If you or your clients have noticed a ranking drop lately this could be the reason. Several companies have come to me recently that were ALWAYS on page one for their CORE keyword, then suddenly dropped only for City + Core Keyword. Some were always #1 or 2 and dropped all the way to page 4 or 5. They all rank super high organically, all have well optimized Place pages and also have more reviews and citations that most of their competitors. They all STILL rank page one for all of their other keywords EXCEPT for their core keyword. They all SHOULD/WOULD still rank if not for this new algo tweak. My theory is that there has been a major algo change.

I’m dubbing this change the PROXIMITY LOCKOUT Algo. IF my theory is correct, then Google has added a proximity filter to the “blended” results that was not there before AND they dialed it in WAY too tight on city center, which is not fair AND is not in the best interest of the user. SCREEN SHOTS BELOW.

I couldn’t figure out why these companies weren’t ranking for their main keyword until I saw a distinct change in one of the primary markets that I track. Let’s take a look at the search phrase “Seattle Chiropractor”. I’ve been tracking this market for a long time because I know it’s a dog-eat-dog competitive market, in fact some of these Chiros are pretty gray/black, so I keep an eye on what they are doing and how the ranking changes over time.

For the past 18 months that I’ve been tracking this market, Queen Anne Chiropractic is almost always A or B. Zoom into this screenshot to see them as B on Sept 21st. (FYI Queen Anne is not a client and I don’t do their optimization, I just know the Chiropractor and know they are very good marketers.) On 10/7 Queen Anne’s site DISCONNECTED from their Place page and they are no longer listed in the blended A/B results. Here’s a screen shot from today. They still rank high at #2 organic, but lost their reviews and other Places data, due to site and Place page becoming disconnected.

So now look at the image above which shows the page 1 map and note the difference in the map radius. Today the only listings that rank in blended are listings VERY close to city center. Queen Anne is less than 2 miles from downtown but is OUTSIDE the tight perimeter Google just switched to, so is IMHO suffering from the PROXIMITY LOCK OUT ALGO and was dropped from the blended results.

OK skeptics may try to find some other reason for Queen Anne becoming disconnected and no longer ranking in blended page 1. So consider the following factors. 1) Search for Seattle Chiropractic, Queen Anne ranks A Blended. Search for Chiropractor 98109, yep A blended again. So it’s not that they are disconnected due to bad on-site NAP or 800# or whatever. 2) The same thing happened to Fremont. They WERE #A before the algo change. They are still #1 organic, but lost their A listing because they are too far from city center for “Seattle Chiropractor. IMHO Google dialed the proximity factor way too tight.

BLACK HAT SPOILER WARNING – Also note letter D on the screenshot above for today’s SERPS (or check the SERPS live). That’s Seattle Life Chiropractic. Guess where they are located? City center??? NOPE! There street address is ALSO Queen Anne Avenue North, just like Queen Anne. They are in the proximity lock out zone like Queen Anne. HOWEVER the only reason they show up on page 1 blended, is they moved their map marker to city center.

Back in June I did a series of posts showing/proving that with the blended algo at that time the primary ranking factors were good ole organic SEO factors. If your site ranked high organically you’d rank on top in the blended results, even if you were not city center. Location was NOT a huge factor. With the old 7 pack style listings at one point, distance from city center was a pretty big factor, but then it seemed to me it was relaxed a little. If a business was MORE relevant, had more reviews, citations and other types of trust it could still rank high even if it was not city center.

OK one other example. I’m not going to do screen shots, so you may see something slightly different when you search depending on browser, etc. Attaboy Plumbing was always on top for Indianapolis Plumber. They dropped to page 4 or 5 suddenly and asked me to try to figure out why. They’ve posted about it at Mike’s blog and on the GP forum. They rank for most of the their other keywords still, just not their MAIN keyword “City + Plumber.”

Search and watch the map radius. “Indianapolis Plumbing Service“. For me right now they are #C. So they rank but look how very far they are from city center. They still rank because the map radius is that wide. NOW search for “Indianapolis Plumber“. See how EXTREMELY close all the top listings are to city center? Attaboy I think is suffering from proximity lock out for their main keyword. (Note: I think the map expanded to the top left section of city only to accommodate that Adwords ad that’s way up in that corner, but if you click on the map to go to the full size map you’ll see it’s really zeroed in tightly on city center.)

I have a Dentist that’s suffering from the same exact problem. Ranked high for city + Dentist. Dropped to page 5 and came to me. Has more reviews, citations than most in his market. Ranks high in organic. He’s #1 for most of his other keywords. But city Dentist – he’s on page 5. WHY? Even though city dentist pulls a BLENDED listing, Google now only shows Dentists on page one that in a map radius very close to city center. He’s far from city center and outside the radius this new algo chooses to show. (Very similar situation to Queen Anne & Attaboy)

So forget businesses and their rankings for a moment. Google is all about serving up the best results for the user, right? I’m all for that! But is this new wound-too-tight proximity filter in the best interest of the user?

If I live up near Queen Anne or Fremont I don’t want to drive into downtown Seattle. Show me a cross section of the top listings from all over town and let me pick the one that’s most convenient for me. Don’t only show me Drs. that are downtown.

DISCLAIMER – I realize the algo is constantly changing and there are also multiple algos in play at the same time. So I’m not saying what I’ve illustrated above is happening in all markets and am also not even sure this is the new norm. It could all change tomorrow. This is just part of my on-going research and I’ve seen it happen enough times that I believe it’s an issue. But feel free to share your thoughts.

MIKE BLUMENTHAL just made a comment in the forum that seems to support this theory. I have not had a chance to talk to him about it yet. Mike said:

“Just because you rank #1 organically is NO guarantee that you will have your pin attached to the organic listing. Since you are located at a distance from Las Vegas Google may have changed the Map view they are providing for the search term. If that happens, only businesses within the Map view provided will have the pin attached.”

So how does this change things? Well for one, now when I do research for a new client before I do their free consultation, I am noting how far they fall outside the proximity filter for the map in their market. Then I’m upfront and let them know that with the CURRENT algo there is likely no way to get them ranked in blended for their CORE keyword unless they move downtown! 🙁

Sheesh, here I go again, writing a book. No wonder carpal hurts. I need to run, there’s a lot more to this, but not sure I need to explain every detail. But if anyone does not understand why this problem only happens with the CORE keyword like City Chiropractor, Dentist, Plumber – even though the client ranks high for all their other related keywords, just ask and I’m happy to explain.

If you’ve had trouble ranking some clients for their core keywords or had a recent unexplained drop, please evaluate it from the viewpoint of what I’ve shared above and let me know if this makes sense. Are you experiencing the same problems? Do you think an engineer cranked the proximity filter dial too tight? Have any examples to share?