I’m working on some important research and need help from the local SEO community. If together we can figure this out, it will help us all do a better job of helping our local search clients AND be able to give them reports that knock their socks off! IF the limited research I’ve been able to do so far is correct, then there is a huge hole in the way we analyze rankings and report success metrics to clients. 1 work closely with 3 companies that have some awesome local analysis and ranking solutions. (One really hot brand new one I’ll be blogging about this week.) If I can get your help to prove my theory, then I can get them to program in a solution that may help us all. (If I’m right, maybe I’m off base.) Bear with me and I’ll explain.

Back in October Myles Anderson shared some great research at SearchEngineLand about HOW consumers search for local products and services. Really important data if you missed it. His research shows that 58% of searchers use a local modifier. Most use city a smaller percentage use zip. So city dentist, plumber city, plastic surgeon 90210, etc.

My research so far suggests surfers search for keyword WITHOUT geo modifier 3-4 times MORE than with. SEE KEYWORD STATS BELOW. I need your help and your stats to prove or disprove these numbers. (See call for stats and benefits of this research below.) But 1st – the back story.

I’ve been helping some clients affected by the new part of the blended algo I dubbed the “Proximity Lockout Algo” and more and more people on the forum and in comments to that post are reporting they’ve been negatively affected by
the lockout too. If you missed it, go read it. The pictures explain it better than I can but in a short summary: Companies can rank HIGH for all their keywords but get locked out of the blended results for their CORE keyword, if they are out of the tight city center radius Google added to SERPS in many cities. So Companies that ranked B in blended for instance and have EVERYTHING going for them (reviews, citations and HIGH organic ranking) had their Places listing stripped and lost their reviews, map marker and blended ranking. Their site and Place page became disconnected. They still rank high on page 1 organic but lost the advantage of having a map pin and reviews and now rank BELOW the blended. (See Seattle Chiro example in post above and it will all make sense.)

I have a Dentist that was affected. He came to me because he ranked page one blended for City Dentist and Dentist City, then dropped to page 10 in Places. He still ranks page one organic, but is disconnected from the Place page because for his core keyword City Dentist, G only shows a radius of Dentists tight around city center. I got him ranked high on page one for all this other keywords, but because he’s on the outskirts of town and the map radius for his city + Dentist is so tight he’s disconnected for the core keyword Dentist. I re-optimized his site, made sure NAP everywhere matches, boosted his organic and Places rankings higher and even did a bunch of GEO tricks no one else knows or has ever even heard of to try to boost his location signal. No matter what I do, Google will not stretch that tight proximity radius for City Dentist to include him.

NOTE: If you set your location for that city and search City Dentist, Google zeros in on center of town. Well for me as a searcher if I live on the south end I may want a Dentist, restaurant or dry cleaner near me. I’m not going to drive all the way downtown and fight traffic and parking. So I think the proximity algo is wrong and dialed way too tight to be what’s best for the searcher either.

So I started thinking about how people search and wondered how many search for City Dentist, Dentist city, vs just Dentist. I wondered, if a patient was down in the south part of town where my Dentist is and they searched for Dentist with no city modifier, would he show up then? So to try to simulate a patient searching from the south end of town, in Google I set my location to his ZIP instead of his city. Guess what happens then? He’s #1 for Dentist as he deserves to be and his site and Place page connect, the way they should!

So then in thinking about how consumers search and wondering how many even use a city modifier, it occurred to me I NEVER (or seldom) see City + Keyword in my client’s Places stats. You know where it shows the top 10 keywords? All my clients just show dentist, teeth whitening, cosmetic dentistry, without city. So it really made me wonder how often Joe surfer even adds a city modifier.

THEN I DISCOVERED ADWORDS EXPRESS STATS! This is where I need your help, if you have clients using Adwords or Adwords Express, please read on.

I only have one client using Adwords Express. I’ve never recommended it, set it up or even checked out the stats. Turns out the client on AE is also the Dentist suffering from the proximity lockout. He felt FORCED to sign up for AE to compensate when Google dropped him out of his high ranking blended spot. What I discovered when I checked his stats blew me a way a little. And directly opposed the study posted on SELand above.

Here are his September Adwords Express impression stats. So this is not how people ‘SAY’ they search (as in Myles’ study) but the actual stats showing how many searches where ACTUALLY DONE various ways.

Keywords | Impressions (Sept Stats)
dentist 2430
city dentist 586
dentist city 483
dentists 376
dentists city 119

(Note: Above stats are from a small – medium sized East Coast city)

So 4 times MORE searches were for KEYWORD(s) without city. This makes sense to me if you think about the ‘average’ consumer. We live in a search world and know about modifiers and everything. But I bet Betty Sue soccer Mom looking for a new dentist types just Dentist. Then possibly if she does not find what she’s looking for she’ll refine her search with City + keyword. But if you just type Dentist it WILL show you a pack of local results with a map.

Since I don’t have any other clients on Adwords I could not check more stats. So reached out to a Plumber I helped awhile back who dropped off page one. Back then I had not discovered the proximity lockout and could not figure out why she dropped. She reached out to lots of local pros and no one could figure it out. Now I can plainly see it was a proximity lockout and everything I mentioned above is similar for her. So anyway I know her well enough that I could ask her to check her stats for me. Here are her September Adwords Express stats.

Keywords | Impressions (Sept Stats)
plumber 3353
plumbers 2496
city plumbers 1320
plumbers city 298

(Note: Above stats are from a large East Coast city)

Almost 3 times more searches for plumber(s) than city plumber(s).
Also more search for city 1st than keyword 1st.

GROUP RESEARCH REQUEST – So if you have any clients on Adwords or Adwords Express please share results in comments in the same format as above. Sept stats. Full month. I don’t want the whole keyword list, just CORE keyword with and without plurals and city. And to keep anonymous, you don’t need to share city just city description of large, small, where it is, like I did.

NOTE THE OTHER BIG QUESTION THIS RESEARCH WILL ANSWER IS do more people search city keyword or keyword city? Knowing this can help us optimize title tags and anchor text for the best combo. Based on the stats above, as I’ve always suspected, most local searches lead with city 1st. But I’ve seen lots of people ask which search order is more common, so maybe we’ll confirm that too.

Disclaimer: Yes I realize even if we get a bunch of Adwords stats, the numbers still aren’t perfectly conclusive. The number of impressions could be limited by budget, quality score, yadda, yadda. So small budgets, poor QS may cut off the full number of impressions possible in that market. However what we are looking for is the RATIO. If our stats show that overall 3 – 4 times more searches are for core keyword without city modifier, regardless of city, budget, type of industry, then that’s significant AND important to know.

GOALS/BENEFITS OF THIS RESEARCH

So like most of you I assume, I run weekly ranking reports for clients. I don’t send them to clients (because local rank tracking is so flakey and hard for them to understand plus by the time the client looks, the results could be totally different if they are using a different browser or G switches keyword from blended to pack style.) But I use the ranking reports for my own analysis of the progress we are making. I also send an occasional email saying “Yea, we just hit #1 for keyword 1, 2 and 3″. I also often send a before and after ranking report after I’ve gotten them a bunch of page one results.

The tracking programs I use (I am Beta testing some and have some tried and true ones) only work with geo modifiers. So I get reports for city dentist, city cosmetic dentistry, etc. If the Adwords stats above are accurate (and you guys help me prove it on a wider scale) then we are all missing the lion’s share of search results we should be tracking and reporting on. Right now to check how clients rank without GEO modifiers, I have to set my location to their city and do a manual search. This isn’t practical to do even for me with the small client load I handle. For bigger agencies it’s not doable at all.

One of the leading local rank tracking programs I use told me they’ve been unable to program in this capability so far and that they’ve tried. But I know if we could get enough proof that more people search without geo they would put effort into it. I’ve also talked to the other 2 main tracking companies I’m working with right now and both are interested in this research and will work on a solution if our results support it.

THE KICKER – THE WAY G HANDLES GEO LOCATION

So getting a software program to set city as location and do keyword searches I think would be fairly easy. And I’ll use this research if it pans out to get them to put more effort into a solution into this most basic and easy part of the location puzzle.

BUT here is the more advanced feature I’d like to see – partly due to clients that have the proximity lockout problem BUT ALSO for many other geo situations. For example in very large metro areas my Dentists tell me “I don’t want to compete with every Dentist in Dallas. I guess the way Google works I have to try to rank for Dallas Dentist but every Dallas patient isn’t my target market. No one is going to drive from south Dallas all the way through downtown to me on the far north end. My competition is really just the Dentists up in my neck of the woods. I just want to rank on page one when patients on the north end are shopping for a new Dentist in my area.”

So it seems like it would be great to be able to say granted, since there are 2000 Dentists in Dallas we don’t have you on page one yet, but you are #1 when people search from your area for Dentist (without city) and that’s the way the great majority of people search.

The challenge – When someone does not set location in Google and searches for a local business G shows results based on IP. When someone searches via mobile I’m not sure how location is sensed exactly. (I don’t use my phone and don’t play in mobile much.) So in brief discussions with local search ranking companies, we’ve not figured out the best way to simulate a generic keyword search based on the searcher’s location.

The trick I came up with works great. Set the zip of the business as your location. That would work if everyone in that location saw the correct results. However Google’s location searches are based I think on your IP, which based on your ISP may not where you are actually located. I’m in San Marcos. If I search for Dentist or plumber without city, G shows me Carlsbad businesses. I can’t even remember the last time I went to Carlsbad. In SoCal traffic, I would not drive 5 towns away for ANY service. So trying to simulate search location is a problem. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

One of the companies I’m BETA testing for is VERY innovative. (The one I’ll be blogging about this week.) They even show you your ranking on a map so you can see which cities and zips you rank highest in. So his idea is to simulate the search location from a CLUSTER of zips around the business. But it would require a lot of coding, so again he needs your research in order to justify the time. But he’ll do it if it’s worth it and the data pans out.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE and possible reason for the proximity algo change. The only reason either client above is even using Adwords Express is due to the lock out. They did it when they dropped out of their long standing top position to compensate. Interesting too when I look at the Dentist’s stats. If my Dentist (not really understanding how this all works) checks stats he’d see something like 60 impressions in the regular Places stats for Dentist (because he got locked out). But then he sees 2400 impressions for Dentist plus hundreds for city dentist and dentist city in Adwords stats. That’s pretty much going to cinch the deal that he needs to keep paying for Adwords. ;-) (However if he had not gotten locked out and the stats were fairly equal, he might decide he doesn’t really need Adwords because he’s getting so many impressions in the free results.)

I knew this would be a monster post. Need to wrap up. Carpal’s killin.
Hope I made my point.

IF YOU HAVE ANY ADWORDS OR ADWORDS EXPRESS CLIENTS – PLEASE CONTRIBUTE TO THIS GROUP RESEARCH PROJECT – Please share results in comments in the same format as above. Sept stats. Full month. I don’t want the whole keyword list, just CORE keyword with and without plurals and city. And to keep anonymous, you don’t need to list the city – just description of city size and general location, like I did.

Thanks in advance!