The Removal of Google’s Search Location Filter and What it Means for AWR Users

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.

Special thanks to Rüdiger Voßberg for the tip and to Kevin Richard and his team for their discovery.

As reported by SEL, Google has now confirmed the definitive removal of their location filter from search:

Screenshot source: LocalSearchForum.com
Screenshot source: LocalSearchForum.com

The alleged reason for this change? Apparently, the filter was getting “very little usage”:

SEL quote

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:

Google support

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.

Google Algorithm Changes

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!

Author: Dana Loiz

Dana Loiz is an Online Marketing Strategist at Caphyon. She is passionate about her job and always in a mood to chat about SEO, Internet Marketing and Social Media. She tweets the news at @awebranking and you can also find her on Google+.

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26 thoughts on “The Removal of Google’s Search Location Filter and What it Means for AWR Users”

  1. This isn’t a solution. I already have a location identifier appended to many of my keywords and the results have varied between the Google rankings and Google for a specific location rankings. It’s not going to be accurate because Google uses other means to track a searchers location. Plus, I now I have to edit my keywords and/or search engines to keep them from being involuntarily changed by your system. It would be better if you just went back to your pre-location specific search engines.

    1. The keywords that have location added will not get changed, we’re performing a check up before sending the queries. So if you already have the location appended to your keywords, you do not need to edit them.

      Location search engines in AWR will be available as before, the only difference being that they are no longer retrieving the results provided by Google with the location filter applied, but those returned when the location is appended to the keyword.

  2. “pizza new york” and “pizza” with the location filter are very different searches with different volumes. For local SEOs, it might be wiser to start tracking the Google Places/+ landing page as the ranking page for Maps – that’s how we’ve been generating rankings for our local clients. The idea of adding the geo-modifier as a workaround for this is alright I guess, but it won’t really work for the long run in most competitive local SEO.

  3. Searching “pizza new york” or searching only “pizza” from New York would give different results. I think changes made by you are wrong.

    Infact all these queries would give different results
    pizza (With New York IP)
    Pizza New York (With New York IP)
    Pizza New York (With Different IP other than New York IP)
    pizza (With Different IP other than New York IP)

  4. How will keywords that already contain the location be affected? If I’m currently tracking “pizza new york city” will this change conduct a search for “pizza new york city new york city”?

    1. Those keywords will not be changed. Before making the query, we’re checking if the keyword has the location already appended. No worries about that, Anna.

  5. Given the news from Google, it is great that AWR has responded quickly. However, I don’t believe the search results for keyword + location are the same as the keyword on its own for a user based in that location, e.g. a search for pizza new york will not bring back the same results as pizza for a user based in New York. If they were the same there wouldn’t be any need for the local search engine results in AWR as we could have simply appended the keywords manually.

    1. This is true. There is a BIG difference between:
      [keyword]
      when searched in a certain city, vs the result for;
      [keyword + city]

      Using this old post on Moz I was able to get local results in a different city:
      https://moz.com/ugc/geolocation-the-ultimate-tip-to-emulate-local-search

      I did a normal search for a keyword and it showed local results (in City I’m located).

      I then added the below string to the end of the browser URL and bingo! results for London England!

      Here is the method:
      1 – add to url: &uule=w+CAIQICI
      2 – Then get the location from Google’s geo location target here: https://developers.google.com/adwords/api/docs/appendix/geotargeting
      3 – Then get the secret key by matching the string length of your location here: https://www.tools4noobs.com/online_php_functions/strlen/
      4 – Then base64 encod your location here: https://www.base64encode.org/

      Concatenate all together like so:
      &uule=w+CAIQICI and and

      I got this: &uule=w+CAIQICIdTG9uZG9uLEVuZ2xhbmQsVW5pdGVkIEtpbmdkb20=

      At the bottom of the SERP, Google even said my location is: “London, UK – From your Internet address”:

      And I am located outside of the UK!

      This is great for manually checking ranks, but impossible across the thousands of keywords we track for our clients.

      Is AWR going to be able to produce a software version of this that gives accurate location search results in the future?

      1. We have also found that this system you are using Nicholas, works very well. It has been tested and it’s now live in both AWR Cloud and Desktop. So far, the results we’re seeing are satisfactory but we’re keeping en eye on things, so any feedback you have is appreciated. Thanks so much!

        1. Wow Dana, the latest patch, with this method (I assume), Worked!
          My reports are showing exactly what I am seeing from my local IP again. I checked 3 projects that were being affected by this and all are returning accurate results!

          I think this method will be viable for some time since it is tied to AdWords preview and thus probably wont be dropped for some time. Fingers crossed I guess.
          Thanks this solution is much better for accuracy!

  6. Yes, you will get the results for “Pizza New York”, but only if you have in your project the keyword “Pizza” and the Google search engine with the New York location set.

  7. With the new system, it may be possible to get different results than a person located in the city you are tracking, but at this moment, this is the only option Google provides to get similar results to the previous ones.

    As soon as other options become available, we’ll be updating AWR as well.

  8. Hi Dana,

    You mentioned:

    “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.”

    What about if I have a country level location engine, for example:

    Google USA (loc: USA)

    Will the search results AWR provides be based on adding “USA” to the term? Appreciate your confirmation.

    Thank you.

    1. For your example, Google USA (loc: USA), queries will be sent without the location appended. For city level locations such as Google USA (loc: New York), then the query would be ‘keyword New York’. Thanks for the question, Michael!

      1. Thanks for your reply Dana.

        However, after manually reviewing more than a dozen random keywords from my project – depersonalized and based on searches from within the USA – I am quite sure that AWR *is* appending “USA” to my keywords, as the rankings with USA appended are all very close to the rankings shown in AWR Cloud after you made the location engine changes, and the rankings without USA appended are also very close to what AWR Cloud reported prior to Google removing the location engines.

        You might want to bring this to your developers’ attention.

        1. Indeed, I’ve double checked this with the team and there are two possible cases in AWR Cloud. When adding a new location search engine, you select the Country and have two options available for the Location: anywhere and custom. Only if “custom” is selected and USA is further added in the text field available for entering locations, then the location will indeed be appended to your keywords. If “anywhere” is selected, the keywords will not be changed. So, it depends on how your search engine is defined in AWR Cloud.

          Thank you for taking a closer look at this matter and for bearing with us. We are not fully satisfied with this new option for retrieving localized results either, and we’re working to come up with a better solution. Our developers are already implementing and testing it, and we’ll hopefully be able to release it soon.

  9. This just doesn’t work. I’ve seen an increase in visibility of over 20% for one local client but their SEO certainly hasn’t picked up that much in one week.

    For example you want to find ‘kitchens’ – if you search that from a location you’ll see the big national companies like B&Q and Magnet, search ‘kitchens Manchester’ and you’ll see kitchen companies in that city as well as the big companies because you want a local company – there’s a different intent when you append the location.

    I feel for you guys in that the only proper work around I can see is having a server in every town and city in all of the countries you track which just isn’t plausible especially when Google dropped that bomb with no notice, but equally relying on a free feature from a search engine that adds and removes features every month seems like you really prepare for this…

    1. Having proxies in every town would also have a big impact on prices, so I’m afraid that wouldn’t be a viable solution in our industry.

      Starting today, a new system is behing the geolocation of queries in AWR, so I hope everything is back on track in your client’s visibility now. Please check it out and let me know what you’re seeing. Thanks!

  10. Unfortunately without proxies (or use of a VPN like http://www.hidemyass.com) where we can choose the specific regional IP location, we simply won’t get accurate results and this is a pain in the a**. Well done for jumping on this early, but as agreed with @@disqus_6dD7Nu58q7:disqus , life will be tough without those local servers 🙁

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