Google recently axed the ability to filter your location in search (which would provide users with different results based on where their location was set to). Most attorneys probably won’t miss the functionality but if you want to know where your site ranks in local search, you can no longer do it with Google’s settings. There are however some work-arounds that can fill the void for now.
Why Attorneys Should Care
For most lawyers this development is probably of no consequence until you go to measure how your site is performing in local search. It used to be that you could click on the settings link in the bottom right hand corner of Google’s home page and set your location manually. The feature has been removed so you can no longer tell Google to ‘search as if I were in such and such a location’.
Since Google tailors its results based on user location, this makes it more difficult to tell what local searchers might be seeing when they use terms relevant to your website. Ultimately it is difficult to know exactly what any given person is seeing when they perform a search but there are still some ways to see what might be showing up for them based on their location.
Location + Keyword
Keep in mind that this is by no means a perfect substitution but it does signal to Google you are looking for results specific to a geographic location. Lawyers will have to factor in other variables like which pages on their site are actually optimized for location + keyword. For example if there is already a page that has the location keyword on it and is relevant to the phrases as a whole, that page may be showing up anyway for that phrase instead of the phrase minus the location-based keyword.
Use the Near Parameter
Barry Schwartz suggested appending the near parameter to your search query in order to get localized results to appear in search. For example say you have an office in Pittsburg and one in Philadelphia. You want to see how well you rank for the phrase “car accident attorney” in the city of Philadelphia.
Then append the near parameter using an ampersand, the word “near”, an equal sign and then each word of the city separated by plus signs if necessary.
The final URL will look like this:
That URL will generate the following results:
Google’s Ad Preview Tool
Many software solutions that claim to measure localized rankings are still options although lawyers should be careful about how much weight they place on the data. Some may be more reliable than others. Google provides a pretty good solution through AdWords that (like the Keyword Planner) is both free and effective for lawyers. Google will actually emulate local results for you and there is no need for an active campaign in order to use the tool. Even though it is for testing ad placement without generating impressions, the tool also shows organic results.
- Visit adwords.google.com and create an account if you don’t have one already.
- Walk through the steps of setting up a campaign and just skip the billing portion of the process.
- Once in the account, click on tools -> ad preview & diagnosis
In the ad preview page, set your language, domain for Google (U.S. will use the .com) and pick you specific city that you want to check rankings for. Then in the bar at the top of the page, use the query you are researching and Google will show you what users see for that geographic location.
Scroll down to see the organic listings for that particular query.
For now it looks like the ad preview tool is one of the most reliable ways to see local rankings without a paid software solution. Aleh Barysevich of linkassistant.com offers up a ton of other strategies for checking local rankings (one of which is a more complicated process outlined by Dan Hinckley of Gofishdigital.com). While that method is very clever, it looks like recent versions of Chrome no longer have the emulation settings outlined in his post. Some users in the comment section of the post also reported issues with getting Google to recognize the geo-coordinates they were feeding it.
Local search is huge for attorneys since the average lawyer is catering to a local demographic. Google’s advances in the smartness of search as it relates to user location have made it that much more challenging to rank well in all locations (especially if you don’t have an office there).
Article main graphic courtesy of freepik.com.