What you and I are likely to see in Google differs a lot even if we search for the same thing.
The results we get depend on our:
This makes perfect sense to users who often search Google for places and services nearby.
At the same time, this leaves marketers blind to what customers really see in Google in all the different locations their business targets.
So, today we’ll dig deeper into localized search results and look into every possible way to search Google from another location – both manually and using tools.
Do All SERP Elements Depend on Location?
The short answer is “yes.”
Even though we often think of local search as something related to “local 3-pack” blocks, the rest of the SERP is also tailored for the searcher’s specific geo-location (especially for queries with an obvious local intent).
In different locations, you may see changes in organic listings (the 10 blue links include different local businesses and directories), knowledge panels, universal search blocks, and paid ads.
But What If We Simply Ignore the Change?
The bad news is, whatever research you’re up to – be that tracking search presence, analyzing competition or looking for relevant directory placements – you almost always need a certain level of SERP localization. Otherwise, you’re simply leading yourself astray.
But there’s also some good news: the level of needed granularity differs.
And while local 3-pack results are hypersensitive to the slightest location change and might sometimes require being tracked from a specific street address, organic search results remain much more stable.
For some of your organic tracking, city-level analysis is more than enough. For others, you barely need going beyond country localization.
So, let’s talk about different SEO tasks and cut through the different localization levels.
How to Check Country-Specific SERPs
This type of monitoring might suit an international brand that targets multiple countries. Tracking your search presence on a country level will help you:
- Analyze search performance for non-geo-sensitive queries: While showing some discrepancy worldwide, such terms tend to generate the same search results nationwide, so there is simply no need to zoom in.
- Monitor the setup of your multilingual website to see whether the correct country and language page versions are indexed and served for each region.
How to Check Manually
A few years ago, this task was really straightforward. Country-specific search results were served on separate country domains, like google.co.nz for New Zealand or google.ru for Russia.
That’s until Google started serving search results based on the searcher’s location, regardless of the domain’s TLD extension at the end of 2017.
So, in case you haven’t noticed yet, there’s no longer any use typing a different Google domain in your address bar.
Here’s what you can do instead.
1. Change Your Google Search Settings
You can tell Google that your country differs from the automatically detected one by going to Search settings and adjusting your search region there.
2. Use a VPN or a Proxy
You can also fake your location with proxies or a VPN service like Private Internet Access or similar.
How to Check Automatically
I cannot come up with a single rank tracking app that is incapable of automating this type of localization.
Some tools will emulate a real user and tweak Google search settings (same as I’ve just described) every time they send a new request to Google. Some of them will simply use a country-specific set of IPs.
All of them will work in a similar manner and do a decent job for you, whatever option you choose.
How to Check City-Specific SERPs
City-level rankings come into play if we’re monitoring a local business – one that operates within a specific service area or has a physical location for its customers to visit.
Most of the queries customers use to find businesses of this type are geo-sensitive. They are likely to change a lot from city to city (organic results), and from district to district (local listings).
So, while tracking city-level rankings may not be the best option for local listings monitoring, you can still use it to:
- Track organic positions, which aren’t likely to fluctuate much within one city.
- Track local packs and map rankings for less competitive industries, where there simply isn’t enough competition to produce much SERP turbulence even in the hyper-geo-sensitive local packs.
How to Check Manually
Same as with country rankings, there was a time when checking city rankings was not a problem. But Google gives and Google takes away. So the SEO industry, once again, had to come up a few creative workarounds.
1. Add a ‘&near=cityname’ Parameter to Your Google URL
To check the SERPs for “dentist” from Hendersonville, NC, for example, you can use a URL like this:
(This includes your keyword in the “q=” parameter, and your location in the “near=” parameter.)
This option is the easiest one, but we’re trading time against accuracy here.
With the “&near=” parameter, the results Google serves you are literally near the location, and not necessarily within the specified city. Quite often, they might be skewed towards a larger city nearby.
2. Use the Google Ads Preview Tool
Another (and this time, pretty accurate) way to check localized SERPs is the Ad Preview and Diagnosis Tool in Google Ads. It simulates not only geopositions but user devices (mobile, tablet, or desktop) as well.
The tool works for any keyword, whether it’s included in your Ads campaign or not. The only thing that’s required is an active Google Ads account.
How to Check Automatically
Checking city-specific SERPs is available in the vast majority of rank tracking tools these days.
Most of them use the same way to localize your search results – the “&uule=” parameter, which adds a base64-encoded location name or zip code to the URL when querying Google. The results are displayed as if you’re from the city centroid or the center of the ZIP code.
Among the tools that do city-specific checking are AccuRanker and Ahrefs.
SEMrush and Whitespark include only a limited set of cities/countries. So they will only work for you if your target location is on the list.
My personal favorite in this category is BrightLocal – for their nicely formatted reports and easy-to-use interface.
How to Check the SERPs for a Specific Street Address
When it comes to tracking local pack or Google Maps results, the slightest location change can influence the SERPs.
Sometimes your business will show up in search results throughout its whole service area, and sometimes it will only rank for searches performed just a few blocks from your doorstep.
This means that tracking city-level results won’t do. And you need to be able to localize the SERPs on a street level to:
- See how visible your business is in different parts of the city/town.
- See how far from the physical location the business appears in the local pack and monitor how your ranking coverage area expands over the SEO campaign.
How to Check Manually
For quite some time, the only way to specify the exact street address to check Google SERPs from was by using Google Chrome Developer Tools. However, now there is a nice tool to do the job much quicker.
1. Set up Custom Latitude & Longitude in Chrome
Google Chrome lets you load pages as if from anywhere in the world by specifying the exact geo-coordinates.
To do that, you need to head to Developer Tools (CTRL+SHFT+I for Windows and Command + Option + I for Mac OS) and click the three-dot icon in the bottom left corner:
There, pick the Sensors option and simply paste the geo-coordinates you’ve previously copied from Google Maps:
2. Use the Valentin App
A cool new tool to handle the same task is the Valentin app. It converts the street address you’ve entered into geo-coordinates and passes them along to Google. The localized Google search results are opened in a new browser tab.
How to Check Automatically
There are only two tools I know of that let you automate street address rank checking. However, they do the job in quite a different manner.
One tool is best suited for tracking your positions and their changes. The other tool is best for visualizing your ranking coverage area.
1. Use Rank Tracker
SEO PowerSuite’s Rank Tracker (disclaimer: I’m the founder of Rank Tracker) is the only tool to automate what Google Chrome and Valentin app do.
You can set up as many street-address locations as you need, and check Google SERPs for them automatically.
And I do mean “as many locations as you need,” because unlike most other tools, Rank Tracker doesn’t limit the number of locations to track.
2. Use Local Falcon
Local Falcon is my absolute favorite among all the new SEO tools to emerge in 2018. The app has a brilliant idea behind it – to visualize how your business ranks on Google Maps in the area surrounding it.
Monitoring Maps will not substitute monitoring the SERPs themselves, but this visualization gives you some priceless data on your local performance.
To Track or Not to Track?
With that many options and that much local ranking data, it might seem hard to find reliable benchmarks to measure your search success.
It’s tempting to either give up on tracking local rankings altogether or get overly obsessed with them. Really, though, the best solution lies somewhere in the middle.
On one hand, rankings are just a vanity metric, and, unlike traffic, leads and customers, they don’t bring you any business by themselves.
On the other hand, there is no better way to diagnose your search performance and find room for improvement than by checking the SERP positions and their change over time.
Is your website not getting enough customers because it’s invisible in SERPs or because it has bad reviews?
Are you underperforming in a certain region because there’s less market for what you offer or because your website’s local version is purely set up?
I can think of a better way to answer these questions than by monitoring your search performance. And staying blind to this data is like giving your market away to competitors.
Featured Image: Shutterstock, modified by author
All screenshots taken by author, February 2019
In-post Image #12: Local Falcon
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