How to Track Search Engine Rankings in Multiple Cities and Zip Codes
In the world of digital marketing, understanding how and where your business appears for relevant search phrases is critical. However, it's not enough to simply track your rankings in just one city or zip code. In this post, we'll explain why businesses should monitor their search engine rankings across multiple geographic areas (cities, zip codes, etc.) and how to do it effectively. Note that this concept applies to both multi-location businesses as well as companies with only a single location.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the Proximity Bias Factor
- Why Manually Checking Your Own Rankings Does NOT Work
- Choosing the Right Zip Codes or Cities for Tracking
- How to Use Keyword Tracking Tools to Track Rankings in Multiple Locations
Understanding the Proximity Bias Factor
Before we delve into the reasons for tracking rankings in multiple locations, it's important to understand the concept of the proximity bias factor in Google search.
Google's proximity bias is a ranking factor in local search that favors businesses physically closer to the searcher's location. This can be advantageous for businesses with a physical store or office near the searcher’s location. However, this can also negatively impact businesses whose service area may cover multiple towns, serve numerous neighborhoods, or those located on the outskirts of a city.
Depending on the competition and density of relevant businesses, the proximity bias can get pretty extreme too. For example, someone searching “web designers” half a mile from your business is likely to see different search results than a searcher two miles away - even if they type the exact same keywords!
Why Manually Checking Your Own Rankings Does NOT Work
You might think that checking your own rankings is as simple as typing in a keyword and city into Google. However, this method is flawed for multiple reasons:
- Google's search results are personalized based on the searcher's location, past search history, websites you’ve visited related to the query, and several other factors.
- Adding the city name or zip code does not actually “simulate” search in the specified geographic area. Search engines still identify where the searcher is physically located regardless of what city is appended to the query.
- Even if you drive to the location you want to check the search from, your results will still be biased based on items listed in bullet #1. Additionally, this is not a practical methodology given the amount of time it would take to simulate searches by driving to various locations.
- Finally, search results update so frequently that we recommend updating your tracking metrics at least once a month. If you multiply one monthly check times all the keywords you want to track times all the locations you want to track times all the search engines you want to track (e.g. Google Desktop, Google Mobile, Bing, etc.), this can feel quite overwhelming!
Therefore, it’s important to efficiently simulate users who are physically in different zip codes or cities to see how their results may differ from one another.
Choosing the Right Zip Codes or Cities for Tracking
When deciding on the zip codes or cities for which you should run reports, consider your target market and from where they search, the locations of your competitors, and areas where you want to grow your business now and potentially in the future.
If you are a multi-location business, you will have at least one report for each city or zip code in which you have a physical presence, plus additional reports for critical target areas.
Remember, while proximity bias is a significant factor in local SEO, it's just one of many factors that Google's algorithm considers. Therefore, it's essential to maintain a comprehensive SEO strategy that includes quality content, error-free website structure, review collection, listings consistency, Google Business Profile Optimization, and more.
How to Use Keyword Tracking Tools to Track Rankings in Multiple Locations
If you want to track your rankings without personalization bias, this is where a rank tracking service can be extremely helpful and economical. While there are numerous rank tracking services out there, one of the best from our personal experience is BrightLocal due to its ease of visual reporting and reasonable cost.
City or Zip Code Keyword Rank Tracking
Tools like BrightLocal allow you to simulate a searcher in multiple zip codes or cities, providing a reporting dashboard for each key zip code or city configured. Their Local Rank Tracker can help you understand how your business ranks in different areas and subsequently aid necessary adjustments to your local SEO strategy.
Note that we recommend zip code keyword tracking more than city based tracking as it appears to give more accurate results. Additionally, this is especially true when you have a medium or large city that overlaps multiple zip codes.
Track Keyword Rankings by Distance from a Target Area
BrightLocal also offers a feature called Local Search Grid, which shows your rankings across the local area, broken up into a visual grid overlayed on a map. This allows you to see how well your business ranks in the areas around it, helping you identify your real competitors and focus your efforts accordingly. This is particularly useful for hyper-competitive markets in a target geographic area.
With this method you can define the spacing between grid points. The example below shows a grid that shows 1 mile between grid points, but, with BrightLocal, you define the grid points as little as 100 meters apart or as large as 10 miles apart. This is arguably the best way to track search engine rankings on a local level. However, it also uses the most resources, and thus costs the most, if you're tracking quite a few keywords.
Getting Started with Tracking Your Rankings in Multiple Geographic Areas
Tracking your search engine rankings in multiple cities and zip codes is a crucial part of a successful SEO strategy. By understanding the proximity bias factor and using tools like BrightLocal, you can gain a comprehensive view of your business' online presence and make informed decisions to improve your rankings. If you want to give it a spin, you can use this link to claim a free 14-day trial of BrightLocal.
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