Logically speaking, physical proximity as a ranking factor should be a no-brainer. But whether or not this is the case has been a subject of heavy debate for some time.
Figures from Google suggest that almost one in every three searches performed has local intent. This means that the individual in question is searching for something in their immediate vicinity or locality.
For years, Google has been stepping up its efforts to recognise local intent and display the most appropriate local results in the Map Pack at the top on the page. When you are looking for something nearby, the most appropriate result is, of course, the nearest result that fits your requirements.
But does distance really play a major role in determining which local businesses take precedence in the listings? What does Google itself have to say about proximity as a ranking factor, if anything at all?
All Evidence Points to a Foregone Conclusion
Prior to 2020, Moz’s industry survey-based list of local search ranking factors ranked the proximity of the searcher to a business location as the number-one ranking factor.
More recently, Google itself has gone on record to state that proximity is indeed one of the three most important local search signals:
“Local results are based primarily on relevance, distance, and prominence. A combination of these factors helps us find the best match for your search.
“Distance considers how far each potential search result is from the location term used in a search. If a user doesn’t specify a location in their search, we’ll calculate distance based on what we do know about their location.”
All of which makes perfect sense, as it would be illogical to recommend any business location that was outside the searcher’s immediate vicinity; if strolling the streets of Camden in search of a great sushi place, it would be pointless for Google to recommend a Japanese restaurant somewhere on the South Bank, for example.
Standing Out Among Local Businesses
In which case, the answer is clear – physical proximity is a major ranking factor. But what can the average local business do to ensure it ranks prominently over its closest competitors?
This is where localisation of content can make all the difference. Simply marketing yourself as a “Sushi restaurant in Camden” is not enough. If you really want to top the local rankings, you need to start publishing more localised content.
For example, you could start publishing blog posts about what is going on in your area. You can bring localised keywords into your on-page content and you can bring your social media accounts into your content marketing strategy.
Search for a local business and you will often find that several of the results are not even businesses – they are links to Facebook posts; something that highlights the importance of building toward a unified localised content strategy across all your online channels.
If your goal is to outperform similar businesses in your locality, creating and publishing a steady stream of locally relevant content could make all the difference.