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Is It A Google Ranking Factor?



Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Close to a third of all Google searches have local intent – that is, the searcher is looking for something nearby or located in a specific area.

Often (but now always) when Google determines there is local intent, it will display top local results in a Map Pack at the top of the search results.

Businesses can appear in organic search results for queries with local intent, too.

Does how physically close the searcher is to the business impact rankings? Let’s see.

The Claim: Physical Proximity To Searcher Is A Ranking Factor

The idea here is that the distance between a physical location of the business and a searcher is a key ranking factor in local search.

The Evidence For Physical Proximity As A Ranking Factor

The searcher’s proximity to the place of business fell from #1 to #3 in Moz’s industry survey-based list of local search ranking factors in 2020.

This isn’t just a commonly held belief among SEO professionals, though.


Google flat out tells us that proximity is one of the three big factors in determining local search ranking:

“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.”

Why would Google show someone a list of pizza shops in Toronto, Canada, if they were wandering the streets of Medellin, Colombia, looking for a slice?

The big question for local SEO pros and business owners is, how do you make your location is clear to Google to ensure you appear in relevant search results?

There are a few concrete ways:

  • Ensure citations (local listings) are accurate and that your business appears where people are searching for local products, services, etc.
  • Claim and verify your Google My Business listing.
  • Get your Google Maps API Key and optimize for Places and Routes to provide searchers a more immersive, richer experience.
  • For Service Area Businesses, ensure that your profile has been set up correctly so you aren’t violating Google’s guidelines for representing the business correctly.

Demonstrating Proximity Without Physical Closeness

Beyond that, you can help Google understand the context of your location for relevant local queries and also improve your prospective customers’ experience with content optimizations.

For example, Google may be aware of your location’s map pin and understand that your location is at the crossroads of First Ave and Lyon St S in Ottawa.

Screenshot from Google My Business, February 2022

Google knows this neighborhood is called The Glebe, so you’re already optimizing for searches like [restaurants in the glebe] and [dinner nearby] if the searcher is close to your physical location by virtue of having a verified GMB profile and accurate citations.

But – to borrow a few examples from sports – what about [dinner before the Jay’s game]?

Or how about [senators game dinner]?


I’m nowhere near the cities where these two teams play, and the query doesn’t have enough local intent to draw a MapPack.

But maybe I’m heading there tomorrow.

So who’s going to help me find dinner?

The first restaurant I find in the top 10 organic Google results for the Senators example isn’t even a website or local listing; it’s a Facebook post:

local social contentScreenshot from search for [senators game dinner], Google, February 2022

It’s a smart play to talk about what’s going on locally in your blog posts, GMB posts, social media, etc.

Here’s another example of demonstrating proximity to the searcher’s need when you may not be physically closest to the searcher at the time of the query, yet you’re physically close to the need:

Google video search resultsScreenshot from search for [panthers game and dinner], Google, February 2022

The restaurant, OSSO, is using video to appear in position zero search results for this locally relevant query even though I’m currently 1,550 miles away.

If you want to get in front of searchers who are making plans but not yet in the immediate vicinity, create locally relevant content.

Physical Proximity To Searcher: Our Verdict

Physical Proximity To Searcher: Is It A Google Ranking Factor?

Yes, Google uses proximity/distance as a search ranking signal.

And it’s important that you don’t simply leave it to Google to surface your business only where the searcher expressly uses a location term or Google can tell where they are.


Mention local organizations, sports teams, neighborhoods, or activities in your content so Google has more ways to tell when you’re physically close to the searcher’s need.

Think of your customer personas and the problems you may be able to solve for different types of people.

Make sure you’re incorporating local information into your content where it makes sense so Google can tell you meet any local intent.

Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal

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Reach Success With The Future Of Ad Exchanges [Podcast]



Reach Success With The Future Of Ad Exchanges [Podcast]

Constantly looking for ways to optimize your ad spend? Dreaming of a high-ROI paid advertising future? We’ve got great news — The future is now.

Big changes are on the horizon, and we know how to amplify your ad potential into high-quality leads.

John Lee, Microsoft Ads’ Head of Evangelism at Microsoft, joined me on the SEJ Show to talk about the future of ad exchanges and their ability to supercharge your potential to thrive with high-performance, low-resource programmatic advertising.

People do hop, skip and jump around, so there are all kinds of opportunities to target consumers throughout their decision journey, and Microsoft advertising is a significant piece.–John Lee, 11:25

When people think Microsoft, a big chunk of the time, people assume enterprise business, B2B, and that’s the tried and true. While that’s still a significant portion of the bottom line for Microsoft, the consumer matters greatly, whether that’s gaming or devices.–John Lee, 22:46

There’s this shift in behavior online. We’re seeing effectively a new persona emerge. –John Lee, 46:05

[00:00] – A little about John Lee.
[05:35] – How does the Microsoft advertising ecosystem look like?
[07:25] – Where to find traditional advertising beyond Bing?
[09:38] – What you can find in the display component of Microsoft.
[12:02] – Targeting in LinkedIn with Microsoft advertising.
[17:13] – Are Microsoft advertising ads shown within the X-box experience?
[23:52] – Important & growing vertical industries that Microsoft has focused on.
[31:22] – Are people still scrolling down and clicking on organic links in the SERPS?
[37:45] – How important are images in search advertising?
[45:26] – The new emerging personas.


Resources mentioned:
Viva Goals –
Microsoft Game Pass –
Bing Webmaster Tools –
Shutterstock –

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All of these other developments, these feed-based elements are new flavors and additional flavors to make an amazing user experience. Whether you’re talking SEO or paid ads, all of it is working together to create an on-point user experience on the server, whether that’s Google, whether that’s Bing.–John Lee, 34:28

There’s a lot happening in the verticals space, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. –John Lee, 28:22

Just as a reminder to all of you out there that are SEOs and are running websites. All of your sites do have a feed. It’s called an XML sitemap. Make sure it’s updated. Google is able to fetch it and not serve errors. All of these engines work off of feeds. Also, don’t be afraid to submit your RSS feeds for your blog categories into the search console as well. Mimic that within Webmaster Tools on the Bing side too. Search engines have gone very feed friendly. This is the way to go. It’s also the way to go from an advertising perspective.–Loren Baker, 33:08

For more content like this, subscribe to our YouTube channel:

Connect with John Lee:

John Lee’s enthusiasm for digital marketing is infectious, and he has the knowledge to match. He’s been at it for years, and he knows how to get results—both as an entrepreneur himself with Clix Marketing (which he co-founded) or in his current role as Head of Evangelism at Microsoft Advertising.

He has a great deal of experience with search engine marketing, display advertising, and social media marketing–Content creator, speaker, trainer, and fan of all things digital (marketing and technology).


Connect with John on LinkedIn:
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Connect with Loren Baker, Founder of Search Engine Journal:

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