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fresh-princeThis is a tactic that I still see get trotted out from time to time, and it never really made any sense to me. To be clear, this is about adding city/state to on-domain content pieces like your <title> tags, URLs, H1, body copy etc. I wanted to take a moment, just sit right there, and tell you why you shouldn’t spam city/state in your on-domain content anywhere.

It Doesn’t Correlate With Ranking

According to the data driven research we did for the 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors, using city/state in <title> tags and URLs just didn’t correlate to positive search performance. In fact they were 2 of the lowest correlating factors we looked at:

City/State Usage in URL and <Title> Doesn't Effect Rankigns

In fact, city/state in the URL actually negatively correlated with search performance. That means sites that did it were likely to rank lower, not higher.

Now, this is all I really think is needed on the subject, but as an SEO dork I want to totally close the loop on this issue. Per the Moz 2015 Search Engine Ranking Factors:

We continue to see lower correlations between on-page keyword use and rankings. This could likely be because Google is smarter about what pages mean (through related keyword, synonyms, close variants and entities) without relying on exact keyword phrases. We believe matching user intent is of utmost importance.

So basically, you shouldn’t really be focusing really highly on your H1s anyway these days. They are a nice to have, not a foundational ranking factor or competitive difference maker.

h-tag-meme

 

It Doesn’t Make Any Sense

If the data doesn’t convince you, let’s look at why it doesn’t make sense on a theoretical level. I’ll give you 3 reasons why:

1) Your aren’t trying to optimize for you city/state queries per se
Remember, Google is a authority (prominence) and relevance engine when it comes to ranking search results. You aren’t trying to be the most authoritative Costa Mesa, CA business in Google and you aren’t trying to be the most relevant Costa Mesa, CA business in Google. Not all businesses in a city compete for SERPs, and if you aren’t ranking for your industry terms why should you rank for industry term + geo?

2) Google already knows where your business in geographically located

It’s called a Google My Business page, maybe you have heard of it? That is Google’s database of mapping businesses in the physical world, and yours in there and it points to your website right? Great, case closed.

To continue to beat a dead horse, you have citations right? Google also uses those to know where your business is. If they have their own data from GMB, scrapped data from citations, AND you have that same NAP info on your site then do you really think adding city/state to on page elements is really gonna be the game changer for ranking for your geo terms? Really?

3) Google Gets Most of This Data From The Link Graph Anyway

This one is a little more complicated, but I think it’s pretty interesting. Remember when I cited that Moz research showing on-page correlation of keyword usage to rankings is decreasing? Well, per our 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors, it appears that Google is looking more and more at the anchor text of links in order to suss out semantic associations etc. What’s old is new again right? I just recently presented on some of the new “Near Me” data at State of Search, and one of the major findings is that city in anchor text of links correlates pretty highly to ranking higher for keyword + near me searches. That means if you need a competitive difference maker to rank for geo terms, you should tackle it in the link graph. Because:

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-8-11-20-am


 
 

14 Comments

  • Heckler  January 3, 2017 at 9:19 am

    My pro 2017 SEO strategy involves sausage links. 100% organic, grass-fed, highly authoritative sausage links.

    To few SEOs don’t even consider the ranking power of a good sausage link.

    https://goo.gl/zyY57H

    Reply
  • David R  January 3, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    We’ve been targeting “San Francisco Video Production Company” as the main SEO tool on our landing page. But when I Google that term, what comes up is our Google Plus page. Our actual website doesn’t show up until the 2nd page of search on Google, even though our H1 tag on the landing page of the website is “San Francisco Bay Area Video Production Company.”

    However, even though we are across the bay from San Francisco the Google Plus page is still appearing above most San Francisco video production companies.

    Thank you for your post. Makes sense.

    Reply
  • Ewan Kennedy  January 4, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Hi Dan, are you referring specifically to just the business’s home city/state (as opposed to other city/states e.g. neighbouring states for which the business might not have a GMB listing)?

    Reply
    • Dan Leibson
      Dan Leibson  January 4, 2017 at 9:36 am

      All around really. I understand that you may have to do a little more work if you are utilizing service area pages for locations with no physical location but the same rules still apply, you don’t need to use it all over on the page.

      Reply
  • Eric Marshall  January 5, 2017 at 7:48 am

    Even if using city/state in content pieces doesn’t help rankings, there are certainly cases where having city/state in a title tag and/or a meta description would help CTR…thus potentially helping rankings.

    Reply
    • Dan Leibson
      Dan Leibson  January 5, 2017 at 8:08 am

      Totally agree Eric, which is why the post isn’t “Don’t ever mention your city/state in any content ever” 🙂

      However, that is far from the main way people use city/state in content.

      Reply
        • Dan Leibson
          Dan Leibson  January 5, 2017 at 8:30 am

          Have a post talking about a couple of other places you should try to include city/state coming out in a hour or so, stay tuned 😉

          Reply
  • David Dennis  January 10, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Hi

    Thanks for this. Very informative and makes sense. However I do wonder how this works in smaller markets. It is sometimes hard for us in small countries to figure out how what is going on in the US is going to work in New Zealand. Often it seems like it doesn’t correlate. Do you think being in a smaller market changes things?

    Reply
  • Andy Kuiper  January 11, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    Not entirely sold on this one (I see the data though – which is troubling) – I find ‘city’ included in URL to be a helpful signal… among many important others 🙂

    Reply
  • Paul Sherland  February 6, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Dan, I thought the Local SEO Ranking Factors were based on a survey of group of Local SEOs. In contrast, the Moz ranking factors analysis rests on Dr. Pete’s rigorous statistical work. Are the Local SEO Ranking Factors still based on a survey?

    Reply
  • Julie Hume  March 7, 2017 at 9:02 am

    City in every url is just overkill. I do like to drop in a reference to local news or event in content when appropriate though. Done judiciously, this keeps site up-to-date, relevant and localized without ramming the city name into every post.

    PS. I couldn’t resist the link to the sausage links. A tasty tip.

    Reply
  • John Devlin  March 15, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    This makes perfect sense when you let it sink in, and I am dying to test it. Some websites I have seen recently ranking locally don’t even look optimised at all with no mention of the city anywhere except the address in the footer. Excited to see if our clients can get a boost from a little deoptimising. Thanks

    Reply
  • Michael  May 19, 2017 at 6:57 am

    In the UK large national directories like Yell outrank local business’s for” service + geo” keywords. Yell has a high domain authority and a page title set up for “service+geo” Vs local business with actual address but low domain auth. Yell always wins, so from your post the H1 etc would be better used to increase relevance to the service not the geo? Yet I have found examples in the uk of locksmith a competitive industry who seem to have the exact opposite. I really want it to work your way as the content would read better but in some locations and niches eg locksmith birmingham (uk search in uk google) it suggests otherwise

    Reply

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