UPDATE [December 10, 2015]: We have implemented a new system to geolocate queries to Google and retrieve localized ranking data in both AWR Desktop and Cloud. Thus, the workaround described in this article has been replaced and will no longer be used in AWR for location specific search engines.
As reported by SEL, Google has now confirmed the definitive removal of their location filter from search:
The alleged reason for this change? Apparently, the filter was getting “very little usage”:
While this filter might not have been very popular for most Google searchers, it was critical for most SEOs in retrieving accurate results for clients based in different locations. On a macro level, it’s understandable that Google would give up on a feature that very few of their visitors actually use, but the implications can be quite serious for local SEO.
Up until today, Advanced Web Ranking was delivering Google localized ranking results based on the now-extinct filtering option. With the removal of the location filter, a source of ranking data is now lost. However, Google did not remove the ability to get results from a different location altogether, so we can still access and retrieve localized ranking data.
According to the Google Websearch Help Center, to be able to see results near a different location on Google from now on, you just need to append the location to your query:
What was changed in AWR
We have updated both AWR Cloud and Desktop, so that you can continue to get the best results from Google for different locations. The good news is that you will not need to make changes to your projects to get accurate location based results. That’s because we did all the work for you.
More specifically, for each location based search engine you have in your projects, we’ll be automatically appending the location to your keywords when querying Google.
For example, if you have a Google search engine defined with a location of New York, and a keyword “pizza”, we will make the following query to Google instead:
pizza new york
That is, your keyword will remain “pizza” in your project and reports, but the query we make to Google in the background, and therefore the results returned, will be for “pizza new york” instead.
Please note that these changes affect only the search engines that have a location defined. Also, only locations that are below country level are affected, such as city and street. Country level search engines (such as Google France for example), will not be affected.
It is worth mentioning that there may be changes in the results that Google returns for the new queries that contain the location compared with the ones that do not. Therefore, you might experience some ranking changes for your websites across this transitioning period, on all location based search engines.
Is Google up to something lately?
This change ties in with the major ranking shifts we’ve noticed lately across the batch of URLs we track. In the last week, on Google.com, there have been four critical days with a Ranking Changes Factor of over 4.2 and a visibility drop of 1.54% on all URLs, on November 26th.
We’re inclined to believe that all these shifts in search results are related to something different than Google removing their location filtering ability. But whether Google rolled out another update or not, remains to be seen, though not necessarily proven by new data.
How does the removal of the filtering tool affect your SEO activity?
What other solutions do you have in mind for circumventing this latest change?
Any insights on the matter are welcome and might be useful for your fellow SEOs, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment!