Most of Google's updates are meant to help people find the search results they need. In the case of their proximity to searcher factor, they miss the mark.

By The Black Fin Team


Category: PPC SEO

When it comes to SEO, the rules tend to change both quickly and often. What you hear is the most effective way to move up in the rankings may not necessarily be the case the very next week.

And quite frankly, that makes both working on SEO and writing about it a bit of a challenge.

Nevertheless, staying on top of recent trends is immensely important for staying on top of rankings, as well.

Which is why we’re pretty unimpressed with a Google Maps ranking factor that has turned out to be the deciding factor for the coveted top spots in Maps results:

Proximity to Searcher.

In short, the proximity to searcher factor deals with how close the physical address of a business is to the person searching a term – or, at least, how close the person is based on where Google thinks they’re located.

For example, if we were looking for the best barbeque joint in our hometown, we’d simply search “best barbeque in [city].”

While you might think that results should show the best reviewed barbeque restaurants in the city, or the most popular, the search results that you’d find will just show the closest barbeque restaurants to where you are at the moment by using location services. Pretty simple, right?

***Now we should add, this does not apply to organic search results but only to the local map results.

This means that when somebody searches “Personal Injury Lawyer in [city]” or “Insurance Fraud Attorney in [city],” the result that pops up in the map listings will be the firm that is physically closest to the searcher.

Is it a great move on the part of Google?

For Google, absolutely. Many view this move as a way for them to sell more ad space (and we’ll get to how buying that ad space may be the solution in a minute).

It’s possible that Google implemented this factor thinking that it would ultimately help people find what they want, but it presents some challenges to both local businesses and searchers…

Is Proximity Really a Good Ranking Factor?

For businesses, these new map results make it more difficult to reach and engage your local audience. People searching for lawyers and attorneys in your area will be shown the closest options on the map first rather than the most reputable or reliable.

On the searcher side, this doesn’t make sense for a number of businesses. Sure, if you’re looking for the nearest place to grab tacos, maybe proximity to searcher is a good move. But for the majority of local businesses, the closest option isn’t always the one a searcher wants or needs.

A recent post from Moz on this issue put it pretty perfectly:

“I don’t care if a lawyer is close to me. I am looking to hire a lawyer that’s reputable, prominent in my city, and does good work. I’m perfectly happy to drive an extra 20 minutes to go to the office of a good lawyer.”

And we believe that to be true.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of somebody’s negligence or are dealing with major criminal charges, you’re not going to find the nearest attorneys and pray that they’re competent. You’re going to look for the best representation possible (within a reasonable distance).

As the Moz article discusses, Google has recently filed a patent that would allow them to combine review and proximity metrics, which would in theory work much better than relying solely on proximity.

However, it’s unclear when that change will be made, if at all, raising the question…

If you’re a lawyer and you want to mitigate the effects of this questionable search factor, what do you do?

How PPC Ads Can Help

PPC ads can be a big help for getting around the proximity to searcher rules that Google has implemented. There are two primary ways:

  • PPC ads in general search engine results pages (SERPs)
  • PPC ads in map search results

They don’t differ a whole lot in the implementation, but they’re both a great way to get your website seen before others for your keywords.

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) PPC Ads

These are the results that you see at the top of every Google SERP. They’ll have a little green square in the top left corner that says “Ad,” and they usually take up the first three results when one searches for a business.

The best part about these ads? You can decide which keywords you want to show up for and you’ll be front and center anytime somebody searches for one of those.

While the proximity to searcher affects the map results, they don’t affect these PPC results. If you want to be at the top spot on the page for “Phoenix Criminal Defense Lawyer,” this is now the only really effective way to do it since the organic results are buried underneath the ads and the “snack pack” that makes up the first few map results.

Map Results PPC Ads

These PPC ads will show up in the map results for searches on all devices, and also in the “snack pack” for searches on mobile devices.

While these PPC ads are dependent on your address and the population density of where you are physically located (law firms in bigger cities will ultimately have a shorter radius for where these ads reach), they do present you as the first option to your searcher even if you’re technically farther away than other lawyers.

This may be the most effective way to get around the proximity to searcher rule, since these are the results that that very rule affects, especially when you consider that your PPC ads can show up in the “snack pack” on mobile searches.

According to our head of PPC at Black Fin, about 70-percent of conversions on PPC ads occur on mobile devices. That’s not incredibly surprising, as the world is shifting to favor internet use on mobile devices, but it’s definitely significant.

With PPC being that effective on mobile, it’s almost too convenient that Google includes your PPC ads on the “snack pack” results on mobile devices. While nothing is a no-brainer in the world of internet marketing, using PPC ads for your map results certainly seems close.

Need A Little Extra Help With Your Online Presence?

We know that all of this can be a little bit confusing, and sometimes it’s easier to have people who handle PPC campaigns on a regular basis handle your law firm’s needs as well.

And if that’s the case for you, we’re happy to help!

Even if you’re just a little unclear about the benefits that PPC can have for your web traffic, or if you have other questions or concerns, our agency loves helping law firms and attorneys get the most out of their websites so that they can focus on the important things, like winning cases for their clients.

So contact us today if you think you could use a little help with your internet marketing strategy and we’ll get you on the right track.


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