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If you have been paying attention to the countless pieces put out, you know that “near me” searches to find a local business are climbing rapidly. Just check out how Google Trends evaluates the search trend of the term “near me” for their search engine:

General Near Me Searches
Not only has “near me” risen as a whole, but specific near me searches have also skyrocketed:

Specific Near Me Searches

These searches are being heavily driven by mobile searches and the proliferation of using mobile devices, like smartphones, as a primary method of local search. Near me searches have become a critical issue in Local SEO, and honestly, if you aren’t already optimizing for these types of searches, you should really start now. Now, with that being said, the problem is: “How do you optimize for near me searches?”

I have heard all kinds of things, ranging from “Google just figures it out” to “It’s just the closest result in a category Google’s local search”. While there is some level of truthiness in there, we should all know by know that Google’s ranking algorithms are complicated. In that level of complication, there is an opportunity for optimizations and a need for SEO. So with that said, we added a “near me” data set to our Local SEO Ranking Factors and the numbers have been crunched.

Methodology

The methodology used is the same as the main study and can be found here. However, for this data we used a different keyword set. The keywords and their search volume are:

Near Me Keywords for Local SEO Ranking Factors

As for the scope, at the end of the day, we looked at ~600 searches which included ~6,000 Google My Business listings as well as the corresponding domains/location pages that the GMB pages linked to.

Results

Up front, of the ~250 factors we looked at most didn’t correlate with higher OR lower rankings. This tells me that Google is evaluating near me queries differently from the way they evaluate traditional local searches. However, there are some clear points that Google appears to be looking at when it comes to near me searches:

Near Me Ordinal Variables

The simplified explanation of this table is it shows the position of each of the factors we measured in terms of their positive correlation with Google Local Pack rankings.

From the looks of it, Google is getting lots of the data they use in “near me” rankings from the link graph. As you can see from the chart above, having a higher raw count of backlinks with your city/state in the anchor text correlated very highly with better rankings. On top of that, the % of backlinks with geo-optimized anchor text correlated quite highly with “near me” search success. No matter what $GOOG says, link-building is a critical tactic in dominating local SERPs.

Also, as was true in the Local SEO Ranking Factors, native Google reviews correlated quite highly with “near me” search success. Since we only looked at reviews from a top level (count of reviews) there isn’t much more to say here, however, we are going to greatly expand how we look at reviews in the 2017 study, so stay tuned! Also, the total number of customer reviews on 3rd party site like Yelp didn’t seem to matter when it comes to “near me” searches.

Near Me Categorical Variables

Categorical variables show how often a factor fit into one of two categories (primarily yes and no). For example, a Google My Business profile either has the keyword in the business name (yes) or it didn’t (no).

So one of the more interesting points of this data is that business/searcher distance didn’t correlate positively with higher search rankings in a statistically significant way. Now, that may not make any sense, but just check out these results (and their distances from me) in this search for “grocery store near me”:

Grocery Store Near Me

As you can see, being closer doesn’t necessarily mean you ranking higher. Our data showed that being in the same city as a near me search had more correlation with positive performance than being closer. Take that proximity! I think there may be some stratification or grouping of search results in these types of searches, so stay tuned for the 2017 Local SEO Ranking Factors to dive deeper into this mystery.

Also, please stop spamming your city/state info in on domain content. Our research has shown it doesn’t correlate with higher rankings on traditional or “near me” Google searches.

Conclusion

Near me searches are critical for local search, and if you aren’t optimizing for them now you need to start. Just check out all these optimized title tags in the organic results for the search “near me”:

Near Me Search

Some of the biggest (and most interesting in Atlas Obscura’s case) sites are already moving aggressively to win these micro-moments. Check out some other things sites are doing to optimize for near me if they have multiple locations:

How To Optimize for Near Me

Having nearby location widgets, creating internal links to your store locator with the anchor text of money term + near me are all being done by companies big and small right now. It’s also really important for large brands to think about near me searches in terms of customer experience. If I search for a Chase ATM near me, I want the actual closest ATM, not the one with the most accurate phone number in it’s citation profile.

tl;dr

1)”Near me” search volume is exploding

2) It’s something that can be optimized for, in your link building and on-site optimization efforts.

3) Local businesses, in particular brands, are already moving forward deploying tactics that are optimizing them for “near me” searches.

As we start off 2017 don’t get left behind in one of the biggest game changes in local search.

 


 
 

21 Comments

  • Dave  January 5, 2017 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for the research. For a variety of smb’s we use extensive adwords data. Near me impressions have exploded. Of course it started at near zero a couple of years ago. We also answer phone calls from potential leads. What is one of the phrases we hear used by folks who found us on the web and called??? ” business type NEAR ME”.

    Its an important phrase. Now when we measure its pure volume against traditionally strong phrases it still lags them…but its climbing FAST.

    Reply
  • James  January 5, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks for the research Dan, this is great! I love seeing some of the tools from last year’s foray into data science applied to this question.

    One thing I’m wondering about though, in your second tl;dr point:

    It’s something that can be optimized for, in your link building and on-site optimization efforts.

    The factors you pulled out as having high positive correlation are all off-site. You had some recommendations for on-site changes a multi-location business could make, but what’s your take on best practices for a single location SMB? On-site anchor text for a near me page (the contact us page maybe) makes sense, are there any other factors you say as being worthwhile? City/state in the title tag doesn’t seem to be helpful, what about the phrase ‘near me’ itself?

    Reply
    • Dan Leibson
      Dan Leibson  January 5, 2017 at 12:22 pm

      On-page SEO is something it is generally harder for SMBs to capitalize on, and unfortunately this is no different.

      In addition to internal link anchor text I would recommend adding “keyword + near me” to the tag of the page you are trying to rank. I’ve seen it be a successful tactic, it’s just not something we got based on the way we pulled and matched info last year. That will not be the case in the 2017 version of our big data study.

      Reply
      • James  January 5, 2017 at 9:08 pm

        Great, thanks Dan!

        Reply
      • Steve Graham  February 18, 2017 at 7:02 am

        I am wondering if having a page with the URL….brand.com/near-me-city….on that page having it of course geotagged images, a map and texts of the neighborhoods worked in as keywords. Any thoughts?

        Reply
  • Jason Brown  January 5, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Wow Dan, excellent post. Next time can you not give away the farm, so I can keep my competitors at bay. I will be excited for the 2017 ranking factor post too. Does issues with NAP or duplicates factor into not ranking well or missing in the results. Sorry if I opened a massive rabbit hole there.

    Reply
    • Dan Leibson
      Dan Leibson  January 5, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      Hey Jason,

      Glad you dug it!

      So we looked at all the same factors for this that we did in the 2016 Local SEO Ranking Factors study, but lots of stuff like citation count etc didn’t correlate in a statistically significant way, that’s why I think Google is evaluating these queries slightly different from normal ones. I think they are likely still table stakes that you have to have, but of course that is hard to prove looking at the top 10 versus 1-50. Feel free to backchannel me if that doesn’t make any sense 😉

      Reply
    • Dan Leibson
      Dan Leibson  January 6, 2017 at 12:30 pm

      I haven’t seen that, thanks for sharing! Having an keyword in the business name matters so much when it comes to GMB rankings, probably was inevitable that someone would take the next step to target “near me”. Maybe, one day, $GOOG will turn down the dial on that ranking factor.

      Reply
  • Wes Ferrell  January 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Dan,

    This is a great article. I have been optimizing for near me for a little over a month now.

    From my testing, I have definitely noticed that anchor text is vital for ranking these terms. On page optimization for synonyms of “near me” such as “nearby” and “local” was able to get the testing site I have to page 3 nationally. Optimizing the links have now got me to page 2.

    Time to fire up them PBN links. 🙂

    Thanks for the data share!

    Reply
  • Sam Clarks  January 6, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Nice stuff Dan. Totally agree with the dominance nature of near me type of searches growth in today’s time. Reviews not only on GMB Listing, but also at Yelp, YP and other popular listing websites – Google is probably considering while ranking websites for near me type of search terms.

    Overall Link Profile with City Specific search terms ratio as Anchors – is another top rated factor.

    Looking forward to other observations.

    Thanks

    Reply
  • Benjamin Church  January 7, 2017 at 5:47 am

    Thanks Dan, great post. Going to be implementing some of this soon in a new site, looking forward to it!

    Reply
  • Sonia Pitt  January 7, 2017 at 7:01 am

    Very good post Dan. As a digital marketer I used to get lots of business queries about how to rank on local box when customers are searching with “near me” + business phrases. This is one content which answers this well. Though many times we see some irrelevant, duplicate and exact match phrases ranking on local results instead of good, legitimate and quality business and website.

    Reply
  • Marissa Ryan  January 10, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Great post! I have been considering adding the “near me” phrase to the title pages of some of my clients’ sub URLs. Going to give it a shot! Would you recommend “near me” instead of the locations zip code(s)?

    Reply
  • Mark  January 11, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Dan, so are you utilizing the “near me” phrases in Titles/metas or body copy at all, or are you saying there’s just more correlations with higher “near me” rankings with sites whose backlinks have more geo specific anchor?

    I know you listed some sites with “near me” in the title, but it didn’t appear those were local businesses.

    Reply
  • Matt  January 11, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    Nice work, I have a few clients that will benefit from this research… this is also great information for new sites that are being built, thanks for the information.

    Reply
  • Steve  January 12, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Thanks Dan. I love posts when they demonstrates real numbers and studies. I’m definitely going to leverage this for my local website.

    Best,

    Reply
  • Greg  February 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Great information for sure. Thanks for sharing your intel!

    Just a quick note to point out a typo – …we should all know by know that Google’s ranking algorithms are complicated

    Reply
  • Clark Howell  February 13, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Hi Dan – Great article. I’m a one-man marketing shop creating simple websites for local biz, AND a super-newbee to all this SEO stuff. My head is spinning. I get many of the concepts, but when it comes to implementing these various ideas for my clients I get caught up in the details, because I’m a mostly “creative” guy. Is there somewhere (blog, on-line course) you could recommend that would show examples of these techniques, and show them in detail? For instance. how would one even “create” a backlink containing “a city?” And if I did, would I have to create a specific landing page just for that backlink to “go to”?

    Reply
  • Nancy  May 10, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I did a couple of searches from my computer (vs mobile) for Pizza, Golf Course and Dentist. The Google listings are centered around an area about four miles south of my actual location. In finding a dentist or a golf course this is not a problem, but if I’m looking for the closest Pizza restaurant Google doesn’t get it right.

    A new client recently found me looking for a graphic designer in Boca Raton, FL. He was, at the time, searching from a location in southern California while on a trip. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that it’s still important to have locations in the meta tags?

    Reply
  • Paul  July 17, 2017 at 5:48 am

    Hi Dan,

    Thanks for your phenomenal research and input. We’ve been using the phrase “service + near me” keyword for quite a while and the feedback was outstanding. You just have to be creative on how to incorporate the phrase within the content and you’re good to go!

    Hopefully, the keyword trend will continue to rise. I agree in taking advantage of the keyword now before your competitor does.

    Reply

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