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New Local Search Rules at Google: You May Now Be Below the Fold

Google just changed how local search results are reported, reducing the number of results displayed from seven to three. Your school now might not have the same visibility it once had on Google, especially if it’s not among the top three local search results.

When searching for “MBA Programs” when you are in Boston, for example, pages from Harvard are far more likely to appear in the general search results than those of UCLA (and vice versa when searching in Los Angeles.) The same keyword will produce different results based on location. That’s local search. In its quest for relevant results, Google factors in “proximity” into its algorithm. This means, if you search for “MBA programs,” there is a high likelihood Google will show you the closest MBA programs to you.

Some keywords have an even stronger tie to location. Often (not always), terms like “School of Business” or “Business School” will not only produce locally focused results but also a map, just like you might see when searching for “Starbucks.” It’s these mapped results (dubbed the “Local Pack” by the SEO community) that have been reduced.

For example, when searching from Chicago for “School of Business,” below is how the results will now be displayed. The actual search results will vary significantly, based on a broad range of factors and variables (such as institutional SEO sophistication, the searcher’s prior search behavior, etc.)

“Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good place to be. In the past, even schools not in the top three results might still see a reasonable amount of search engine traffic. Now, they’ll be fighting their way to the top in order to be seen. Few schools can afford to be ignored by the world’s largest marketing platform.

How Do You Get to the Top of Local Results (and Stay There)?

Fortunately, while Google continues to evolve local search results, the tactics for getting to the top remain the same.  Here are three things to do to get you started:

  1. Officially claim your Google+ business listing and keep all information (business name, phone number, address, website, etc.) up to date. We also recommend optimizing your Google + page for relevant keywords.
  1. Focus on your SEO fundamentals: Make sure your site’s meta data is optimized for the best keywords, you have plenty of links between pages, and there aren’t any major technical issues preventing search engines from accessing your site.
  1. Put the address of your school in the footer of your website and link it to a Google map listing. This reinforces your location to Google.

Google wants to provide the most relevant results to its users. Your challenge is to make sure you are providing all the information necessary to make it to the top of local search results, and stay there regardless of changes to Google’s algorithm.