Local SEO strategies targeting “near me” queries in the Local Organic section of the SERPs (the non-Local-Pack/Map results) have been kind of a thing for a few years what with Google making it a default suggestion for most queries it considers even remotely “Local”:
hot legs near me
While SEOs have been studying the effect of the latest update on both Local Pack and Organic results, as our Local SEO Ranking Factors Study showed, the two sets of results may now be inextricably linked. So when we got the whiff of an update, we immediately started looking at how sites that targeted Local Organic results were faring. Pretty quickly we honed in on some disturbances in the “near me” Force.

We looked at three different types of sites targeting “near me” queries:

  • Local Directories (e.g. Yellow Pages sites)
  • Non-Local Affiliate Sites Targeting “Near Me” Queries
  • Local Retailers

In each case we saw an emerging pattern. While we have not looked at enough data to have a high degree of confidence that these observations are statistically accurate, they certainly have piqued our curiosity.

  • Local Directories

    Several of the local search sites we looked at appeared to see no change for service category near me queries (e.g. pizza near me), but we saw a lot of volatility in many of the brand near me queries (e.g. Apple store near me). Here’s an example of a well-known local search site’s rankings for a near me query for a top retail brand. Look how it suddenly starts generating impressions and steadier rankings after Labor Day (and no, there’s nothing seasonal going on here):
    Local Brand Local DirectoryWhile we didn’t see this in every case, strong local search domains that have been using this brand near me strategy appeared to start to be more relevant to Google for these queries. While the site in question is a nationally-known brand, we even saw this kind of activity on some of the smaller, far less well-known local search clients we work with.

  • Non-Local Affiliate Sites Targeting “Near Me” Queries

    Many affiliate sites target local brand queries (e.g. “Target mothers day sale”) even though there’s nothing inherently local about the site like Chiff. But look how one of these type of sites drops off a cliff after Labor Day for a near me query for a major retail brand:
    Brand Near Me GoneWhile we didn’t see this in every case, we saw something like this happening enough to suggest that Google may have reassessed relevance for local brand queries. These types of sites are often not particularly relevant.

  • Local Retailers

    The “near me” Force was strong with this one.
    Product Near MeThis shows a national retailer with a large number of locations starting to rank for a product near me query(e.g. “colon cleanse in a box near me”) right around the supposed time of this Google update.Here’s another one for a different retailer targeting a service near me query (e.g. “colon cleanse pro near me”):
    Service Keyword Near MeAgain, we didn’t see these across the board, but we did see quite a bit of them.

  • So what to make of this? Some speculation:

  • If this data holds up, Google may have turned up the dial on brand relevance for local queries – in fact we are seeing improvements for many of our clients with “strong local brands” post this update. This ties in well with Joy Hawkins’ take on the Possum Platypus Update being an attack on Local SPAM. And with Penguin 4.0 rolling out only a few weeks later, perhaps a better name for this update should be Patagonia – Penguins are local there after all…

  • While there are many affiliate sites that are not just pure-SEO opportunists, it does seem like the bar may have just gotten higher for these sites to rank for local brand queries. This means these sites will likely have to invest more in content and links that can infer local relevance if they want to stay on the SERPs.

  • The big winners here may be local businesses, particularly national-to-local retailers who can implement a local near-me strategy across a large number of locations, products and services.

This update comes at an opportune time for Local SEO Guide. This week Dan Leibson and I will be at SMX East to unveil the latest update to our Local SEO Ranking Factors Study where we looked into what factors influence “near me” rankings. Good timing!


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One Response Comment

  • Andy Kuiper  September 27, 2016 at 8:53 am

    Interesting – it makes sense that a Local focus (including near me) would start playing bigger role in the blended results – thanks Andrew