Why Google Local Listings Drop

Why Google Local Listings Drop

Local SEO See InsideSEO local listings fluctuated the last couple months and dropped across a few clients and our own site around the end of May.  Listings often fluctuate, but this was a trend across a handful of clients at the same time. So naturally you ask, were there any known algorithm changes at that time?  Google Panda 4.0 hit May 20, but did not take a full 10 days to roll out (per Matt Cutts tweet on Panda 4.0), and these ranking drops happened at the very end of the month, after Panda already hit. Next question, were there any changes to the website or local listings.  Yes, for BKV, but I believe it is a coincidence that listings fluctuated recently after publishing See Inside for BKV Atlanta marketing agency, mainly because adding See Inside should boost your rankings due to the additional engagement it brings to the brand’s Google Plus property.

Local Search Listings Appear in 2 Ways

This includes local listings that appear in the map insertion as well as regular website listings that only appear when the search is done from a location in the same city as the business.  To further explain the second type of listing, you can specify your location by selecting search tools button under the search bar and typing in a city and state.  This simulates you being in a different city and conducting a search.  For example search restaurant from two different cities and you will see local restaurants from whichever city on the map insertion as well as in the regular website listings.

Local SEO Algorithm Theories

Search Intent Shift

My initial theory for some keywords is based on shifting search intent, meaning that Google’s idea of what a person is seeking when using these keywords shifted to show more national results and fewer local results.

  1. One way of checking this is to see if the 7 box map insertion is still displayed for keywords, or if it has been replaced with the 2 box or no map insertion at all.  I noticed for some keyword searches there is no map insertion where there was previously a 2 box.
  2. Another way of checking if Google search intent changed is to perform a query and count the number of regular website listings that have a local city in the title or description.  This is how I decipher how much local search intent Google assigns a keyword. A client previously ranked in the local area with a regular website listing.  Now, when I check there are no local website listings.  To double check if search intent really changed and its not just something happening for listings in one city, I change my location under Google’s search tools to see if there are local website results appear for the same keyword when searched in other cities.

It turns out for one of the clients, shifting search intent did occur for the keywords that dropped rankings.  A next test to perform will be to ask someone in the city location to perform a search for the keyword from their mobile device.  Logical thinking would assume search intent on a mobile device would skew toward local results (this could be done with Brightedge, but its pretty costly once you start tracking local search engines and multiple devices).  If a mobile device search produces local results and our client is there, there’s a good chance they will pop back into desktop results if Google shifts search intent back for that term.  If local results appear and the client is still not there, we need to build some back links and local listing reviews.

Local Search Spam Filters

Some local SEOs believe the Google local listing SPAM filters are loosened (one part of the ranking algorithm) from time to time, allowing listings with black hat tactics to move up and generally shake up results.  The forum linked to above gives a great example of where an SEO consultant compared listings before and after the shake up.  She found a competitor take the top local listings that was not previously in the 7 pack at all.  Investigation showed the competitor had an obviously spammy local listing, violating several Google Places listing guidelines.  It is possible this explains some of the shifts for rankings where my clients moved out of the 7 pack featured on the search result page.

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