The Biggest Change In SEO To Date?

by David Whitehouse
See Dave Speak SMX London

This could be one of the biggest changes in the SEO industry for a long time.

I did my usual check of a few different search terms today, to see what is going on, when I noticed something odd. I was using Google Chrome Incognito which prevents the use of cookies and should give me a fresh set of results each time (without any personalisation). So I checked out the term “seo” and was shocked to see myself on page one – the first thing that occurred to me was that maybe Google had done such a drastic change that it had some how resulted in me hitting page one. Then I noticed all the my local colleagues were also page one, at which point I realised it must be something to do with local search.

Here are the results I got for SEO (no cookies, no personalisation):

At this point I shouted out to my colleagues about Google Local – as usual the response was “are you logged in?” and “have you cleared your cookies” etc. After we did the normal “are you making a rookie mistake?” checks Dave noticed Google is detecting our location better, “Ripon” is the location, and that its changing the SERPS in a big way.

Next Dave took a look at a number of other locations – the top 4 results were the same, with the local websites ranking below.

Check out:

SEO (location set to London)

SEO (location set to Manchester)

This is number 5 to 9 for SEO with the location set as Manchester.

SEO (location set to Leeds)

This is positions 6,7 and 8 for SEO with the location set in Leeds.

SEO (location set to Harrogate)

This is just 11.6 miles away from Ripon (according to Google), look how different it is (positions #6-#10):

SEO (location set to Thirsk)

Again Thirsk is a town local to Ripon, just 12.7 miles away – this time there are no local SEO agencies, so instead Google appears to show more national results, this is positions #6-#10:

He then tried logging in, again no change – it appears Google have just brought in some kind of change that results in perhaps the best ranking, or maybe even national companies ranking #1-#4 and then local companies down the rest of the page, with number #10 (sometimes #9) occasionally changing to national companies – certainly a big change.

Next step: phoning my mum, she’s about 400m away at The Old Deanery hotel & restaurant – I get her to type in SEO and see what it says, she gets what I would expect, normal generic SEO with no local results – turns out she hasn’t got any location set.

At this point we realised, Google must be saving the location we have set in the past via IP address – since there can’t be any other way, this appears to be confirmed in this article (see “Can I turn off location-based customization?”) – and there’s no opt-out!

UK Results Return The Same Results As London!

So now to rank check we have to change the location to “UK” – this gets us what the national rankings are, but with all these changes likely to hit a huge amount of users it does pose the question “what’s the point?”. This is the search results #6-#10 for SEO with the location set as “UK”, you’ll notice it is identical to SEO with a location of “London”:

Tip from Dave: It might be worth targeting London in order to hit the nationals.

Dave believes this to be one of two things:
1. The future of local integration without maps.
2. Or they are testing an industry – but how stupid (or clever?) do they have to be to test it on an industry that would notice so quickly such as SEO, instead of say, “mechanic”?

Search terms we have noticed that are affected so far are: seo, web design, news.

Please comment below if you notice any other search terms doing it, or if you have anything else to add – we’d love to hear about it.

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