Whitespark, a team of SEO experts focused on local search, has noticed something big: proximity to the searcher is now the #1 ranking factor for local search pack results.

What defines a local search? Think of local searches as searches on a search engine for something you’d traditionally look up in the yellow pages, usually for a place you’d like to physically go (e.g. a hotel, an atm nearby, or a dry cleaner).

A ‘pack’ – usually a 3-pack – is the Google configuration of results that appears at the top of a page for some searches and looks like this:
hotels in wicklow

According to Whitespark’s tests, proximity in local searches now outweighs Google reviews, linking domains, whether businesses have claimed their Google listings – even whether or not they have a website!

How Can We Tell?

Here’s what one search for a local plumber turned up, and the local ranking factors for those plumbers:

plumbers proximity local search

Here are the factors that are normally some of the most important in  determining search rank. As you can see, most of the plumbers listed rank pretty poorly for every factor… except location:

plumbing search local seo 2

As Darren Shaw, CEO of Whitespark, points out: “Surely, Google, there are more prominent businesses in [my city] that deserve to rank for this term?”

There probably are.

However, when it comes to local searches, it looks like proximity is now the truest measure of worth from Google’s perspective.

Here’s the evidence from Whitespark, based on 9 different local searches by 4 people spread out across a city:

Browsing in incognito mode in Chrome from 4 dispersed locations around the city, they get 4 very different sets of results for the same search term.

The Good News

It’s not all about proximity, though! Local organic listings – the ones below the 3-pack – are relatively unaffected by proximity.

“Generally, localized organic results are consistent no matter where you’re located in a city — which is a strong indication of traditional ranking signals (links, reviews, citations, content, etc) that outweigh proximity when it comes to local organic results,” writes Shaw.

This is good news for hotels, especially those with restaurants, spas and other services that serve the local community as well as guests.

What Should Hotels Do?

Hotels should make their Google My Business profiles as strong as possible, and hotels should be on other sites that provide recommendations (like TripAdvisor).

This proximity factor won’t matter in many cases – most people searching for hotels aren’t looking for hotels in their city, after all. They’re doing research on hotels where they’d like to go. However, there are two important cases where proximity matters:

  • As mentioned above, for your hotel’s restaurant, spa, or other business that serves the local area as well as your guests
  • For last-minute bookers searching for a hotel as they drive into town

For example, when we search for ‘hotels’ on an incognito browser from our office at Net Affinity, this is what we get:

hotels near net affinity

As you can see, those hotel results are pretty much triangulated around our location.

To prepare for those last-minute bookers and those on the hunt for your restaurant, you should make your Google profiles as strong as possible. While proximity is the dominating factor for the 3-pack, you can still aim for that coveted top organic listing.

You should also keep in mind that a lot of people won’t like these results. This move from Google likely won’t be too popular. Often, you’re not searching for the closest restaurant in town, you’re searching for the best. If all Google is showing you is the fast food joint up the street, you’re more likely to turn to sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and others.t

So, another important thing to do is to diversify and make sure your hotel, restaurant, and spa are on those sites, and that you’re putting time into optimizing those profiles. Don’t force yourself to rely completely on Google.

Conclusion

This is a big deal, but, managed properly, won’t affect your hotel too much. Local SEO has become more competitive with this change, and you’ll need to compensate with optimizing everything you can. Talk to your digital marketing team if your hotel is likely to be affected!

Additionally, diversify your efforts to TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other popular review and ranking sites in your area.

Has your hotel noticed any changes from these proximity-focused results? Let us know!