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The Googles Move to Local
In 2009 Google changed its search algorithm to take account of a user’s geographic location and rank companies local to you, higher in its organic listings. For this to work, you don’t have to be logged into Google. If you’re not signed in, Google will locate you based on your computers IP address (often inaccurately).
How it Works
In the past, users have become used to searching for services by adding a location to their search query. The most common method is to suffix the location for example ‘Professional Photographer Derbyshire’ or ‘Indian Restaurant in Sheffield’. Needless to say, Google is wise to this and uses this kind of information as well. This means that if you’re sat at home in London but plan to visit Sheffield for the snooker, you will still get relevant results.
Local is Not Everything
It’s important to bear in mind that Local Search is just one part of the mix. The other parts of search are still vitally important and a highly regarded site (with many inbound links etc.) will still often outrank a locally based site. Still, as mobile search becomes more and more important and as directories on and off line become less relevant, Google Local seems to be getting more important.
Beyond Organic Search
Location isn’t just important for organic search engine results, it’s also essential for anybody advertising through Google targeting a specific area. Adwords allows for very specific geographic targeting and gives you the option between targeting based on specified/discerned location and the older suffix method described above (or both). The number of photographers, plumbers and florists advertising nationally, when they actually only server a relatively small area is astonishing. This is no doubt why so many locally based businesses become frustrated with Adwords quickly.
Location is also important because of its interaction with Google+. Try entering a search term like ‘Event Photographer Derbyshire’ and see what comes up. You’ll probably see paid ads at the top, then possibly some organic search results and then a long list of companies taken from Google+. It’s pretty clear that a local business can’t just rely on Facebook, even if Google+ is still woefully underused (at least in the UK).