Proximity to Searcher is Still the #1 Local Search Ranking Factor

He writes:

“Plainly put, I think this result shows that there isn’t a “number one ranking factor” when it comes to local search. Google’s local search algorithm is trimodal and is focused on relevance, prominence, AND proximity.”

We have a difference of opinion about there being a number one ranking factor, but I certainly agree that the algorithm is tri-modal. Of course relevance and prominence are important aspects of the algorithm, in addition to proximity. A search in a high-density category like restaurants or coffee shops will only show three results, and within the tight radius around the searcher, there are probably dozens of businesses that are relevant to the search term. Google must consider prominence and relevance factors of the businesses within that radius, and use these factors to determine which 3 businesses to rank out of the dozens of candidates. What I have noticed, is that if you own a coffee shop outside of that radius, you don’t have a chance at ranking. You can build up all the prominence and relevance factors in the world, and it’s not going to get you into that local pack if you’re outside of the radius.

I actually think his screenshot does a good job of showing exactly how proximity IS the #1 ranking factor affecting the rankings of those three businesses for that specific search in that specific location. Every business in that result is within .6 miles of the searcher. Basically, half a mile.

Are these three businesses ranking because they are the most prominent and relevant businesses in the city for this term? Is Google ranking the best vegan restaurants in the city?

I suppose it’s remotely possible that the three best vegan restaurants just happen to be within half a mile of the searcher, but I’m willing to bet that there are other vegan restaurants within just 1 mile, or 2 miles, that have much higher relevance and prominence scores, Vegan restaurants with higher ratings in reviews, more links to their websites, more relevant content on their websites, and a ton of media mentions from all the foodies in town, but do they rank? Do their prominence and relevance strengths get them into this local pack? No, because they’re too far away from the searcher. Google is giving proximity more weight than relevance and prominence here. Proximity to searcher is the most dominant ranking factor that is affecting which three businesses are ranking in these search results.

Proximity Isn’t the ONLY Ranking Factor

I’ve read Dan’s post a few times, and it seems there may be some confusion between saying “proximity is the #1 ranking factor” and saying “proximity is the only ranking factor”. He alludes to it when he writes:

“…proximity isn’t as important as relevance/searcher intent when it comes to local searches … Were proximity, or other factors that weren’t about searcher intent, Google’s #1 ranking factor then Google would be directing users to bad search results. Kinda like sending a vegan to a rotisserie chicken joint.”

No one ever said that proximity was the only factor. If proximity was Google’s only ranking factor, then sure, Google would be directing users to bad search results. But proximity isn’t the only ranking factor. It just seems to be the strongest factor.

It sounds like his argument might be that relevance is the #1 local ranking factor, because when you search for plumbers, you get plumbers. You don’t get car dealers, or chiropractors, or rotisserie chicken joints. But that’s not really an argument worth having. A business isn’t going to rank in completely different and unrelated categories, so there really isn’t much point discussing it. We need to look at which factors are ranking the business within the categories they are relevant for.

It’s also noteworthy that businesses can rank in related categories if they’re even remotely relevant to the search term, and they can amplify their rankings for these terms because of their proximity. Here’s a great example that my colleague Nick Pierno pointed out:

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