How can we better understand what local results Google are serving to visitors?

As mentioned in a previous article on local SEO, local search results are evaluated and ranked by the following factors:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Proximity

A user could be travelling from home to work using their mobile phone and be conducting a number of Google searches along the way. The local SERPs are going to massively fluctuate depending on where they physically are, and visibility will vary in different scenarios.

To some degree, this leaves SEOs in the dark about what their customers are actually seeing in Google for all the different locations their business is targeting.

You may run a business which operates in a specific area or across several different locations and be actively following a local SEO strategy. It’s only natural you will want to gain an understanding of the visibility you have achieved in local results.

Whilst Google Search Console and Google Analytics are perfectly serviceable to gain an understanding of the organic performance of your local SEO landing pages, they will not help you with the local pack or map visibility. At this time a tool does not exist providing you with real-time SERP information on specific city and village locales in your target market.

In this article we’ll outline some processes to help you search Google whilst emulating the SERPs for different geographic locations. This is a great way to test if your local SEO strategy is working successfully.

How to check city level SERPs

City-level rankings are important if you’re a local business that operates within a specific service area, or has a physical location that customers can visit.

Most of the queries a customer will use to find a business of this nature will be geo-sensitive. They are likely to vary from city to city (organic results), and from village to village (local listings).

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So, while keeping tabs on city-level rankings might not be the best method for the monitoring of local listings, it will still help with:

  • Track your average position (these won’t change if they operate within one area).
  • Track the local pack and map rankings for less competitive industries where there aren’t enough competitors to cause huge fluctuations in the results.

How to check city level SERPS manually

Add a ‘&near=cityname’ Parameter to Your Google URL

To check the local pack for ‘barbers’ in Liverpool you can use a URL like this:

https://www.google.com/search?q=barbers&near=liverpool

(This includes your keyword in the “q=” parameter, and your location in the “near=” parameter.)

There is a need to exercise caution when using the “&near=” parameter. The results Google will serve to you are literally near the location, and not necessarily within the specified city. Sometimes the results shown could be skewed towards a large city nearby.

Use the Google Ads Preview tool

The Ad Preview and Diagnosis tool in Google Ads is another great way to observe the local SERP for a keyword. It simulates geo-positions and user devices at the same time.

You will need a Google Ads account to make use of this tool. Also, you’re not under any obligation to run a paid campaign or bid on the keyword from entering it into the tool.

How to check street address level SERPS

Monitoring local pack or Google Maps results at an address level is very difficult due to the potential volatility of results. A very small location change will influence the makeup of the SERPs drastically.

To be able to localise the SERP at a street level will enable the following:

  • See how visible your business is in different parts of the town it services.
  • See how far from your physical location the business will appear in the local pack.

Using custom latitude and longitude in Chrome

Google Chrome allows you to check the SERPS for your target locations. Here are some instructions on how to set this up:

  • Open an incognito window in Google Chrome and go to google.com
  • Enter your local search query
  • Once the SERP loads, open Developer tools by clicking on the three dots menu in the top right corner of the browser
  • Go to More tools and select Developer tools
  • Select the three dot menu within the Developer Tools console and select More tools > Sensors
  • Select the location from the presets or enter specific GPS coordinates
  • Scroll to the bottom of the SERP and click on Update location and refresh the window

This will update the SERP to that given location. You can now assess the local pack results at a very granular level by adding different GPS coordinates. 

Things to remember when using this method:

  • It will only work with Google Chrome, it won’t help you if you are a Firefox or I.E. user
  • Make sure to allow Chrome to use your current location and/or refresh the page after you set the location in the Developer tools.

Assessing the performance of your local landing pages

As mentioned earlier in the article, as well as local pack results a local SEO strategy should also focus on optimising location pages for the benefit of organic listings.

If you have created specific locational landing pages and would like to assess the success of them, you could look use Google Search Console to monitor their performance in terms of clicks, impressions, average CTR and position. If you filter on specific landing pages in Search Console you can build a better picture of any keywords that they achieve visibility on.

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