How does location affect search results?

For many people who want their own website, one of their ultimate goals is to appear at the top of search engine results. While search engine rank is obviously important and SEO is a common buzzword in the website world, it isn’t entirely possible to rank in search results for a particular topic because of one very important factor — location. Here’s how location affects search results and how to compensate for it with your content.

Location-specific searches

Not surprisingly, if you add a location to a search query, it will affect the search results. Search for “coffee near me” and you’ll find coffee shops near your current location, but search for “coffee in New York City” and you’ll see search results for the Big Apple.

Places in Google search results

Google search results for "tacos" with Places

Google’s search results for “tacos” shows a “Places” feature at the top of the screen with nearby results.

Another prominent way that location affects Google search results is with their “Places” feature. When you search for certain topics for which location would make an obvious difference, Google automatically adds a box at the top of their search results with suggested nearby locations — on Google search itself, not just Maps.

Google de-emphasizes the feature, only showing a small, gray line of text at the very bottom of the page with information on location-based search. However, if you click the “Learn More” link, a Google support document detailing location-based search provides more insight into it. Google uses your computer’s IP address, your location history (if you have it turned on), and locations you’ve searched for recently.

Basically, Google uses whatever data it has available to figure out what location to use for you even if you don’t share your exact location with the site. And if you want to do exactly that, you can — just click the “Use precise location” link at the bottom of your search results.

Location affecting generic searches

Google also alters general search results based on location. For example, if you search for “auto mechanics,” you’ll likely see the Places box first, but even below that, the regular search results will be tailored to your location.

How, then, does Google decide which search results to change? Since they don’t publish their algorithms, it’s really hard to know. Searching for a general question — for example, a “How do I…” question or a “How to” search — will likely return the same results anywhere. We can only assume Google’s algorithms take into account whether a specific search needs location-specific results or general results.

Optimizing your content for location-based search

With this in mind, you can take a few steps to ensure your content works well with location-specific search results:

  1. If you have a physical location for your website, you want to make sure Google can figure out where it is. Remembering that search engines value accuracy in search results, make it easy for Google to figure out your location without being spammy about it. Add your location to your home page’s title and consider adding it to the body of your home page or about page.
  2. If you want to be found in local search results, write location-specific content. Write about trends or share helpful tips covering your site’s topic that specifically apply to your area.
  3. Create some of your content specifically to appear in search results regardless of location. Consider creating tutorial-style content, as “how-to” information appears to be more consistent in search results regardless of location.