Darren Shaw, who has been a big part of the annual local ranking factors study in recent years, recently announced data showing that service areas seem to be ranking factors.  This is big news as data has suggested in the past that it had no bearing on rankings.  I wanted to quickly touch on why this matters, and though the data is new, what you can possibly do to take advantage.

Proximity a Key Ranking Factor

For years, proximity has shown to be a top ranking factor for local search. You have little control over this, so it doesn’t always show up as #1, as we often see your business category show up as #1. However, it makes sense that a local search in Seattle shouldn’t have businesses from Toledo show up in the results. So essentially the whole concept of “local search” depends on proximity, making it a key element of the intent. For businesses where customers come to you, they want something “near them”.  For service area businesses that can serve a large area, this can be a bit of a headache. Perhaps you are mold inspection company or electrician that can serve the whole state, but only ranks closely to your office where your trucks sit, which may not be convenient to certain cities in your target market.

Ranking Factors We Control Get Abused

This has always been the case in SEO.  Link farms when links were seen to be a factor. Fake reviews when reviews become a factor. Everything that shows value springs to life entire industries of nefarious people trying to cheat their way to glory. Google then adjusts the algorithm to catch and punish, or at least not reward, the cheaters. For some of these things they do a better job than others. We all see a lot of fake reviews out there, but they are getting better at it.  This is just to say, learning that something is carrying more weight as a ranking factor does not mean you should dive in and cheat to make it easy.

Explore Reasonable and Detailed Service Areas

Service Area ChoicesIt is worth taking a look at your listed service areas on your Google Business Profile, but as I often see small business owners suddenly get greedy when they learn something is a factor, it is more likely that aiming at specific and targeted markets nearby will move the needle more than getting greedy and listing giant geographical areas and expecting success. If it proves to be a new ranking factor, it is still just one, and my educated guess from nearly two decades in this industry, is that it is still highly reliant on your physical location. That being said, I think you can play with listing high value service areas near you in your target service areas. Review the “suggested” service areas and pick ones that represent great opportunities for you. If Google is recommending them to you, they view you as relevant to those areas. Test adding a few important locations and see if it helps with your ranking and placement, but remember there is typically a limit to this, so strategize accordingly. If nothing else, pay closer attention to the areas you target and track how your changes seem to change your rankings, and more importantly  your incoming business.