficult. In addition to personalization, device and other things that can tweak the results – where the searcher is physically searching from has a huge impact on rankings - especially on mobile!

Joy did a great post yesterday that ties into this piece somewhat:

<a href="http://www.localsearchforum.com/featured-local-search-articles/41828-how-see-what-your-client-sees-google.html">How to See What your Client Sees on Google</a>

The methods Joy shares work well for desktop search, but I don't think they capture the exact location of the searcher, if they are using mobile - which as you can see in the article, can really skew the results.

Local gets trickier by the day it seems. This is just one more reason why you need to stay ahead of it, by reading great insights like the one Garrett linked to above.


Just adding image for G+ share.

MeatyResearch.jpg

MeatyResearch.jpg
 
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Thank you for starting the discussion, and sorry if I stole your thunder Linda!

I can imagine how Local SEOs must tear their hair out when you see the coffee shop example, where three people on three different devices get different results!

They didn't explore it in this post, but I wonder if your personal search history impacts results as well. I have no idea how someone would even be able to test that. But I wouldn't be surprised if personal search history informs intent in the near future.
 

AndySimpson

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Thanks for sharing the article Garret, great post analysis.

Dave and myself had a great time doing all the research and were shocked at the results!

Obviously doing "field research" is not always possible for our clients so we have been looking at tools to help try and replicate our findings.

We have found that this tool for desktop, Geolocator, to be the most accurate for pin-pointing exact location for local search. Note: It is a FireFox addon and is a little buggy at times. For mobile (Android) we have been using, Location Cheater, which again appears to be pretty accurate to our field test results.

Again, thanks for sharing and happy to discuss findings.

@ndyjsimpon / @deegs20
 
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Hey Andy - It's just such a high quality and insightful post. I'm happy to share and glad you and Dave wrote it!

Have any more interesting real world experiments that you're working on or should everyone just subscribe to your blog and keep their eyes peeled? ;)
 

AndySimpson

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Have any more interesting real world experiments that you're working on or should everyone just subscribe to your blog and keep their eyes peeled? ;)

Thanks again Garrett, unfortunately Dave and I are only allowed out of the office once a year for good behavior. However we have a few more local search ideas planned over the next few months so please keep an eye on the Martindale blog and our own Twitter accounts as we are sure to share with the local SEO community.
 
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Sounds good Andy! Waiting for that next real world experiment! (If you need suggestions, I hear ice cream is great in the summer).
 

JacobMaslow

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This is one category and a single city. Premise about location being prominent is accurate.

Data was limited to Divorce attorney in a specific and densely populated area. Some firms specialize in divorce and many other firms practice many different areas. The large firms may have only a small part of their practice focused on divorce and that can be mucking up the data.

I have a divorce lawyer client in a nearby city in NJ so I am familiar with the environment.

Domain authority likely wasnt correlated as larger firms that practice many different types of law have higher domain authority but can get beaten in the divorce niche by smaller firms. Also to measure effect of Domain Authority you need a large sample set and spend several months. Moz updates DA every few weeks. Google updates their Algo constantly. Also google is better at finding links than Moz is. Moz's DA is a good approximation but you need to have a good sample size due to the limitations.

Those larger firms often rank for "lawyer" and other more generic terms. Their primary category is often "law firm".
 
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